What I See in the Mountain

by bryan maynard

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The wisdom of all the great traditions teach us that suffering is here to stay. It is important for me as a western person to hear this with thoughtful pause and reflection: Suffering will be here with us as part of the totality of human existence and experience as long there is human life as we know it.

In my own culture of the west, productivity and achievement are the cultural means for establishing our identity as persons (we are what we do); consequently, competition has become the cultural norm for how we establish our security and for how relate to each other as social beings (we are safe because we have enough material means to not need anyone else).  The resulting philosophy for how we relate to our lives and to our world requires us to either inappropriately avoid suffering or to deny its existence by crafty means of distraction and coverup. It is therefore nearly impossible for the average person to accept that suffering even exists as a part of this world, and even more impossible to learn how to respond to suffering with skill and wisdom. A dear friend recently observed that for all our accomplishment and learning we still find ourselves trying to ultimately prevent or deny suffering, something no one has ever done these past few million years of human life.

But, as the great traditions also teach us, there is way to deal with suffering that does not add to our suffering. Suffering comes: this is true; but we need not add to suffering by our unskillful responses.  Grasping is one type of unskillful response to suffering. Grasping is the mind that inordinately seeks to do whatever, whenever, however to prevent or resist suffering. The grasping mind is fueled by the illusion that by means of unbalanced, dehumanizing effort one can keep bad things from happening at work, in relationships or with the inevitable losses of health and life. In my own life, grasping has manifested itself in workaholism, which is has been one of the ways I have tried to secure myself against the consequences of poverty. More accurately, workaholism has been my way to maintain more pleasurable mental states that are associated with a life of material ease and success.

But working all the time is an unskilled response to many things that happen in life. More work and better performance are not wise when a wife is caring for a father who is dying of cancer or an adolescent son is struggling with finding his true self in a world that overvalues pretty and powerful and cynical.

These unskilled responses actually truncate us and keep us from being a whole person. Relationships and performance suffer, ironically, when we respond to suffering without skill or wisdom.

Life is suffering; and there is a way to not add to suffering when it comes…and, it will surely come.

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A wise woman or man embraces all of life’s experiences without being polarized between addictive grasping and despairing hopelessness. To do this, we all must remember that we, like the mountain, will sometimes be covered in clouds and gray weather and sometimes we will be bathed in golden, warm sunlight. Both are part of life. Racing and grasping will only add to our suffering if we believe that having more or believing more or achieving more will protect us from uncomfortable circumstances and emotions. To think and live this way is not apathy; it is wisdom.

 

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