Life is hard when you pay attention, and it gets harder.
So much of our lives are designed to help us forget. TV, Facebook, Harry Potter, cheesecake, romance, good music, beach days, drugs, booze and career aspirations all do the trick. Then, every so often, reality reasserts itself and reminds us that life is hard. It’s like a bucket of cold water poured over your head, or sudden taillights on the car ahead of you in traffic.
Every so often, life makes us stop and see. The stops are usually violent, and what we see isn’t usually pretty, but that’s how the Dharma works. We can’t work toward wisdom if we’re happy in ignorance. All contemplative paths start with suffering and disenchantment. “This game is rigged, I don’t wanna play anymore. I just wanna go home.”
That’s where it all starts, and that disenchantment and longing for “home” is what sees us through.
The list of the Six Perfections always starts with generosity, but I think patience might be the most important one. Patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s sanity in an insane world. It’s the understanding that things change, and that if we can wait it out, we’ll find our way back to the good.
What life is asking us to do is meditate, which is stopping and seeing put into practice. First we sit and stop the monkey mind, then we see Buddha Mind. Buddha Mind is just monkey mind having remembered its true nature: naturally empty and free. At home in the real, the days pass without much of a fuss as the sun and moon leave no traces of their paths across the sky.
A fish jumps up and plops back into the stream setting off a waves of ripples that slowly fade. It all… just works.
But, sorry, I’m skipping ahead—an old habit. First thing’s first: own up to your own misery. Own up to your fondness for illusions and your inability to cope with reality. Everything negative you’ve ever felt, you’ve felt because your mind is weak and unsteady. It’s unsteady because it’s relying on unsteady things to support it. Hard times aren’t really hard times, they only seem hard because we’re looking to the wrong sources for confidence and ease.
Nothing out there (gestures broadly) can give us what we really want because everything “out there” is impermanent. The first time we meet someone, they’re already well on their way to becoming someone else. They’re already on their way to getting sick, getting old and dying. They’re on their way to losing traits you enjoy and picking up ones you don’t.
Everything’s like that. Things never suddenly change, we just don’t usually see the gradual—but constant—changes happening moment to moment. Sudden change is just the moment we suddenly become aware that things have changed.
Most of our misery comes from ignoring all of that and instead giving into our negative feelings and impulses via actualizing them with our thoughts, words, and actions.
So the first step is to stop doing that and then see how that changes your state of mind.
Instead of letting an afflicted feeling control us, we can sit and watch it become something other than what it was. With that, we exhaust it; we’re breaking the cycle. When we see that affliction evaporate, there’s joy, bliss, clarity, and peace. If we let those feelings influence us, then we’re reinforcing them, giving them steam.
The monkey mind might still be hopping around, but we’re not hopping around with it, not being influenced by it. We can see it move, we can watch it tire itself out until it takes a nap under the Bodhi Tree.
Then, it wakes up and sees the morning star. Like moonlight pouring into an empty glass, it shines along with it. Everything shines. Out of the blue, hard times aren’t quite as hard anymore. We can wait them out, we can switch perspectives, we can use them as an opportunity to learn and help people.
Because nothing is set in stone, not even stone. Free from our delusions, we can change with the changes, never bringing an old self into a new moment. The same force that takes away our health, family, and life is the one that gave us them to begin with: time. And we are that. We are the change that we’ve been fighting to ignore, the unstoppable current that we’ve been trying to dam up. Our nature is the same as a Buddha’s.
We just have to stop and see, and let hard times teach us about the way things are.
Anshi is the pen-name for a Buddhist writer. If you know who Anshi is, please don’t tell anyone since these posts often have sensitive autobiographical info in them. Anshi is a Mahayana Buddhist priest at the Bodhisattva Process.
Editor: Dana Gornall