Man goes off to find the meaning of life. Man finds the meaning of life – he actually finds it. He has the answer. At first he chooses not to tell anyone else as he is not sure they will understand, but after a short while he remembers 5 old friends he left after a falling out; he thinks they might get it and decides to teach them.
So, after finding what life is all about he gives his first talk. He must have thought long and very carefully about what to say. If he were to pitch it wrong, to choose the wrong words his discovery might never get shared, might become lost again. So his opening point in his first ever talk after working out the meaning of life was …..
THERE IS SUFFERING
Now that may be perceived at best as dull or mundane and more likely as depressing. But really it is exactly the right starting point. Because he didn’t say “you will suffer” but “there is suffering” so it is not your fault you felt bad, you are not the reason things aren’t going 100% your way. We don’t need to blame ourselves when things don’t work out how we had wished. We can drop that train of thought we like to run about how we are no good, how we cannot cope, how we are a failure. Equally, we can release that string of ideas blaming our father, our boss, our education, that company or whatever else we like to rage against. They are just as much not to blame as we are not to blame. There is suffering. It is part of life.
And at that moment of noticing the suffering we can try two thing. Firstly, just feel that disappointment, that raw hurt; don’t let those thoughts run away with their “what if’s” and the “if only’s”. Instead we can notice them and let them go. Because right there is the chance to move on, to begin to release the untrue storylines of blaming ourselves or someone/something else. And secondly we can realise that everyone else feels exactly the same in their lives. There is suffering for everyone. Understand that and compassion and love, empathy and care will naturally follow.
I think therefore Buddha chose wisely when he chose the very first part of his discovery to speak about.
(This post was inspired by starting to read Pema Chodron’s “fail fail again fail better”)