Writing helps sharpen my awareness of the everyday, the ways in which reality — seen straight-on with a clear mind — contains everything that’s needed for an authentic life. Suffering, yes, there’s plenty of it. The Buddha taught that much depends on our stance vis-à-vis suffering, our relationship to what causes heart-ache, loneliness, and confusion. In a nutshell: pain is pain, suffering is optional.
Looking back over the last 24 hours shows me ways in which people I know are dealing with adversity — how they’re seeing opportunities for growth in the midst of their suffering. [I use the term suffering as the Sanskrit dukkha, also translated as pain, anxiety, sorrow, misery, stress, angst, and frustration.]
• A dharma friend tells me how her family is coping with the stress of inadequate funds to make ends meet. They’re working with their bank to consolidate debts, cutting up credit cards, restricting purchases to the essentials, and keeping a tight rein on spending. “It feels good to take charge.”
• A man who lives with his mom and poodle in a nearby apartment rides an electric scooter. He often stops at our fence and speaks of social issues, of poverty, living on the street, and activism. Today he holds a stack of leaflets: “Friday I’ll be filing my nomination papers for election to city council,” he explains with a grin. Seeing his cap-in-hand, two of us take the hint and give him a twoony (C$ 2) each towards his filing fee.
• A café acquaintance put a letter into my mailbox. She writes of a dear friend, age 78, freshly diagnosed with brain cancer after spending the last two years looking after his 94-old mother. He never wanted to become old and feeble. What shall I say to him, what can I do — will you help me? I’ll meet with her tomorrow, ready to listen and to encourage her to do the same for her friend. What else is there when we’re invited into the intimate sphere of dying, but to arrive with unreserved presence?
image: Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump (1982); acrylic and oil paintstick, and spray paint on canvas. Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) was the first Afro-African artist to become an international art star. His began as a graffiti artist in New York City, he died due to a heroin overdose at age 27.