In The Art of Living, Thich Nhat Hanh says,
“We should not be afraid of suffering. We should be afraid of only one thing, and that is not knowing how to deal with our suffering. Handling our suffering is an art. If we know how to suffer, we suffer much less, and we’re no longer afraid of being overwhelmed by the suffering inside.”
I don’t feel I am afraid of suffering. I just don’t like it. Suffering sucks. Especially physical suffering. I used to think I knew how to deal with suffering. I am not so confident about it right now. I am not sure I have yet mastered the art of suffering,
As I write, a dull pain is throbbing through my left leg. My knee feels as though hot needles are piercing it. This is my “normal.” Constant pain has been my reality for over two years now. It’s called lymphedema and has been described as “swelling in one or more extremities that results from impaired flow of the lymphatic system.” There is no medical cure.
According to legend, the Buddha’s first teaching was The Four Noble Truths. The first truth is sarvam idam duhkham: “all this is suffering.” It’s important to understand that the truth of suffering is based on the two principles of interdependence and impermanence. With regard to the former, this is why I have always maintained that Buddha could have easily said, “all this is happiness.” As for the latter, suffering or the “the unsatisfactoriness of life, its pain, its malaise, its inherent ‘ill’-ness” has as its primary cause our inability to find complete and lasting satisfaction.
In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Shunryu Suzuki puts it much better than I can:
“In Buddhism it is a heretical view to expect something outside this world. We do not seek for something besides ourselves. We should find the truth in this world, through our difficulties, through our suffering. This is the basic teaching of Buddhism. Pleasure is not different from difficulty. Good is not different from bad. Bad is good; good is bad. They are two sides of one coin. So enlightenment should be in practice. That is the right understanding of practice, and the right understanding of our life. So to find pleasure in suffering is the only way to accept the truth of transiency. Without realizing how to accept this truth you cannot live in this world. Even though you try to escape from it, your effort will be in vain. If you think there is some other way to accept the eternal truth that everything changes, that is your delusion. This is the basic teaching of how to live in this world. Whatever you may feel about it, you have to accept it. You have to make this kind of effort.
So until we become strong enough to accept difficulty as pleasure, we have to continue this effort. Actually, if you become honest enough, or straightforward enough, it is not so difficult to accept this truth. You can change your way of thinking a little bit. It is difficult, but this difficulty will not always be the same. Sometimes it will be difficult, and sometimes it will not be so difficult. If you are suffering, you will have some pleasure in the teaching that everything changes. When you are in trouble, it is quite easy to accept the teaching. So why not accept it at other times? It is the same thing. Sometimes you may laugh at yourself, discovering how selfish you are. But no matter how you feel about this teaching, it is very important for you to change your way of thinking and accept the truth of transiency.”
I accept the truth of transiency. Somehow it doesn’t make things much easier. It’s still difficult. I am not afraid of the pain, but I am sick to hell of it.
The question is how deeply inside I accept impermanence. There is no cure for lymphedema, except in my mind. Right now, my mind is depressed and I lament at the thought that this chronic pain is going to be the reality of the remainder of my life. But that’s because I am viewing what I am experiencing in the present moment to be permanent.
All this, our perceptions, thoughts, feelings are like clouds in the sky. They change shape, they move, appear, and reappear. I guess it’s like Joni Mitchell wrote, “It’s cloud’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all.”
That’s something I need to change.