Life is full of unknowns; unknowns about our work, our health, our relationships, the list goes on. Things may appear to be solid and stable, or perhaps that’s just how we wish to see it. Sooner or later we come to realize that life is constantly changing and full of surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. This realization is not a bad thing. It’s our first insight into the truth of how things are. It can be liberating if we take it to heart.
I, along with others, prefer predictability and security of all kinds, small and large. However, we almost suffer from impulsively seeking resolution, answers and fixes. We devise all sorts of ways to escape anticipated difficulty and pain. One of the basic teachings from Buddhism is that pain is a part of life, but suffering is our choice.
We seek order and stability in all forms: financial, relational, personal, professional, internal and external. Whether it’s my penchant for keeping a clean house or my desire to protect my loved ones from future losses, it’s a way to avoid chaos and ambiguity. If there was a way to escape it, surely someone would have discovered it by now.
What I have come to understand is that pain is inevitable. I can either spend my time figuring out how to resist pain or plan for a future without it, or I can learn to relax in the midst of complete ambiguity. Pain is as much a part of the journey as is pleasure. It is as certain as death is to life. The list of my what if’s is too long to work through. It is not humanly possible to plan around all the what if’s with a sense of balance.
The alternative is to practice allowing the pain; leaning in just a touch. This seems almost counterintuitive and ridiculous, but resisting difficulty only makes life feel even more difficult. Sure, we can plan for some things in a skillful and discerning way, but not to the extent of dissolving all our resources in planning for tomorrow, instead of living today. What if the plans were not needed? What if we didn’t even make it to the point of needing the plans?
Life is unpredictable. The only thing we truly do know is what is here in this moment. We can learn to make peace with our past as difficult as that can be, and sometimes that means making peace with not feeling at ease. And we can learn to show up now, to this moment, with a whole heart, even when we want linger elsewhere. Things will come apart as much as they come together. Accepting this is so, so hard, but until I know of another way, I’ll keep working at it.
“As long as we’re caught up in always looking for certainty and happiness, rather than honoring the taste and smell and quality of exactly what is happening, as long as we’re always running away from discomfort, we’re going to be caught in a cycle of unhappiness and disappointment, and we will feel weaker and weaker. This way of seeing helps us to develop inner strength. And what’s especially encouraging is the view that inner strength is available to us at just the moment when we think we’ve hit the bottom, when things are at their worst.
Instead of asking ourselves, “How can I find security and happiness?” we could ask ourselves, “Can I touch the center of my pain? Can I sit with suffering, both yours and mine, without trying to make it go away? Can I stay present to the ache of loss or disgrace-disappointment in all its many forms-and let it open me?” This is the trick.” ~ Pema Chodron