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During my recent tour of India, I was reminded over and over that one definition of dukkha is unreliability. India is a truly magical place of great beauty and spirituality but travel can be challenging at times. When Westerners first encounter this, it can be unnerving as we expect systems to work consistently. But when this unreliability is met without our usual expectations of a specific outcome, we no longer suffer. In India, when our group was able to flow with the nature of the unknown, especially in relation to travel, we didn’t suffer. Indians learned this long ago and I observed how they meet this unreliability with equanimity. So in this case there was no dukkha. And we also observed impermanence when the challenge of travel led us into spectacular scenery and magical new places to see and experience.
After returning home from Nashville, I was driving to Tuesday night meditation when I encountered a major traffic jam on 1-440. I decided to take an alternate route via West End and Murphy Road. But many others had the same idea. West End was jammed with cars and I had to sit through four cycles of the light at West End and Murphy, each of which took nearly four minutes. I watched as the clock ticked away knowing I was running later and later. As I’m a punctuality freak, this was a little unnerving. But just as frustration was about to set in I remembered the lesson of unreliability from my travels in India; I exhaled and relaxed. All was well. When I arrived at One Dharma, about 15 minutes later than usual, I jokingly told our opening volunteer that I had turned over a new leaf and had thrown punctuality to the wind!
Here are a few words from Joseph Goldstein about dukkha as the inherently unreliable nature of things:
One way we experience dukkha, the unsatisfying, unreliable nature of things, is through the direct and increasingly clear perception of their changing nature. Many people have been enlightened by this one short teaching: “Whatever has the nature to arise will also pass away.”
But because this statement is so glaringly obvious we often ignore or overlook its deep implications. On the conceptual level, we understand this quite easily. But in our lives, how often are we living in anticipation of what comes next, as if that will finally bring us to some kind of completion of fulfillment? When we look back over our lives, what has happened to all those things we looked forward to? Where are they now? This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves or enjoy pleasant experiences. It just means we need to remember the very transitory nature of that happiness and to deeply consider what our highest aspirations really are. Excerpted from “Mindfulness, A Practical Guide to Awakening.”
At times like this, you may be tempted to let the momentum of anger and outrage pull you away from meditation practice. In fact, sitting still with anger can be very uncomfortable. But don’t let that stop you. Keep sitting – not to get rid of anger, if that’s what you’re feeling, but to become intimate with it. Welcome the discomfort. In the stillness we can allow our awareness, our love, to embrace the anger. What is it telling us at the heart level? Perhaps as we sit, as the dust settles a bit, we become more aware of the fullness of the anger and what accompanies it. For me, right now I encounter sadness and fear for our country. I also encounter a love that can’t be vanquished by hate. Tears flow and I find room in my heart for it all. The beauty and the ugliness – they all serve to awaken my heart and remind me to remain steadfast in love while standing against hate, prejudice and separation, whether in my own heart or in the world.
I’m reminded of these verses from the Shambhala Warrior training:
“In the crucible of meditation, bring forth day by day into your own heart the treasury of compassion, wisdom and courage for which the world longs.
Sit with hatred until you feel the fear beneath it. Sit with fear until you feel the compassion beneath that.
Do not set your heart on particular results. Enjoy positive action for its own sake and rest confident that it will bear fruit.
When you see violence, greed and narrow-mindedness in the fullness of its power, walk straight into the heart of it, remaining open to the sky and in touch with the earth.
Staying open, staying grounded, remember that you are the inheritor of the strengths of thousands of generations of life.
Staying open, staying grounded, recall that the thankful prayers of future generations are silently with you.
Staying open, staying grounded, be confident in the magic and power that arise when people come together in a great cause.
Staying open, staying grounded, know that the deep forces of Nature will emerge to the aid of those who defend the Earth.
Staying open, staying grounded, have faith that the higher forces of wisdom and compassion will manifest through our actions for the healing of the world.
When you see weapons of hate, disarm them with love.
When you see armies of greed, meet them in the spirit of sharing.
When you see fortresses of narrow-mindedness, breach them with truth.
When you find yourself enshrouded in dark clouds of dread, dispel them with fearlessness.
When forces of power seek to isolate us from each other, reach out with joy.
In it all and through it all, holding to your intention, let go into the music of life. Dance!”