I mentioned recently that life is “dukkha” which is loosely translated as “suffering”, “pain” or “unsatisfactoriness”. Without getting unnecessarily complicated lets just call it “discomfort”. There is physical and mental discomfort. If you are human I doubt you would argue this. When we experience discomfort, what do we want? Comfort.
There are many unhealthy sources of comfort. Alcohol, ice cream, cigarettes, sex, drugs, gambling, video games, TV, unhealthy relationships and so on. These are very common as most people are looking for the quickest way to soothe their discomfort. The problem with these things is that they result in more discomfort once the initial reprieve fades away. Because we are now in more discomfort and again want comfort we start over and the cycle continues. This can lead to addiction and a very difficult life. Luckily, there is a more fruitful way.
Before we go on there is something I wish to make clear. There is suffering. You may have heard me say in the past that the suffering is optional. I want to be very clear that what I mean is not that the suffering disappears necessarily – sometimes it does – but that you realize suffering happens in this human form and you have peace with it.
“The ignorant person says, ‘I’m suffering. I don’t want to suffer. I meditate and I go on retreats to get out of suffering, but I’m still suffering and I don’t want to suffer…. How can I get out of suffering? What can I do to get rid of it?’ But that is not the First Noble Truth; it is not: ‘I am suffering and I want to end it.’ The insight is, ‘There is suffering’… The insight is simply the acknowledgment that there is this suffering without making it personal.” [From The Four Noble Truths (Amaravati Publications), page 9]
Soon we will be looking at Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path. For now, all I want you to know is that there is suffering. In the same way that you have hair, you have suffering. It’s just what’s there. Look at your own life and tell me if you see proof of this. Even merely being tired creates discomfort.
We have all tried many unhealthy ways of avoiding discomfort. We know they don’t work. More importantly, what does? As a teacher I always desire to help you realize the colossal importance of your practice. I think I have found a way to motivate you. My practice is not a chore or some unpleasant task. It is a great source of comfort. It creates the causes and conditions for comfort to exist. From that, you can see clearly why its so important to me. Any student who has been around for any period of time knows that when discomfort comes, when my mind starts to come a little off the rails, the first thing I do is clean my house from top to bottom. The act of cleaning my house results more in cleaning my mind. When I am done I experience comfort both mentally and physically.
A difference/difficulty with unhealthy sources of comfort is that the comfort comes immediately. It is short lived but nonetheless wonderful. The comfort that comes from practice comes after the work is done and lasts much longer. That’s part of the difficulty. Most people what to be comfortable right now and not an hour from now. That’s the trap of quick fixes. The greater your discomfort the more likely you are to reach for a quick fix or some type of immediate gratification. It is wise to have a consistent practice that minimizes your discomfort. You are much less likely to do foolish things.
I developed something called “Zen Card” to be your training wheels as you learn this practice and experience the comfort that comes with it. The Zen Card is personal and what’s on it are the things you do every day that create the causes and condition for your mind to be peaceful and for you to experience comfort, peacefulness and joyfulness. The struggle never seems to be knowing what to do but actually doing it. Our minds are programed (conditioned) to certain thought and behavior patterns to which we are slaves. By using a Zen Card we can break through and release our conditioning that is exacerbating our suffering.
When you realize your practice is a great source of comfort you fall in Love with it. It becomes the most important part of your day. You develop great devotion to nurturing your happiness and your Peaceful Mind.
Thomas Notarianni Jr.
The Peaceful Minds Center