Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Learning from Pain... Again

Yeah, it's a theme. Well, life is suffering. It's kind of hard to miss as the first of the Four Noble Truths.

So what'd I learn and how... again?

I participated in a half day sitting organized by the Dharma Punx Houston who meet at the Houston Zen Center on Sunday afternoons. The Zen Center was gracious enough to rent out the facilities for the retreat.

I was excited to participate since the longest I'd done zazen was forty minutes followed by thirty. With the Rohatsu Sesshin coming up, I wanted a taste of what to expect. While the half day sitting can't compare to 5:30am to 9pm, it was still an experience. On top of all that, it's also where I relearned an important lesson.

The second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by desire. This desire manifests in many ways. Mostly what it boils down to is the desire for things to be different. We want something we don't have, want to get rid of something that we do. We want to be somewhere else or for something to be over with.

For me, once again sitting on the cushion, I wanted the pain in my legs to go away. It's been a long time since my legs have hurt so much. For some reason all my time sitting didn't matter that night.

Interestingly enough, I was sitting in the same spot in the zendo as I had been when I experienced what led to this post.

I've come to accept that sometimes sitting is painful, just like life. We don't always have the option to run away so pushing through the discomfort is a form of developing discipline and acceptance.

When I had my wisdom teeth taken out, I was told that it would be the greatest pain that I'd ever feel in my life.  I was given steroids to control the swelling and told to take ibuprofin as an anti-inflammatory.  I didn't know that I could have asked for more than that, so I just put up with the pain.  On top of that, I had debris get in the empty sockets.  On my follow up visit, they flushed the holes out and were amazed that I'd been able to put up with the pain.  I didn't see it as macho, I just sucked it up and waited for it to stop hurting.

Other times haven't been so extreme, but this is something that I've dealt with at various times of my life.  Something I had no control over would happen and I'd have no choice but to put up with it.  The difference before was that whenever I saw an opening to escape I'd run like hell.  It didn't even have to be painful or uncomfortable.  If something were even just inconvenient, I'd avoid it.

The difference now is that I'm more able to face the discomfort with acceptance.  Do what I need to and get over it.

What I learned that night took things another step further.  It hurt really bad.  It was no longer about accepting the pain, it became self-torture.  The thought occurred to me, "why am I doing this to myself? I get the point, just move already."  There's a difference between discomfort and doing damage and I was pushing it.

So I moved.

And I didn't care.  I accepted that it's not always about acceptance, sometimes you have to change.

This is a very powerful concept: accepting non-acceptance.  Not just at face value, but in other concepts as well.  The moment is eternal, yet ever changing.  As soon as we realize the timeless nature of time, it resumes again.  Reality is only as real as we accept it to be, yet it's still real.

The more you try to grasp this nature, the less of a grasp you have on it.  Only in relaxing the mind to accept it, do you truly hold it.  It's like a paper cup: the tighter you squeeze it, the less it will hold. The cup must have its full size to hold the complete truth.

One of the steps of the Eightfold Path, the way to end desire and thus suffering, is Right Understanding.  It's never complete, but I'm working on it.

This experience showed me how far I've come, but also how much further I have to go.  And I'm pretty sure the view ahead will always be the same.

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