Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Discomfort is a Part of Life

I was surprised to stumble upon two posts that said almost the same thing in completely different ways. Algernon wrote about a weekend meditation retreat, as well as some issues plaguing him and his wife, and focused on the importance of just staying with it. It's like the old dog training thing - "Stay! Stay! Stayyyyy. Stayyy." No trying to turn away, wriggle out, or get more comfortable.

I think a lot of us really want to be comfortable all the time, myself included. We want things to fit into our lives at every turn, and to have access to a cozy couch, a blanket, and a bottle of beer whenever the slightest bit of discomfort arises. The problem is that it's a lost cause. Every time you get comfortable, something else comes to take it away. Maybe it lasts a few hours, or a day - maybe even a week if you're on a an exquisite vacation, but eventually the ease slides away and something less easy appears.

Along these lines, over at Barbara's Buddhism Blog, she writes today about accepting exactly what is offered to you. Although the post is focused on accepting whatever is presented by a teacher or sangha, I think this statement also applies to our entire lives. Accept was is offered by the world, as it is. No easy task, and I think none of us, not even people like Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama are completely perfect at doing so.

It's important to awaken to the fact that at least some of the discomfort that comes with spiritual practice is built in, and that the only way live a more authentic life is to be uncomfortable some of the time. This morning, right before work, I popped out my laptop in a public place to check my e-mail. I've got various projects right now requiring that I keep tabs on.

As soon as the screen flash on, a woman leapt from her seat behind me and said "Would it be possible for me to find an e-mail address..." An odd, indirect question, but I also had about 5 minutes before I had to catch a bus to my job. I looked at her and said "No. I'm working. Good bye." The good bye wasn't needed, and I felt a small twinge of guilt before realizing that it was just one of those situations. Letting her check for some random e-mail address could have made me late for the bus. And not doing so meant she might be disappointed or ticked off or something. In other words, it was a situation that was basically uncomfortable.

Barbara comments, "Eventually you stop chattering to yourself about whether you like what's offered, whether you'll be good at it, whether you'll fail, whether you'll be rewarded." Now, the example above is really small, and not at all threatening. And yet, it's the kind of thing that used to always trip me up, especially because I wanted to be perceived as "nice" and "kind." I would feel the need to give the "right" response in a situation like that, to make sure the woman walked away feeling ok.

Here's how it could have looked from the inside.

Oh, no, that lady is going to ask me something. She wants to use my computer. I don't have time. I don't like her. I don't need this shit.

How can I tell her off without telling her off? Maybe I can say I don't know. Yeah, right, you don't know how to use e-mail. Maybe I could listen to her story and then say I have to go, but then you won't have time to actually check you're own e-mail.

Damn, what if I start a conflict? I don't want any trouble. She's just another person who deserves attention and support like you.

Maybe she feel happy if I let her use the computer. The others around here will remember that I helped her. Maybe it's the very thing she needs to ...

How exhausting is all I can say. Instead of all that, I kept it short and simple this morning, even though part of me wanted to run through all the old narratives and gyrations, trying to make everything alright.

In the same way, one can burn through an endless amount of teachers, sanghas, and spiritual programs, jetting the moment things get tough, or when something is called for that disrupts our free time, or when someone says something that isn't too "friendly" or "spiritual sounding."

My experience has been that, after awhile, any teacher you study with will start to repeat him or herself. In fact, this might happen quite frequently. It's inevitable that you'll bump up against feeling bored, wanting to hear or experience the next profound, groundbreaking teaching. The same is often true of any sangha or spiritual community. You spend enough time with one, you get to know enough of the people, and you start to bump up against a desire for novelty. To me, this is where the rubber really can hit the road in your practice - or it's the exact place where you opt to just hit the road again.

Sometimes, I think the stories we have been handed about the lives of our ancestral teachers - people like Bodhidharma and Dogen - are sources of trouble for us modern folks. We hear that Dogen rejected what was offered in his native Japan, went off on a pilgrimage, and found the dharma more alive in a completely different nation. Inspiring, sure. But also dangerous. Dogen didn't just take a sip of the Zen waters in Japan and decide it was a shitty brew. He drank in as much as he could, stuck with it for many years, before finally deciding it was time to go searching for something else. How many of us can say the same, that we've stuck with something for a decade, two decades, taking in what was offered as well as we could?

1 comment:

Algernon said...

Thanks for the link, Nathan, and the sangha support.