If Only? Really?

Do I feel a pervasive sense of insufficiency, inadequacy, dissatisfaction, a constant hunger for more, for better? Is a hidden formula: "I will be happy only if I can have / achieve & hold onto all of these ... and can permanently avoid / prevent all of those ..." driving every aspect of my physical, mental & emotional life? In other words, do I, like most people, prioritize resolving discrepancies between what I think of the present & my desired future?

A long time ago, the Buddha discovered a universal law: that all phenomena are inherently unsatisfactory. He called this dukkha. This boils down to the readily observable fact that no matter how smart we are, how hard we try, or what we do, everything & everyone is a bit off the mark, disappointing, stressful. Try to come up with a single person, animal or object that will remain a consistent source of perfect joy for you (or for anyone else)! Were it not for dukkha, most reasonably intelligent people would be consistently happy, while those who work incredibly hard (perfectionists, workaholics, people with obsessive compulsive disorder) would consistently be the happiest. Dukkha is not a dogma. It's more like gravity - a real law of nature, the way things are, whether you believe it or not, like it or not. Ignore it at your own peril.

Most of us do choose to ignore it because dukkha is not easy to really "get". It means we have far less control than we'd like over almost all aspects of our lives. After reading about this for almost 50 years, and having a meditation practice for almost 20 years, I'm just starting to have direct, experiential understanding of dukkha. Illusion of control may be our most prized illusory possession!

What we actually DO have complete control over is our attitude. Avoidance of reality is well-known to be dysfunctional with numerous negative effects, while seeing clearly & accepting things as they actually are is the very foundation of psychological health.

As we gradually come to terms with dukkha - in other words, start to see & accept reality - we gain equanimity! We actually start to know what we're saying AND feel fine about saying, "Oh well, that's life." We become less & less perturbed by any of life's many absolutely normal & impersonal ups & downs. Normal events that consistently affect every single one of us - like dukkha, aging, sickness & death - are no longer misinterpreted as rare, preventable mistakes & personal attacks. Now we're discovering a freedom that's independent of all circumstances & times. This is true resilience and a qualitatively different perspective.

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