Things Change When You Do

Things Change When You Do — this is about is how we deal with events that seem larg­er than life. 

Typically, these events are categorized as “This is not fair!” 

Gath­ered under this umbrel­la are things like death, ill­ness, acci­dents, glob­al cat­a­stro­phes, abuse, and the like.

Dar­bel­la and I once led a sem­i­nar. One of the par­tic­i­pants was deal­ing with a seri­ous ill­ness, and was in pain much of the time. I did a few Body­work tech­niques with her, to help her man­age her pain so she could stay present in the group.

Dur­ing one of the dia­log ses­sions, two of the oth­er par­tic­i­pants start­ed bemoan­ing the woman’s sit­u­a­tion, talk­ing about how unfair it was, how awful her sit­u­a­tion was, how iso­lat­ing pain was, and on an on ad nau­se­am.

As all of this wound down, I couldn’t help but won­der why peo­ple waste time and ener­gy on “It’s not fair!” From my van­tage point, the par­tic­i­pant was most­ly present, was cop­ing with her pain, and inter­est­ing­ly nev­er agreed with either of her interlocutors.

I tend to be a sim­ple Zen person. 

I saw the par­tic­i­pant as she was, and accept­ed her as she was. When her pain got to a cer­tain point and she asked me to help with it, I did some Body­work. There is noth­ing else I can do.

Because “the way it is, is the way it is.”

And fair­ness has noth­ing to do with it.

When we are kids, we hear fairy tales about peo­ple liv­ing “hap­pi­ly ever after.” We are told that if you are good, the fairy god­moth­er comes and gives you stuff. We believe in San­ta and the East­er Bun­ny. Then, we grow up and give up on San­ta, fairies, and the bun­ny, but neglect to let go of “mag­i­cal thinking.”

Mag­i­cal think­ing makes the fol­low­ing link: “If I am good, only good things will hap­pen to me. For free. All the time.”

The oth­er side of the coin is the idea that if “bad stuff” hap­pens to some­one, they must have “deserved it.” Implic­it in this kind of think­ing is the idea that bad things only (or should only) hap­pen to bad people.

If you hang around wakes or funer­al par­lors, and if the dead per­son died of any­thing oth­er than of old age, you will hear some moron ask, “I won­der why God was mad at him. I won­der what he did to deserve this?”

Being a practical, Zen person, I wonder, “Why not this person?”

After all, Gand­hi-ji was assas­si­nat­ed, as were Mar­tin Luther King, Jack and Bob­by Kennedy, and a myr­i­ad of oth­ers. Did they “deserve it?” Of course not. Should they some­how have been exempt, giv­en their lives of ser­vice? Of course not.

Did the woman in my first sto­ry receive “fair” treat­ment? There is no such thing. There is just the truth of her life — this hap­pened and this hap­pened and this happened.

The real­i­ty of our lives is that we live in the midst of pain, suf­fer­ing, and death. No being ever alive has escaped this. Most of us will out­live our par­ents. Some of us will out­live our children. 

There will be ill­ness­es, acci­dents, pain. Won­der­ing about “why” is sim­ply an attempt to avoid con­fronting the real­i­ty of our impend­ing death.

There is no why. When a tragedy hap­pens, why do some live and some die? Were the sur­vivors bet­ter peo­ple, or were they lucky?

It is clearly the latter. The equation is simple: they got out, others didn’t.

That’s not fair!

Well, yikes. Says who, and on what basis? Mag­i­cal think­ing spins the whole thing back to, “It just shouldn’t have hap­pened!” OK. But it did hap­pen, so what’s the sense of putting ener­gy into that thought? 

Then, peo­ple go a step fur­ther and start, “The gov­ern­ment is to blame! They should have stopped it from hap­pen­ing!” And what changes? Noth­ing! It still happened.

What’s real­ly going on here is that no one likes to see peo­ple they care about in pain, sick, dying, dead. That stuff is not sup­posed to hap­pen, and if it does, “god” is sup­posed to make it hap­pen to some­one else. Ad the wail­ing and gnash­ing of teeth is direct­ly con­nect­ed to “The mag­ic has failed!”

The only cure for all of this is the total accep­tance of what is. From a place of accep­tance, I can then choose to act dif­fer­ent­ly, instead of just whin­ing about unfairness.

Pain, for exam­ple, is one real­i­ty that touch­es all of our lives. For many, the pain will be phys­i­cal. For all of us, there will be the emo­tion­al pain of grief and loss. Pain is not optional.

Suf­fer­ing, how­ev­er, is optional.

Check out our pro­gram Find­ing Your Flex­i­bil­i­ty. Learn to deal with pain using tools such as Qi Gong, med­i­ta­tion and Yoga.

All suf­fer­ing is self-imposed. The Buddha’s first truth is, “Life is suf­fer­ing.” But his sec­ond truth is, “All suf­fer­ing is caused by cling­ing and aversion.” 

Cling­ing, in our above exam­ples, is cling­ing to mag­i­cal think­ing. Aver­sion is, in the pain exam­ple, the unwill­ing­ness to embrace (accept) the real­i­ty of the pain. The irony is that such aver­sion, and cling­ing, and denial is crazy mak­ing, men­tal­ly painful, and changes absolute­ly nothing.

Suf­fer­ing comes from cling­ing to the past — want­i­ng every­thing to be the way it was before the “bad” thing hap­pened. (Are you see­ing Dis­ney movies run­ning in your head?) This, of course, will not and can­not ever hap­pen, no mat­ter how much you wish it were so.

And so, you suffer.

Suf­fer­ing comes from hat­ing and resist­ing pain. Yet, the pain is real — is part of one’s reality.

Ram Dass once said (I’m paraphrasing), 

Life requires hav­ing a hot stone placed in your hand. You have two options. Grasp the stone and burn your whole hand, or hold the stone light­ly and only burn the part under the stone. Choose.”

Most choose hard­en­ing and tight­en­ing around the pain, while adding in the “This isn’t fair” litany.

And so, you suffer.

So, what is the alternative?

The Buddha’s third truth: If you let go of cling­ing and aver­sion, and live your life ful­ly and com­plete­ly, you can let go of suf­fer­ing (but not pain, sick­ness, and death — this is not optional!)

In other words, situations do not change — you do!

I am not min­i­miz­ing pain — I am sim­ply say­ing that it is “how it is.” 

There will always be sit­u­a­tions that are ago­niz­ing, there will always be depraved peo­ple prey­ing on inno­cents, and tragedy and death are as much a part of life a blue skies and sun­sets. Bemoan­ing the exis­tence of such painful sit­u­a­tions changes pre­cise­ly nothing.

Act­ing to cre­ate anoth­er way of being with the sit­u­a­tion is always possible.

The key to liv­ing life suf­fer­ing-free is to hold life, and your opin­ions, loose­ly. While it is tempt­ing to play the “It’s not fair” game, it is essen­tial to remem­ber that this accom­plish­es noth­ing (oth­er than you get to gath­er a group around you to whine togeth­er and feel worse) in the real world.

The world is neither fair, nor unfair. The world is. As humans, we exist in a physical realm, where the outcome of life is death. Death is what we all hold completely in common. Accepting this reality, as well as our ability to deal with the pain that life brings, is essential for achieving Simple Presence.

Hold the burn­ing stone loosely.

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