“The Noble Truth of suffering (dukkha) is this: Birth is suffering; aging is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the unpleasant is suffering – in brief, the five aggregates of attachment are suffering.”
– Shakyamuni Buddha
Meditation on the Self
I have sensations, but am not those sensations.
I have feelings, but am not those feelings.
I have thoughts, but am not those thoughts.
I am radically Free of all of those, and rest as the unmoving,
unlimited, unrestricted pure Witness of all that arises,
my original I AMness.
– Ken Wilber
“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
– Paul in his letter to the Galatians, 2:20
It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting on the couch typing. It is a cool day by recent standards, about 75F now. The windows are wide open and I feel a breeze floating in, along with the sounds of neighbors heading off to the beach. An “el” train rumbles by then silence falls over the neighborhood. For just a moment, I slip into the timeless now, dissolving into space.
These days I work on Saturday mornings. I am careful to get up by 7 so that I’m ready for the Centering Prayer program that I lead at 9:30. Then there’s writing to do before lunch. Then a nap, if I’m lucky, and maybe some downtime. As I’m sitting here typing today, I’m remembering a Saturday morning scene from my childhood in New Jersey. Dad had driven us to Hendricksen’s drugstore in downtown Berkeley Heights and I was waiting in the car as he went inside. What I remember about this scene was the remarkable sense of it being Saturday and feeling that a great expanse of open time lay ahead of me. I had the sense that the day had infinite potential and I was totally open to whatever might happen in the sure to be glorious day that followed.
I have so many practical responsibilities that it is hard to find a day that feels quite as open and expansive. I’m sure I’m not the only one who awakens to days that are full of chores, commitments, and activities. Still, I am lucky to have a pretty reliable access to a deep sense of wellbeing most days. And while it isn’t exactly the same as the moment at Hendricksen’s, it gives me great peace of mind and ease.
Life is not easy. All the religious traditions have their own way of saying this. There is suffering, the Buddha said. Christians speak of being born into a world that is deeply broken, marked by sin. Hindus speak of the law of karma and the burden of past misdeeds. By the time we reach full adulthood, we know this is true. One way or another, we have experienced setback, disappointments, a broken heart. We know what it is to hurt or to experience injustice. We sense the brokenness of our world.
If sin and suffering were the last word I am not sure how we’d keep going. Some days, the weight of the world is heavy indeed. Luckily, the traditions also offer paths to freedom. Our world is evolving towards greater goodness decade after decade. The Buddha described an eight-fold path to freedom from suffering, a path practiced around the world. Jesus modeled life in union with God and pointed the way for us to find union for ourselves. It seems to me that difficulty and suffering are going to be part of our experience so long as we are alive, but by grace we may also find a taste of eternity, here and now.
A plane is flying by on its final approach to O’Hare. Cicadas, a few, are serenading me as I tap away at the keyboard. I hear a dog barking at a distance and just as suddenly as the barking started, it stops. I take a breath and relax into the moment. I relax and enter the glorious now beyond time as a cool breeze touches my brow. I still have a list of tasks to complete before this day is done but just for this moment, there is ease and space.
What practices reliably create a sense of freedom for you? Do you find grace in moments with friends and intimates? Or maybe with a beloved pet? Or in nature? I would love to hear from you!
Here’s to your ongoing awakening!