Sunday, February 21, 2010

and the bleak horse i rode in on

It takes almost nothing to summon it. The light hits wrong, for example. You're inside while it's sunny, the sunlight is streaming into the room, but track lights are are shining down the walls and a lamp is lit, senselessly, in the corner. The natural and man-made lights clash; the lamps and track lighting--which look so good at night, so inviting--look artificial, superfluous, weak. Irritating. And the sunlight, in turn, looks oppressive and callous. Go away, we don't need you, each light says to the other.

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism. Dukkha, or dissatisfactoriness. The premier fact of life. I like how Lama Surya Das expresses it, that things feel fraught, cracked, hard-to-bear, off-the-mark. Unreliable and dissatisfying (surprise).

I've been meditating every morning for the longest stretch of my life. Not very long in the scheme of things, just a few months, but it's permanent between us, now. I've crossed that line. Never abandoning it. I require it for my well-being. It's something I'd always hoped for but never thought I'd be able to pull off, having a regular meditation practice. I thought I'd weasel out. But no, no, hell, no. Thank you, 40. (I always looked forward to turning 40. I had the idea that this was going to be a special age, a turning point, and there's no question that the arrival--among other things--of a full-fledged meditation practice into my life is going to propel me places I couldn't have gone without it.)

I read this morning that when you start meditating regularly, it's common to experience dukkha more acutely. What's really happening is that you're experiencing the same amount you always did, only you're seeing it more clearly.

I can report that this is true. Mutherfukkhin dukkha wherever I turn. When the timer beeps and my morning meditation is finished, I fish around briefly in my copy of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj's book I Am That to develop a game plan for facing the day's barrage. The solidity and calm lingering from my meditation begin their slow wane, and dread gathers outside the door.

Wow, Tina. Meditation sounds really good. I'm going to try it. It's working so well for you.

But it is, and here's why it is. I felt it today at the end of my meditation, after I did my I Am That fishing, once I had my game plan. I have to jump to the Third Noble Truth for this one. Here it is, in its three aspects: There is the cessation of suffering, of dukkha. The cessation of dukkha should be realized. The cessation of dukkha has been realized.

I'm reminded of my friend, Peggy, whose voice I can hear saying, "Get on your gear, boys, we're going in!"

That's what I felt today: the mirror image of FUCK THIS SHIT, its positive shadow. I will fuck this shit, thank you, this shit being dukkha and the fucking of it being my commitment to follow the path* of the wise ones who have realized the cessation of suffering. It was like a little lion's roar in my gut, this feeling. Spear in the air. Me and what army. Watch your castle, Way Things Are.

*That there is such a path is the Fourth Noble Truth**.

**You know what's funny? I'm not even a Buddhist, she said, wearing a maroon robe and prostrating herself in front of a statue of the Buddha.

I'm tired of it, see. I'm tired of it on all our behalves. Waist-high, neck-high in dukkha all the damn time. So much suffering, and so much of that self-created.

Backing up to the Second Noble Truth, the cause of dissatisfaction, which is tanha, which translates to...oh, hell. I'm just going to quote a chunk from Surya Das:
These four facts of life are meant to be known, understood, and realized, seen as they are. Knowing the bare fact that things are dissatisfying won’t free us from dissatisfaction. The crucial part is knowing the Second Noble Truth, which is the cause of that dissatisfaction — not the things themselves, since the things themselves don’t suffer; it is we who suffer. The cause of that suffering is clinging, attachment, greed, desire, resistance, fixation — whatever you want to call it. It is often called craving. The word literally is tanha in Pali (samudaya in Sanskrit), which suggests thirst. Because we crave, continually desire and thirst for various experiences and things, and because created things are never ultimately satisfying, we suffer. That’s where the chain of suffering can be addressed: whether or not we cling to things and crave for experience. It’s not that we have to get rid of the things themselves. Things are not the problem. It is the attachment, the identification with things that causes suffering. Tilopa wrote, “It is not outer objects which entangle us. It is inner clinging which entangles us.”

This clinging takes many different forms, as we all know. We might well examine in our own lives what forms this attachment takes, but traditionally it is laid out as taking three different aspects: One is craving for pleasurable experiences, what we want. Second is craving to get rid of what we don’t want. This is also a desire, of course (although in the form of aversion). This is interesting, because here we see how attachment (or desire) and aversion (or anger, aggression) are actually the very same movement, a craving for something other than what is.

The third aspect is also very interesting as we go a little deeper into it: Craving or desire to become something or someone, that is, egotism itself. It fuels the whole process of rebirth, of wanting something and becoming that. So there is a lot of dissatisfaction in that, since whatever we can become, however we can seem, whatever we get or achieve, doesn’t last forever; yet we exhaust ourselves and absorb ourselves in getting it; we are invested in it and identify with it. That’s why clinging or attachment can also be called identification. If we identify with things — if we identify with our body, if we identify with our mind, if we identify with our self-concept — since they are not ultimately permanent or satisfying, it is very trying. We never quite get what we need out of this incessant clinging and demanding. It’s like drinking salt water, which cannot alleviate our thirst, but just makes us even more thirsty.


Dissatisfaction and thirst, all day long. Something gives you a little temporary burst of pleasure. The light hits right - look at that cloud! It's so bright against the cloud behind it! Oh, this is the light I like! Birthday light! Overcast with a glow! (See, this, this is all I ask, world. Things like this knit together tightly end-to-end from waking to dark. Good news and good lighting all day long.) Oh, why do I have to drive around the corner? I won't be able to see that cloud anymore. Oh, this street. This street is no good. These houses are like nothing. Tan bricks. Please stop making that noise, you're giving me a headache. I wish, I wish. Ouch. This hurts. All of it. No good. It's no good.

I'm tired of the sudden stomach-drop, dukkha gut-punch, ensuing tanha scrambling. It's downright undignified, the scrambling. Christ, I find myself on my knees looking for scraps all day long. Scraps. On the internet. In a book. On television. From you, and from you, and from you. Save me, give me a little hit of pleasure.

Yes, Facebook, save me from the suffering of being alive.

(This is not, I hope I don't need to say but I suspect I might, a dismissal of my myriad blessings, which are myriad. I know. I know! But you know and I know that good fortune never immunized anyone from despair. And I think this will probably need to be said as well: I'm happy, too, as happy as anyone alive. Truly. Worriers in the house can rest. Regular existential despair doesn't cancel out regular everyday happiness. I just don't want you to imagine that I'm some asshole who doesn't care for the beauty that surrounds her. Believe me, I am aware, I count all the blessings, and I am grateful. It all, unfortunately, doesn't cancel out Truth No. 1. That's all I'm saying.)

Fuck this endless search for scraps. If I'm going to go on an endless search, which apparently I am, I want to search for something fine. Holy Grail. The cessation of suffering, that ought to about do.

I sat down to write exclusively about dukkha, which means I sat down to bitch. But I'm not leaving us there.

I had a sleeping Fred in my arms tonight, so warm against me, and I suddenly understood that though Fred is a baby, he's not a baby. He's a man that's not a man yet. He's a person. He is complete. He is conscious. He is intelligent. He is himself. So I had this mysterious man-not-a-man up against me, sending his warmth right into my torso, into my face burrowing into him. Nothing between us. No issues. Pure contact, pure togetherness. Not a scrap. Something deep, something real, something uncorrupt.

Thank you.