By Dana Gornall
I’m staring down at my feet, framed by the bathroom tile, and looking at my toes.
“I need a pedicure,” I think to myself, and then grin from the irony because I now work at a high end salon. It’s a new job for me; I’ve only been here for about a month and I’m still transitioning. Some people seem to blend right into new experiences, making new friends and adjusting immediately. For me, I have a core of shyness that runs through me and it takes a bit to open up.
This is why I am standing here in the bathroom—people tend to leave you alone when you are there and it is a place I can stand and breathe for a moment. Leaning against the wall now, I pull my phone out from my back pocket and text a friend:
I hide in the bathroom sometimes. People don’t usually bother you, although they probably think I need bladder control medication.
I click off the screen and shove my phone back in my pocket, breathing a heavy sigh. Bathrooms have been my friend over the years. I have lost count how many times and in how many places I have ducked in one for just a bit of a break from the world. As a mom, privacy is limited and when one wants a good cry, a quiet space or even just a few minutes to think, the time presented is often short.
However this room is a place where I can shut the door to the world, even for just a little while.
I slide my back down the wall now, resting on my heels and think. Life is suffering. The words run through my mind, now—it is the first of the Four Noble Truths. I’ve read them over and over the past few years, rolling it in my thoughts. The first time I encountered them, I felt myself almost physically pull back from the concept.
What do you mean, life is suffering? Wasn’t the point in life to find happiness? Wasn’t the goal to achieve that brass ring of contentment that we are so often told to reach toward? Wasn’t the reason that I was reading up on Buddhist principles in the first place to get closer to that golden ring without too many bumps in the road?
It was after I continued reading that I began to understand a little better. Apparently the word that is referred to often as “suffering” is Dukkha, which can mean much more than simply what we think of as “to suffer.” Stress, pain—emotional, physical or mental—and even discontent can all qualify as suffering.
And seemingly this is inevitable. So rather than get depressed and frustrated that we deal with crap so often, the Buddha said to accept it.
Learning this, reading it and letting the idea sink in has brought some relief in my life and has been the catalyst for quite a bit of change. For years I have allowed myself to be led by the nose down each path, without questioning or even thinking about why. When things went wrong, I chalked them up to fate—everything happens for a reason. When life wasn’t going my way or when people didn’t do the things I wanted or liked, my anger would bristle and smolder, turning sour until it consumed me into a dark depression.
What was the point? No matter how hard I tried, no matter how good I was, no matter how many “right” decisions I made, things still sometimes went awry.
Curiosity peaked, I continued: the cause of suffering is grasping or attachment.
What was it that I was attached to? Was it the idea of a happy life? What did a happy life mean to me? A house? 2.5 kids? The perfect dog? The perfect yard with a white picket fence and daisies growing in a garden along the front?
Truthfully, did the attachment go even deeper than that?
Was I attached to being successful? To being liked? The third noble truth is that once we put an end to that clinging, we are no longer dissatisfied. What would it mean to let go of the need to be a certain way—to fit in? Wasn’t that one of the reasons that led me to being in this bathroom right this moment—the frustration of feeling that I wasn’t fitting in?
Feeling my knees creak and ache now, with my back leaning against the wall, crouched and resting on my heels, I press backward and stand back up. I suppose I’ve been in here a bit long enough and they may start looking for me.
So life is suffering, sometimes, I think.
I’m going to have to pull up my boot straps and step outside of my comfort zone and maybe try talking to people, even if I have a core of shyness running through me. Even if it takes me a bit longer to open up. I’m going to have to deal with the fact that while yes, I am transitioning, I can’t move forward any more unless I take a step.
And maybe the reason why I am standing here in this bathroom is because I am too attached to that shy persona in the first place. Maybe if I can just let go—even for a few moments—maybe I won’t need to seek out bathrooms so often to hide.
Maybe the brass ring is always moving. Maybe I already have it.
Straightening my shirt, I reach toward the door and open it. The fourth noble truth: the path to liberation is practice.
Editor: Ty H Phillips