By James P. Howard, II
Before we start, let us remember some ground rules.
When I discuss pain, I mean what the Buddha called, dukkha. As you may know, some translators like to think of dukkha more as "unsatisfactoriness" and that certainly makes more sense. But I like pain here---it is more poetic and delivers more force. However you think of dukkha, though, is appropriate here.
Pain is something the Buddha tells us we should not accept.
It causes us grief. It comes from samudaya, clinging or longing. It forces us to live in the past or the future. We long for the past or cling to the future, in both cases never much more than how we imagined it, rather than it really was or will be. It causes us to forget the now. We forget to live in the now.
The Four Noble Truths are the definition of this pain and how to stop it.
There's a certain pain I have carried for decades. It is deep. The specifics do not matter, because it is a kind of pain we can all relate to. For years, I have hidden from it (as much as I can) but it has reminded me of its existence.
And I have recently discovered I like it. This might be a problem.
Despite running from it, this pain was never far behind. It has come to define me in many ways. It might sound bad, and it might be on occasion. But overall, really, it is a positive thing. This pain has forced me to grow in very important ways. It has been beneficial to me in my personal life. It has been beneficial to me in my professional life. It has caused me to seek out many specific things which I likely would have gone without.
And even when they have not been beneficial in the traditional sense, they have been positive and even fun.
None of the benefits I have received have lessened the pain, and I knew they would not when I sought them out. Often the connection is tenuous, and I might be the only one to see it. But it is there. And so is the pain.
Pain is a beautiful thing, sometimes.
It is not all roses, though. Sometimes this pain leaves me sad, hollow, or empty. It leaves me wishing I had made different choices. It leaves me wanting to change the way things were.
This has led me to a bit of a problem. This pain has been something of a constant companion to me. It sits next to me and it pushes me harder and harder. It forces me to try things I might not otherwise try. It forces me to enjoy some things I might not otherwise enjoy. It forces me to be a better person than I might otherwise be.
I do not think I want to relieve myself of this burden. I am now clinging to the pain, which is backward from how the Buddha taught us clinging and pain relate to each to each other. Whether or not I want to relieve myself of this pain, it might not be a good idea.
The downsides are real, but after all, so are the benefits.
James P. Howard, II, is a mathematician in Columbia, Maryland. Feel free to visit his website at https://jameshoward.us
Editor: Dana Gornall
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