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The Pearl in Sorrows Hand
I have recently been considering the nature of 'Dukkha' or 'suffering' or 'stress' in a Buddhist context, particularly how it plays itself out in my life.
One ancient talk goes along the lines... "Now what, friends, is the noble truth of stress? Birth is stressful, illness is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful..."
Birth, sickness, old-age and death are all unavoidable... and undeniably stressful.
I visited one of my favourite aunts in Cork last month. She has advanced dementia, so she doesn't know who anyone is, and she must have all of her personal care provided for her. She was being cared for by her 82-year old husband and surrounded and supported by a large loving family taking care of her every need.
It was inspiring to see her held in so much love. But it was equally sad to see a once vibrant wife, mother, grandmother, aunt and good friend as a mere shadow - almost unrecognisable - of her former ‘self’.
The truth of 'birth, sickness, old-age and death' is the usual description of universal suffering given by the Buddha, and I sometimes forget that the full definition of Dukkha is more than that, quite literally, the complete explanation goes...
"Now what, friends, is the noble truth of stress? Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful; separation from the loved is stressful; not getting what is wanted is stressful..."
So, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful... again these are not really avoidable. To be human is to experience physical and emotional discomforts. But can I experience these without becoming overwhelmed by them? I suppose that is the practice.
"Association with the unbeloved is stressful; separation from the loved is stressful; not getting what is wanted is stressful..."
Daily life is inconstant, unpredictable, uncertain, it is woven together with impermanence. I cannot control what I get and what I don't get, but - whether I like it or not - this is my life. To argue with impermanence and uncertainty is to argue with the inarguable.
I have a recurring theme in my head lately. The closing verses from the long version of Rumi's poem 'The Guest House'...
"And if the pearl is not in sorrow's hand,
let it go and still be pleased.
Increase your sweet practice.
Your practice will benefit you at another time;
someday your need will be suddenly fulfilled."
So, maybe, that's what we all have to do... increase our sweet practice... and then, I hope friends, that someday all of our genuine needs will be suddenly fulfilled.