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Thursday, January 8, 2009

This, Too, Shall Pass

My Dad used to laugh about a fellow he'd often see while driving his bus every day in downtown Vancouver. This guy was obviously a street person, maybe a little off his rocker, and he always carried a sign saying "The End Is Near!" It entertained my father to no end. (Little pun there). 

Actually, the street person might have been one card short of a full deck, but he was absolutely correct. In fact, "The End is Here!" Things, events, lives, circumstances...are ending every moment. It's what the Buddhists refer to as impermanence. Nothing, as it turns out, is permanent, not even the massive Rocky Mountains or the sun that rises every day. That might seem a depressing thought at first, but it can also work in your favour because it means that difficulties and bad times and suffering end too. And the end of suffering, as it happens, is the Third Noble Truth. 

Suffering does indeed, come to an end. We'd all like to escape our misery by just being able to push it away or pop a pill, attend an inspirational sermon, watch a good movie, or read a great book. And while all of those things might give some temporary relief, quite often the root of our unhappiness remains because it is self-perpetuated. The cause is often created in our own minds. 

As I have mentioned before, taking some time to pay attention to your own thoughts can be quite a revelation. Realizing how much our thoughts influence our attitudes, moods and behaviours in every moment of our day-to-day existence is the first step to understanding what the Buddhists call the "nature of mind". It isn't as much about control as it is about awareness. And if we pay attention long enough, we become aware of another Buddhist saying..."all that arises, must cease." 

We are less successful when we look for distractions in the external world than we are by simply paying attention and noticing how thoughts and circumstances come to their own, natural end. Sounds kind of mundane, doesn't it? But we're impatient sometimes; we want to end our discomfort in a hurry and a quick-fix method sometimes sounds pretty good...lose 10 pounds in two weeks, pop this pill and you'll feel better, look younger, etc., etc. No wonder so many people end up in emergency rooms or on therapist's couches!

In fact, there are a number of psychotherapists out there now who incorporate Buddhist thought into their practise. There is an excellent book called "Thoughts Without A Thinker" by Mark Epstein, M.D., on this practise. When the larger life events happen like the loss of something or someone, and they do, it takes time to recover emotionally and to adjust. What we are really aiming for is to simply not make it worse for ourselves! Clinging, desire and aversion, all work against us when it comes to recovery.

My mantra in the last few weeks has been "this too shall pass", because I know for a fact that it will. Every day I notice I am a little less fearful or overwhelmed. I expect the odd setback like a lost night of sleep or a moment of discouragement or depression. But we'll get through.

And there is one more Noble Truth, the Fourth, which contains the Eightfold Path, the path to the end of suffering. If you're with me this far in this small series, I'll explore that in the next blog posting! Be there or be square :-)

IJ (PS...my writing here is really just skimming the surface of the Buddhist philosophy, it is not meant as an in-depth study by any means, but I will pass along some links to Buddhist websites at the end for those of you who are interested in studying it further)