As a child I had a great sense of fairness in my mind in the way I thought things worked in the world. For one I was a good hearted kid. I liked people and found comfort and strength in relationships. I was also raised in church. From the pulpit things always seem to turn out right for God’s people by the end of any given sermon. The preacher never hooped and hollered a sad ending when climaxing the point of his message. Then there was Hollywood. In movies and television, the good guys always won at the end. Justice was always served. I recall the first time I saw the good guys ‘lose’ and a bad guy get away was in an episode of “Hill Street Blues.” Though I don’t recall the exact details I do remember feeling jarred emotionally with a sense of loss and injustice. Nowadays that’s pretty common for TV. Seasons 1-5 of “The Wire” crystallized the realities of life more than any other show in television history.
For me there has always maintained this inner struggle between right and wrong, truth and justice, fairness and hardships. All of these factors mentioned above made muttering through life mentally and spiritually difficult many a day. I struggled with questions like why do people hurt others on purpose? Why do good things happen to bad people? Why do bad things happen to the good people? Why would an elected official do evil things to the people he/she serves? Why would a friend betray you or someone hurt you if you gave them your all? All my life I’ve heard that doing the right things, working hard and treating people justly will bring good fortune and a good life. I’m almost 45 years old now and through the study of history, events from around the world and life in general, it feels as if I’ve seen it all in some form or another. And all that I’ve seen show that life is way more complicated than this.
The above mentioned formula didn’t seem to work true to life. And most of my internal struggles have been an attempt to decipher the ways of how I fit in within the schemes of constant contradictions and suffering through good intentions.
It was my counselor and life coach Mrs. Francis Thomas (Miss Francis I call her) who first introduced to me the concept of ‘radical acceptance.’ Sitting in her office she forced me to consider ‘Letting go of fighting reality and accept your situation for what it is.’ Sounds simple doesn’t it? Folks have a term for it nowadays. “It is what it is.” How many times have we heard that one? Taking a closer look however, the concept of truly accepting things as they are is not natural to our culture. There is and always has been a push and pull to try to influence or change reality. And why not? That what this country has been since immigration. People came to this land to be what they wanted and live in a fashion empowered by personal ambition. Those causes weren’t altogether pure either in that often living a chosen life rarely included allowing others to do the same. And so there was and is conflict for the remaining up and comers, even till this day. (See Colonization, Slavery, The fight for Civil Rights and Immigration)
And so we live, we love, we compete, and we pursue a vision not for what we accept but for that which we desire personally, vocationally, culturally, and institutionally.
This is our living.
And yet the midst of pursuits in happiness there is always a fly in the ointment of the oil that flows through what we call life. Suffering.
No matter what we do, suffering seems to be inevitable. I’ve tried to minimize mine as much as possible by following the golden rules. But that’s too simple in the scheme of things. So I sought knowledge. How can I eliminate or reduce suffering?
Buddhist teaching reveals that the very cause of suffering is the attachment to ‘desire’ or craving. The Second Noble Truth for instance include:
The Cause of Suffering– samudaya
The principle cause of suffering is the attachment to “desire” or “craving” (tanha). Both desire to have (wanting) and desire not to have (aversion).
1. Desire for sense-pleasures–kama-tanha
The desire for sense pleasures manifests itself as wanting to have pleasant experiences: the taste of good food, pleasant sexual experiences, delightful music.
2. Desire to become–bhava-tanha
The desire to become is the ambition that comes with wanting attaiments or recognition or fame. It is the craving to “be a somebody”.
3. Desire to get rid of–vibhava-tanha
The desire to get rid of the unpleasant experiences in life: unpleasant sensations, anger, fear, jealousy.
The clinging to desire comes from our experience that short-term satisfaction comes from following desire. We ignore the fact that satisfying our desires doesn’t bring an end to them.
Part of the Third Noble Truth simply says:
The end of suffering is non-attachment, or letting go of desire or craving.
In my spirit I totally understood and resonated with the substance of these words. I sensed a light or a glimmer of hidden wisdom that I had never seen. This was especially enlightening because by nature I am a doer, a man of action. If I want something to be a certain way, I did what I could to make it happen. I used action in an attempt to gain the reaction I desired. (Good deeds, hard work etc.) The thought of letting go of desire seemed to be a game changer. A freeing experience if you will. I started the process of embracing this concept slowly in my life.
Reading this may give the impression that by letting go of desire we are to just stand pat and allow whatever happens to happen in our lives. That brings me to another teaching form Miss Francis. “A life or inner peace will not consist of embracing an all or nothing paradigm.”
My journey of living is a continuous evolution of learning that the colours of life are rarely black and white, but shades of varying schemes that paint the world. If there are no desires, there is no progress. I believe we were created and the Universe calls for us to make contributions towards giving and receiving from the earth, as well as it’s inhabitants. We can’t make a difference without having a ‘desire’ for something better. Our humanity provides that we are creatures with feelings and emotions, as well as creativity and logic. We not only want to survive, but thrive in serving and fulfilling a purpose all the while enjoying pleasure and senses of accomplishment. The key is balancing all of life’s journey with a certain brevity and perspective.
In the bible Paul deals with this dichotomy.
In Philippians 3:14 he says he continues to press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.
In Philippians 4:11 he says he’s learned to be content with whatever state he’s in.
Ecclesiastes 3 goes in great detail identifying the cycles of seasons and change in our existence.
The reality is that as long as we are living there will always be this struggle in understanding the push and pull of life; What to try to change and what to accept, how to love in the midst of hurt, pain, or rejection; Whether we are indeed living in a season or if it’s within our power to change the climate.
For in our flawed sense of justice through our blurred lenses the wicked do often prosper, good is not always rewarded, the good die young, love is not always returned gracefully. Neither the good nor the bad are always what they seem. And even the very best of us are often guilty of doing to others that which hurt us the most.
I submit that walking in the balance of universal harmony in the midst of it’s seemingly continuous contradictions is impossible for the natural life. Indeed it requires a supernatural experience and existence which must be practiced if not perfected.
We should desire to be significant though not necessarily popular. (Though being significant can bring fame.) By focusing on the process of living as well as the intent and ramifications of our actions rather than the results, in the end, I believe the Universe will balance and pay, and regulate accordingly.
And if not,… well then hey, it is what it is.