This phrase is trolled out every now and then. Mostly I’m wary of one-liners. I think they get used by people to sound cool and wise, but I often wonder whether the person uttering it understands what they mean fully.
However, this one-liner is profound. I’ll explain why.
It comes down to suffering…oh no, you may think, here goes another morose Buddhist banging on again – but call it what you like, it’s at the heart of awakening.
We spend pretty much every waking moment in a state of clinging or avoidance, and governed by fear. So let’s make this real.
We cling to ideas about who we are and who we want to become; about the fall of our hair and the way we speak and what we have to say, so that we look good; about the position we’re sitting or standing in because that communicates something too; or to the role we play as if being a lawyer/father/nurse/teacher/coach explains everything about us and must be honed and obeyed.
Or maybe we hold on for dear life to the numbers in a bank account we call our money, to the tin box we call our car, to the cotton in the clothes we wear, or the bricks and mortar we call home. We fear their loss, and we strive for gain.
We avoid discomfort, crossing or uncrossing our legs; shifting a little; unbuttoning something or putting on a jumper; not reading something unpleasant, or reading it again and again as if it might change; not confronting someone who has just, however mildly, put us down or been insensitive; or putting off the difficult task that’s hovering.
Or maybe it’s just Facebook, looking out the window, making yet another cuppa, watching crap on the tv, gossiping, or finding one of a million ways to not leave a gap of Being for even a second, in case a demon jumps into the gap and eats us up.
So when we feel discomfort of the worst type – something we can’t name but just have an itchy need for Something Else – we then fix on a fix, like needing another coffee, or the melted cheese panini we have in mind; about the girl/boy in the corner we’ve started to fantasise about; or the better job we deserve, or the accolade we hope for. We need to change something, fiddle the dials.
What is all this? What’s the common factor? It’s suffering. As humans, we suffer. Not just the big stuff, like dying or divorce or being made redundant or spilling good coffee ;-), but tiny, mostly un-noticed stuff. All day, every moment.
This takes up our energy and attention, and in doing so, hinders our capacity to see opportunities, to tune in emotionally to other people’s stuff, or simply to enjoy the richness around us. It stops us living.
To accept all this discomfort is possibly the essence of this practice. Acceptance does not mean submission; it’s right that we work towards things getting better; but right now is the only time we have to live, so we better get that right. And that means being open and fearless to what is, now. After all, most of it is immaterial; just passing thoughts and silly habits.
When we’re open and friends with the present in this way, and get to know the truth of the insubstantial, self-created and temporary nature of most of this discomfort, it doesn’t hang around. And in the gaps it leaves behind we get to experience the open, spacious nature of the ground of Being, and its infinite possibilities, ie Life.
This is full catastrophe living, to quote Kabatt-Zin quoting Zorba. Fight the present and you will never win; cherish it and you start to awaken, moment by moment.