Now is Good.

Just because life hands you lemons doesn't mean you have to suck.

Buddhists Do It Better. February 23, 2010

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.

BUT …

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?

 

 

15 Responses to “Buddhists Do It Better.”

  1. Cassie Says:

    WOW. I’m “overwhelmed” today.
    I needed to hear this in my head and have it in front of me in words (so I can print it and post it in my car). I’m dealing with my ex (the good doesn’t exist, the bad and the ugly) you’d think after four years it wouldn’t, but it does. (sorry). But thank you. Thank you for writing this. I love it! I just told my new husband that my heart felt full—-I wanted to cry. I needed a few minutes of quiet time…..came to read this and tissues aren’t enough. It might be my therapy this week. Peace, love and happiness. Cassie

  2. patrice Says:

    Funny thing, earlier today I was thinking you would make a great “spreader of the word” . . any word! Here you are! You are so well spoken and written! Love it!!!!
    Religion is all about where we were born and in DeSoto, Tx there wasn’t even a Catholic Church (I was 1 of 4 that ventured to Duncanville while Jason was 1 of none that drove to Dallas to be Episcopalian); I never new a Buddhist until about 3 years ago. The thought of studying and practicing religion without having to put your fancy suit and makeup on while possibly giving money to a leader that lives a life of greed from the followers dollar, excites me! I love exploring religion and it is very comforting to know that at least one other great friend is, even in Texas!

  3. The best thing about Buddhism is that it’s not a “religion”, but more of a “mindset” that can be applied in conjunction with religion. I’ve done some studying of the topic over the past couple years and now display a sticker that says “let go. attachment is suffering.” So true… difficult, but true. And liberating. Have you read any of Eckhart Tolle’s books (“the power of now”)?

    • Taline Says:

      To follow up on what we talked about this weekend and these posts, Meredith, the Power of Now is one of the books my friend I had wine with Friday night recommended. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on the list.

  4. @Cassie–I’m sorry you’re having a rough stretch. I know it will turn around, but I hope it is soon! I’m glad my post made you feel like there was someone out there who knows how you feel!

    @Patrice–I love learning about other religions and other forms of spirituality. It’s fascinating to see the overlap as well as the differences.

    @The DE and Taline–I haven’t read The Power of Now, but it’s now on my list!

    Thanks, ladies!

  5. Jennifer Says:

    I think we can always learn from others, regardless of which flavor of faith we claim. You might like this cartoon . .. http://www.nakedpastor.com/archives/4316

  6. Jim Says:

    And remember, even though it’s the hardest, often we can learn the most from ourselves. (Wups! Wht’s he doing here?)

  7. CraigK Says:

    Odd how life goes hand in hand. I was amazed yesterday to be driving back to work from lunch and, no kidding, about 30 Tibetan Monks walked across the seawall in front of me. Bright Orange robes and everything.

  8. Dev Says:

    Ponyboy didn’t even know Ponyboy was Buddhist – which makes him the perfect Buddhist.

    Much love, Mere.

  9. […] 19.  Realizing the truth of “Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.” […]

  10. […] Total Reflection: The She Said/She Said Project “A calm sea never made a skilled mariner” (as seen on a T-shirt at Cafepress while searching for a T-shirt that says ‘Buddhists Do It Better’) […]

  11. […] optimism just isn’t possible.  I doubt it will last and I’m sure it will all be fine (nothing lasts forever, after all), but right now?  Right now is one of those times I just *can’t* see the silver […]

  12. mohammed Says:

    I have no idea who Ponyboy is, because that is an Emily Dickinson poem.

  13. […] “A calm sea never made a skilled mariner” (as seen on a T-shirt at Cafepress while searching for a T-shirt that says ‘Buddhists Do It Better’) […]


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