From the book, “Practicing Peace in Times of War” by Pema Chodron -An excerpt from the chapter Changing Our Attitude Toward Pain
According to Buddhist teachings, difficulty is inevitable in human life. For one thing, we cannot escape the reality of death. But there is also the realities of aging, of illness, of not getting what we want, and of getting what we don’t want. These kind of difficulties are facts of life. Even if you were the Buddha himself, if you were a fully enlightened person, you would experience death, illness, aging, and sorrow at losing what you love. All of these things would happen to you. If you got cut or burned, it would hurt.
But the Buddhist teachings also say that this is not really what causes misery in our lives. What causes misery is always trying to get away from the facts of life, always trying to avoid pain and seek happenings-this sense of ours that there could be security and happiness available to us if we could only do the right thing.
In this very lifetime we can do ourselves and this planet a great favor and turn this very old way of thinking upside down. As Shantideva points out, suffering has a great deal to teach us. If we use the opportunity when it arises, suffering will motivate us to look for answers. Many people, including myself, came to the spiritual path because of deep unhappiniess.Suffering can also teach us empathy for others who are in the same boat. Furthermore, suffering can humble us. Even the most arrogant among us can be softened by the loss of someone dear.
Yet it is so basic in us to feel that things should go well for us and that if we start to feel depressed, lonely, or inadequate, there’s been some kind of mistake, or we have lost it. In reality, when you feel depressed, lonely, betrayed, or any unwanted feelings, this is an important moment on the spiritual path. This is where real transformation can take place.
As long as we are caught up in always looking for certainty and happiness, rather than honoring the taste and smell and quality of exactly what is happening, as long as were always running away from discomfort, were going to be caught in a cycle of unhappiness and disappointment, and we feel weaker and weaker. This way of seeing helps us to develop inner strength. And what’s especially encouraging is the view that inner strength is available to us at just the moment when we think we have hit bottom, when things are at their worst.
Instead of asking ourselves, “How can I find security and happiness?” we could ask ourselves, “Can I touch the center of my pain?” Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace-disappointment in all its many forms-and let it open me?” This is the trick.