The other night at a gathering my guru-buddy proudly proclaimed, “I’m a Buddhist so I’m tattooing the Ganesha on my forearm.”
With my usual snarkiness I quipped, “Dude, pretty sure Ganesha is a Hindu God.”
“Well, yeah, same thing. Hindu, Buddha, it’s all about suffering, right?” Buddhism is so sheik.
It’s all about suffering. As I understand Buddhism the idea is that suffering is common to everyone. We are the cause of most of our suffering. To end suffering, we must stop doing that which causes it. The sooner we accept this the quicker we’ll become enlightened.
Sounds great except, I’m not sure I really suffer. Like everyone, I experience heartache and loss, challenges and obstacles. I have days when life seems overwhelming and suffocating. But I also have a low tolerance for frustration and disappointment. I’m impatient and insecure. When things don’t go my way and life doesn’t unfold the way I want it to unfold, I experience discomfort. That’s not really suffering. It’s perceived suffering.
I can’t tell you the last time I didn’t have a crazy good meal in the very near future, or the last time I didn’t know when I was going to find my next meal. Mostly because I’ve never experienced hunger.
I can’t tell you the last time I couldn’t cleanse myself with fresh water from a hot or cold (temperature of my choice) shower. I’ve always had access to freshwater.
I can’t tell you the last time I wasn’t sure when the ruling army was going to arrive, beat me to death, take my women and burn down my house. I’ve never experienced bellicose conditions in any of the countries I’ve lived in.
I can’t tell you the last time I didn’t sleep on a mattress, go a day without coffee, have an opportunity for a hug, or a pleasantry of some sort. I can’t tell you the last time I had to work my body to exhaustion to earn food for the day or the even the last time I walked over 1 mile to get where I needed to be. Hell, I can’t even tell you what public transportation in my town is like.
Singer/songwriter Jason Isbell penned it beautifully in his song Relatively Easy, “You should know compared to people on a global scale our kind has had it relatively easy.”
Or, as my buddy told me the other day when I was ranting about the injustices of my life. “You have ‘white guy’ problems.”
Here’s what my “white guy” problems looked like this morning.
I was tasked with getting my 2-year-old daughter washed, dressed, fed and to school on time. She’s fiercely independent and wants to do everything herself, which means it might take up to 50 minutes to put on a pair of socks. We battled. Me rushing her through the process, her resisting and protesting at every turn. She’s unusually strong for a tiny creature. It felt a bit like wrestling a greased-up spider monkey.
Exhausted, I dropped her off at school and I heard the mental whisperings of an age-old manuscript, one that has haunted me for years.
“Hey Bucko, so this is your life huh? Really? Dude, you deserve better than this. Nobody should have to deal with this level of degradation and humiliation. So unfair. Do you know what to do? Suffer! You know how – go ahead now – suffer.”
Now, my daughter is the single greatest blessing life has given me. Her wild, untapped, ambitious spirit is the purest expression of love and all the beauty the human experience encompasses. How in the world could getting her ready for school cause me suffering?
Through the 12-step journey of self-discovery and effective drug rehabilitation programs, I’ve learned there’s a component of my psyche, an inner dialogue, that tells me to suffer. It invites me to suffer, requires me to suffer, tells me I deserve to suffer. Believing and acting out on this has been the single most destructive agent in my life. Like Sherman marching on the Atlantic, it has burned a swath through my existence. It has taken prisoners, crushed many an innocent heart, and burned down fertile fields of opportunity.
But I can’t afford to listen to that voice anymore. It’s a lie. The return on investment in believing in or acting out on that lie is nil. I get nothing back. Nothing that is, other than further suffering. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of more advanced levels of suffering. I equate my perceived suffering to victimization. They seem to be related – brothers perhaps. Same parents, same upbringing, slightly different articulation, same shitty results.
We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. That makes sense. Comparing ourselves to others leaves us vulnerable to a cornucopia of lower-self characteristics. Jealousy, envy, vanity, superficial-ism, greed, resentment, just to name a few. But I think we can find great value in comparing if we do it as Jason says on ‘a global scale’.
My perceived suffering isn’t global in nature. It’s only concerned with the pangs of this moment’s immediate and acute discomfort.
The article was written by Tony Feeney – Addiction Recovery Specialist at Costa Rica Treatment Center