Yeah, I hope that’s not sacriligeous. If it is, I hereby apologize and I mean no disrespect. (But if it isn’t, I think I’d like a t-shirt with that emblazoned across the front.)
I’ve been dipping my big toe into some basic Buddhist philosophy lately. Don’t anybody panic–I’m well aware of my location smack dab in the middle of the brass buckle of the Bible belt, and I hereby proclaim my status as a lapsed Presbyterian so as not to freak anybody the hell out.
Last summer, in the middle of what felt like my world falling apart, I woke up one morning to an email from my good friend Aaron. It was an email that has made a world of difference in my past 8-9 months. It said, among other things, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
This is a Western paraphrasing of a central Buddhist tenet, and since the first time I read those words, they’ve resonated with me. Pain is inevitable. None of us makes it through this life unscathed. We all face challenges and life, by its very nature, is going to be painful. Sometimes, very painful. But how we deal with that pain and what we do when the tough times come make all the difference in whether or not we are happy. Suffering is optional.
My general understanding is this: All of it—good, bad, or otherwise—is temporary. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. When we are in pain or are afraid, our suffering is usually caused more by a worry that we’ll always be in pain or always be afraid rather than being caused by the fact that we are in that state at any given moment. [Sidenote: The first time I typed that, I typed "always be alone." Freudian much?]
On the flip side, however, this necessarily means that joy passes, too. That makes me feel a little panicky sometimes–I don’t want the good things in life to be transient. Still, this notion that everything is temporary really rings true with me. And if it’s true, then it has to be faced and dealt with, regardless of my level of inherent discomfort with it. EVERYTHING changes. NOTHING stays the same.
Maybe acknowledging this transience does lead to happiness. Maybe it forces us to live in the present—to fully experience this particular moment, good or bad, because all moments are fleeting and whatever is happening right now will never happen in exactly the same way again.
When it hurts? Force yourself to pay attention to what’s happening, process it the best you can, and try to learn something from it to take forward into the future. The pain will pass. And with any luck, you’ll be stronger and wiser because of it.
When life feels good? Enjoy it. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Marvel at how quiet the snow is when it falls. Hold a hug a moment longer. Let yourself feel giddy at the sound of your children’s laughter. These moments won’t last, and neither will the darker ones.
In 1983 when the oh-so-TeenBeat movie “The Outsiders” was released, I was a 12-year-old girl wearing my heart on my sleeve. (That scene near the end, after the church burns and Johnny’s in bad shape and he tells Ponyboy to “stay gold” and you realize that it’s not going to be a happy ending for everyone? Knife.In.Chest.) In thinking lately about change, I realized that the film’s quotation of the gorgeous words of Robert Frost has always stuck with me:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Who knew Ponyboy was Buddhist?