“Life is suffering,” the Buddha teaches us. That encompasses the “big” pains of life–the loss of a parent or child, a terminal illness, poverty, and the various tragedies that play out across the world–and the “small” pains of life, like my allergies which have caused me to sneeze for nearly two hours hour. It includes my knees that ache when it rains, and it certainly includes the damage my drinking did and the continued suffering of withdrawal.
But the Buddha also teaches us that there can be an end to suffering, but in the meantime, I’d like to learn to manage my suffering a little better. On this my 70th day of sobriety, I’m learning how to do that by reading Sylvia Boorstein’s, It’s Easier Than You Think. I just finished a chapter in which she describes how some days she’s better at managing her suffering than others, and she freely admits that she certainly hasn’t attained the end to suffering. There are accounts of people who’ve done just that, especially when the Buddha still walked the Earth and taught, and perhaps those stories are true. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever escape suffering since, you know, I’m human and everything…but I hope that working the 12 Steps, meditating, and practicing kindness and compassion to myself, my family, my students, and those with whom I come into contact with will help me manage my suffering better.
I saw an example the management of suffering recently. A relative new-comer (I’ll call him John) to AA lost his son in a drug-deal gone wrong; his son had been struggling to get clean but didn’t make it. John cried when he told us about the death of his son, but he also said, “Drinking isn’t going to help bring my son back, and it won’t help me.” In the meetings since then, John’s been more reserved, but he talks to people. He opens up during discussion, and he talks about his grief and his loss. He’s managing. It’s impressive; some might even call it miraculous.
Boorstein hits on something else I needed to hear today, as well, when she says that we’re making progress if we can say (and meant it) that all things are temporary, and that includes suffering. My allergies will eventually calm down and I won’t feel like I’m sneezing my face off. I won’t always experience Post-Actuate Withdrawal Syndrome. Similarly, the good times won’t last either. Impermanence is the nature of life, and I’m learning to accept that.
Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and sober St. Patrick’s Day.