Saturday, August 28, 2010

Being Stingy With Discomfort

Over at Notes from a Burning House, Algernon offers a somewhat different take on the issues of race and religious intolerance. It's a refreshing, dharma-centric post that includes the following:

Discussions of race are hard because there is a stigma about feeling uncomfortable. If you admit that you feel uncomfortable with people who look, smell, or live differently than you do, someone might jump on you and equate you with the KKK. So people don't "go there." And it's a shame, because "going there" in an atmosphere of compassion and wisdom would really clear the air, benefit us as individuals and a society.

But admitting to discomfort and living with discomfort are, in themselves, troubling ideas. We are trained to believe that happiness is the elimination of discomfort. Impossible, kids. This idea of "happiness" itself arises from the noble truth of discomfort.

It is okay to be uncomfortable with the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, even though they have a right to build it. It is okay to be uncomfortable with Glenn Beck's rally, too, but if you're feeling angry -- have a read of Dr. King's speech. The sad love for humanity in that speech, and its great purpose, extend to the Glenn Beck followers of the world, too.

I totally agree with Algernon that we need to be willing to "go there" more often. It's an essential step, both individually and collectively, to making peace. Not some powder puff, shiny happy people kind of peace, but true peace - the kind that comes through a liberation of hearts and minds.

Let's step back from these large scale issues, and look at the more mundane, daily life kind of experiences.

When you sit zazen, how often does discomfort arise? And when it comes, how do you approach it?

When you are with family or friends, how often does discomfort arise, and how do you approach it when it comes?

When you are with co-workers or others you know, but not very well, how often does discomfort arise, and how do you approach it when it comes?

When you are with strangers, how often does discomfort arise and how do you approach it when it comes?

Is there any situation in life that is free of discomfort? Don't just believe Algernon's comments above about discomfort, check for yourself. Start with yourself, when you are alone, or not deliberately engaged with others.

I'm really interested in this issue of not "going there." How so many of us, myself included, get hooked on the idea that the best life is one free of discomfort and dis-ease. And how when those things are present, we either press them into hiding, or we exaggerate the hell out of one surface aspect. The eighth precept speaks about not being stingy with anything, but how many of us practitioners actually share freely our experiences of discomfort and disease? And even more importantly, do so in a way that isn't imposing or dumping upon others?

When I look at all of this through the eighth precept, it's pretty clear to me that I'm often possessive, often stingy when it comes to discomforts and disease. Sharing these experiences, especially when they are full blown in the moment often scares the crap out of me. I don't want to appear to be a mess. Sometimes, I fear rejection. Other times, I'm worried about having to fend off unwanted offers of "help." Mostly though, when I think about it, I'm stingy because I don't expect anyone to truly listen to whatever is occurring for me - and unfortunately, this is often the case in life.

The reality is that every moment of sharing is a moment of risk taking. There's no way to know how anything you say or do will be taken, even by your mother, lifelong partner, or best friend. So, all you can really do is assess the situation, feel out if the timing might be right, and then decide whether to share or not.

I think a large part of the reason why the big social issues go round and round with variations on the same old story is that each of is doing much the same in our own lives. Leaping on fear and hate bandwagons is so much easier than sitting with a sense of being exiled from one's self, which is another way to look at discomfort.

How often does exile arise for you, and when it comes, how do you approach it?

I plan on sitting with this question for awhile. If you'd like, please join me.


peter said...

dear nathan, what an 'uncomfortable' post! i'll join you today, sitting with whatever arises -- especially the parts that annoy, the ones i wish would stop nagging me. "what is it" has been a helpful question to ask of them (thanks to Ezra Bayda's books). and thanks to you, this sunny morning in victoria, bc.

Chana said...

Discomfort is Dukkha, no? Suffering? So we are not going to escape it. This is fundamental to our Buddhist practice. Fell good Buddhism is spreading like wild fire in the US of A. So your post is very timely. If you are following the middle way, you will experience discomfort and happiness. Neither of which should be held onto. If ones' opinions are causing discomfort or happiness, be aware of of them, but not necessarily reject them. We will wander a bit from a perfect tight rope balancing act. That is just the way it is. The practice of meditation teaches us we can release our opinions, so they also can be released during non-meditation times. If one likes to be politically motivated there is no harm to this, it is in the ego identification of the process that suffering arises. Have you ever seen an animal display self-pity?


Donna Quesada said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna Quesada said...

We happen to live on the same street as a mosque. It is the only one around, and right now it is Ramadan. There is no place to park on our street. So, how often do I confront my own self and my own discomfort on similar matters? Often.

When I'm light inside, I look at the lovely individuals, and maybe even smile. When I'm dark, I don't see individuals - I see a group, and I see the need for parking restrictions. Ignorance percolates.

The thing with the proposed mosque site in NY, is that we'll never know the true motivation, and so suspicion reigns.

Nathan said...

"The thing with the proposed mosque site in NY, is that we'll never know the true motivation, and so suspicion reigns."

Do we ever know the true motivation behind any action?

Chana, it's very true that feel good Buddhism has sprung up all over. Lots of people are struggling, and grasping at anything that sounds like it will relieve them of suffering. There are a lot more mega churches out there these days telling people that one of the main keys to heaven is to accumulate piles of wealth on earth. False, sugary messages abound - and history seems to suggest that this has always been the case.