treating the obvious


I’m not the sharpest finger pointing to the obvious.

A few months ago, my body and mind decided to separate leaving the Me-Who-Functions-More-Or-Less a bit adrift. Coming out of a restaurant where I was entertaining a visiting lecturer and friend, I tripped on the edge of the raised sidewalk and sprawled unceremoniously into the street. In my pre-occupation with having left my car unlocked (and catastrophic visions of his computer having been stolen from it), I failed to coordinate my foot with an edge I’ve step up to thousands of time – this being my favourite pizza place. Not only had I skinned both my knees but I also sprained the tendons holding my knee cap. Of course, seeking treatment was – and often is – out of the question because… well, because, just. because.

A few weeks later, taking my computer bag out of my car, I dropped it. Being my new MacBook and all, I tried to save it with an open-handed dive only to have the bag, book, and ‘puter trash my finger. Now you would think, “Oh, she’s a smart cookie. Perhaps with two injuries she’ll get the karmic bellow about taking responsibility.” Silly you.

I did eventually go to the urgent care clinic for my knee, only because I thought it was broken and there was a sesshin looming in my future. No, no breaks; just a badly sprained patellar tendon. In my defense, I figured that one hardly needs a knee on a regular basis; it’s more of a perform-on-demand kind of joint. Apparently not. I was also too chagrined by my neglect of life and limb that I didn’t ask about my finger. I still haven’t. However, one of our classmates in our weekly “Train your human to be a good dog owner” class came in wearing a splint. It look pretty.

So I got one.

It hurts. A lot. And it’s even harder to find words that don’t use the letters T, R, F, G, V, B for this post.

I sit humbled by the strand of sinew attached to this digital joint, as much for its attempts to communicate with me as for a nuanced dharma teaching on the Second Noble Truth.

We know stuff happens, poop pervades, and disgruntlement is dismally normal. That’s the big NT1 and not only is it True, it is Real. Real because we regularly encounter disruptions, trips, bashed fingers and toes, illness, pain, and loss. These are the sufferings of suffering; the regular stuff we try to avert from, striking a posture of insouciance. Then there is that suffering of change; what was well is now not so well. What was whole is now in parts – or at least stretched beyond its limits. And the suffering that arises out of our tendency to adopt various stances to our experience (conditioned suffering) leads us down pathways seeking a fix-it solution.

It’s helpful to see these three as interdependent and co-emerging. But what is important is not to diminish that “fix-it” tendency especially at the entry-level of suffering. Get the x-ray, get the splint, get the second opinion. That’s simply because when we begin by treating the obvious source of immediate suffering, we defuse the firing of the other two forms of suffering. When we take charge of what is literally and figuratively painfully evident, there is a slightly less possibility that we end up in mental pretzels about our worth or worthiness to be well and whole.

(OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve taken off the splint so I can type this faster. Because. Just. Because.) Now go and find the obvious thing in your life that needs immediate attention and care.

digging out dukkha

DSC_0101It’s been a rough few days. My heart goes out to the families in Newtown CT and globally in places we never hear about who are going through what, to me, is unimaginable loss. I have no wise words, no salve, no offers of hope for ease and peace. Often, when such tragedies strike, I find myself watching it all unfold, mesmerized by the way online characters respond to words written on this posting or that. Often, when I read cruel and mean-spirited comments or just plain ignorant ones, I find myself turning to Frank and asking him to explain (yet again) the mentality I think is reflected in the words I’m reading. Together, we sit and he tries his very best to explain this aspect of his birth culture and I fail (yet again) to grasp the senselessness of the physical, verbal, and emotional violence so many witness and endure.

For so long I have deeply wished we could eradicate all the weaponry of emotional and physical hurt. I have this delusion that the suffering left will be manageable, witness-able, containable.  But I know that is not likely to be the end result.  So I’ve vowed to stop trying to make sense out of something that cannot make sense – not even in how we reference it because “senseless” violence is the oxymoron of oxymorons.  In fact, to call it that subtly opens a door to discussion for what constitutes “sensible” violence.  And caught in our deluded states of mind (often armed with statistics), there is no end to what we each believe is sensible in these circumstances.   However, nothing can ever justify violence or our reluctance to do what is necessary to prevent it.  But, couched in these discussions, there is a subtle “bait-and-switch” that leads us away from the real issue.  Because violence and death are often dramatically coupled, violent deaths become the salient aspect of an event and the focus of all our energies.  Caught in our passion, we miss that it is the finger pointing to the moon.

Embedded in these events is a deeper truth and it opens to the possibility of digging further into our practice.  In sangha, after we honoured the pain and suffering of all grieving families in the ten directions, we shared our thoughts about the events at Newtown and other occasions of profound suffering.  One sangha friend pointed out wisely that even if we managed to prevent these and other deaths, we are still left with the reality of suffering that is inherent in living.  This is the intimate truth of all living beings; being born is the most predictable cause of dying and it is  not preventable.  Furthermore, there is much suffering that arises in the process of getting from birth to death.  These many variants of suffering themselves become the roots of all forms of suffering – including but not exclusive to pre-mature death, sometimes from violence.  These are, in large part, preventable.

This First Truth of suffering is the touchstone to which we must return each and every time we are confronted with the inexplicable.  Only then can we begin to see the bigger picture of what is necessary and possible.  Only then can we embody our practice of compassionate action through our civic, spiritual, and personal paths as we take determined steps to dig out the roots of many forms of suffering.  If not, if we focus only on weapons or violence or drugs or whatever is salient in this moment, we are only cleaning out the compost bin and not the septic bed it sits atop that itself needs to be dug out.