The Road, Part 2: Noble truth number 2


I have said it before and I will reiterate for clarity (and possible trolls): I am no buddhist. I am not even, like The Sweet BF, one of the half-assed variety. But the more I read of it (which is still precious little, okay, trolls?) and the more of life I see and experience, the more I think old Gautama might have been onto something.

Take one of the (four, four, count 'em, four!) foundational principles of Buddhism, Noble Truth the Second: "Suffering is Attachment," which, for those of you who are even less familiar than I with the Truths, follows hard on the heels of "Life is Suffering."

Then think back on the loss of a beloved grandparent, or a romantic relationship that ended, or a job you were asked to leave before you were ready.

Or, to travel even further into the land of mundane minutae, that feeling you get after a bad cold call, or an audition that went less than spectacularly, or leaving a date that went south or a party that failed to meet your expectations.

What's that word I snuck in there? Why, "expectations," of course. Because in all of those smaller circumstances, you likely had some kind of expectation that things would go differently: that the call would land you a huge piece of business; the audition, a job; the date, a partner; the party, a rockin' good time, and perhaps a brief vacation from other feeling you were currently, wait for it, attached to.

It's a little harder to see what is attach-y about loving a person or even a position eminently worthy of love. And by "attach-y," I mean "wrong," right?

Not exactly.

Attachment isn't wrong; it just is. I'm guessing if the fat man were around today and you marched up to him and said, "Listen, Bub: my gramma rocked the universe and there is nothing wrong with my missing her and I intend to go on missing her and that's that," he'd shrug and say the Buddhist word for whatever. It's not his job to tell you what you're doing right or wrong, but to get his own shit straight enough that he can show you compassion, which took even his Bub-ness a mighty long time of wandering and wondering and trying-and-failing, if the stories are to be believed. (Oh, and what I love about Buddhism? They don't care if you believe the stories, either! Rawk!)

The BF and I listened to a lot of my favorite Joe Frank episodes on our recent trip, which meant we listened to a lot of Jack Kornfield's charming and wonderful lectures, as well. Really, if you like this blog and are interested in dipping your toes in the Buddhist waters, you could do a lot worse than the recorded lectures of Jack Kornfield (here are some you can hear for free!) and the lively books of "zen punk monk" Brad Warner (and he'd be fine if you bought them through those Amazon links or got 'em from the library, and so would I!). They are wonderfully soothing and stimulating at the same time, these shows, and they helped me find a bit of peace in the middle of my discomfort: an incipient Crohn's flare which I thought had mutated to garden-variety constipation but finally reared its ugly head as an incipient Crohn's flare WITH constipation. Which, for those of you who have never had the pleasure, feels like what I imagine the ninth month of pregnancy feels like, stupendous belly, aliens kicking around inside, waves of occasional blinding pain and nausea (sooo much fun in a car in the middle of the Mojave Desert!) and no matter what, that goddamned baby will not come out.

I've been in flares before and learned from them, and not learned from them. I've learned what I can get away with and what I can't, and then I've gone ahead and done all the stupid things (bread! M&Ms! coffee!) that put me there in the first place.

Today, though, as I was skimming through the Facebook, I stumbled on a heart-rending video from a dear friend who was alternately beating herself up and feeling awful about herself because she did something many of us do all the time and most of us do at least some of the time: overcommit. This beautiful lady with her gigantic, beautiful heart, who gives and gives and gives was suffering, and in the course of her piece, she wisely pegged her sad, sad feelings as those of powerlessness and smallness.

I crack myself with how slow I am to learn things, and with how I learn things, period.

Because I can do this again and again, overcommit, and feel dreadful about the consequences, and not even come CLOSE to identifying the root of my suffering as feelings of powerlessness and sorrow because, let's be honest, I am not 1/10th the nice of this great-hearted person, and learn nothing. And yet I saw her suffering and something clicked for me: I am attached to feeling well.

I am attached to the idea that I will always have limitless youth and energy and power to draw upon for getting done the outrageous list of things I must do. Under that, I am attached to the idea that I am in control, and that I have the ability to call my own shots as I see fit. And of course, under all that, I am highly, highly attached to the idea that I have limitless time. Which is sort of a laugh because the last time I looked, I was turning 10 and in four months, I'll turn 48.

What would happen if I let go of the idea that I must always be happy? Or well? Or successful or rich or right on down the line to the smallest of the small: if I let go of the idea that a favorite wool sweater would always be there for me, so that when it accidentally took a spin through the washer and dryer, I did nothing more than chuckle as I pulled out my new, doll-sized pullover?

What would happen if I never got another parking space or that Magic E-Mail or taste of McDonald's fries? Well, if it were the latter of the three, I might be more firmly on the road to some kind of wellness, since there ain't no kind of fries on my diet. But really, I think I might have some peace, which might free up some room, which might mean a bit more compassion and a bit less angst.

I would never, ever in a million years suggest that it's silly or wrong to feel lousy because you've overcommitted. I hope I always feel lousy when I do, because it's no fun for anyone.

But I hope even more that I can learn to examine the lousy and pull apart the feelings and actions that got me to it, so that (a) I don't have to feel lousy and (b) I can be more useful to people who are feeling that way.

What I hope the most right now, though, is that my friend, who is grace herself, finds some of the peace she has inadvertently given me.

Which may be the beginnings of compassion. Which, though it clearly shows my attachment to the feeling, would be awfully nice, I think...


Image by Jayel Aheram via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.