Life is suffering. —Buddha’s first precept
Buddha was the first great blues musician. He didn’t play guitar and there was no electricity to send out those wailing blue notes, but he was on to something. When he gathered together his experience into a coherent curriculum, suffering was first on the list of his mission statement. Why did he have to be such a negative Nancy? He could have said “Life is joy” and given us some comfort that we’re here to have fun and be happy. His logo could have been a smiley face and his sermons all end with “Have a nice day.” What’s with the suffering?
It all has to do with impermanence. Yes, we will have joy and we will love and be loved, but all is subject to the ravages of time and there will be loss, a loss sometimes so unbearable we don’t know how we will carry it. Whatever we enjoy, whatever we love, will leave us sometime or betray us or disappoint us and after we’ve taken the daring step of opening our heart fully, it will break. No wonder so many lock it away deep in the well of the church on an island in a faraway lake (see my Giant with No Heart blog).
But there’s more. If we open our heart to our own capacity to love, be it a person, a passion or a porcupine, then we join a community of fellow beings likewise open to and worthy of joy and love. We are united together “with passion” and nurture our capacity for “com-passion.” So now it’s not enough to negotiate the pitfalls and dangers and terrors of our own heart’s territory. We also hurt when our fellow beings hurt. There is no limit to our capacity for suffering.
Someone I love is suffering now and so I am too. Just as I was negotiating a tricky corner in my own catastrophes and rising up singing, I feel the weight of shared grief. Here we are talking about developing empathy and fellow feeling and compassion in the children we teach, but no one dares to mention the price. It’s a tricky thing to agree to share the weight so no one of us has to carry it alone without falling down ourselves, but that’s the deal. And when we agree to share the pain, we also get to share the joy.
It’s raining outside this morning and it is grey and cold and rainy in my loved one’s heart as well. But rain and tears are deeply necessary to life and new growth and a future bloom awaits.