Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Remove the Arrow: A Reminder

In my last few posts I've been exploring the idea of practicing patience, no matter what life throws at you.

I want to follow up and say that while I think the six points of the Mahamudra and Practice of Patience are all very useful and very good, some are better suited to certain kinds of suffering than others.

For instance, a reader pointed out that my kidney stone pain was a sort of pain that was hard to reimagine as pleasant to someone else. While I maintain that all points can be utilized, the "This too shall pass" item was maybe best suited to maintaining calm and patience in that scenario. (At least once I knew what it was--for a time I had no idea.) Think of the six points as options, and use whichever is best suited to allowing you to cultivate patience when you really need to.

Now, it a good idea to remember that some things that cause suffering we have no control over. Kidney stone pain is one of them. (Assuming there's nothing you know about yourself regarding diet or other ways to avoid the stones, you kind of just have to suck it up and allow the body to deal with it.) Many illnesses and the loss of others in our lives fall into this category.

However, there are plenty of kinds of pain and suffering that you do have control over. Namely work situations and relationships, and bad health--physical, emotional, or financial--that's self-inflicted.

There is a relevant Buddhist parable that I'll sum up here: A man is shot with a poisoned arrow. It is causing him great pain. But before he'll have it removed, he wants to know who shot him, why they shot him, where his assailant was from, what the arrow is made of, what sort of string the bow was strung with, etc...

The point is that knowing the answers to those questions do not alleviate the suffering. Indeed, in this scenario, the man might die and still not get the answers to all his questions. The only rational, clear-headed way forward is to remove that which is causing the suffering.

So, when considering your problem, pain or suffering, ask yourself if it is something you have control over. If not, practice patience.

If, on the other hand, it is something you can change--then there is no need to martyr yourself. You have both the power and the responsibility to love yourself enough to end the suffering.

Remove the arrow. You might still have questions, but the first order of business is to draw out the poisoned dart. Then, and only then, can an inquiry into why you've been shot or how it happened begin.

Good luck, and may all beings everywhere, including ourselves, be happy and free from suffering.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your classification of the types of suffering into those pains over which we have no control and those which we can at least influence is very helpful to me. It can be difficult to look at a situation, see that it is something that someone else could (easily!) love and then get mired in the guilt for not being able to (easily or otherwise) love the situation yourself. The positive side to the guilt is that it raises questions about the authenticity of the life being lived. Proper care and attention to those questions is scary... but also liberating. It will lead to change, but maybe not the sort of change you expected. In any event, I can't agree more that it is our duty to love ourselves enough to work towards the end of suffering. Then, we can turn our energy and love outwards, to help others who are seeking.