A perspective reset via the first two noble truths.
Getting Caught in Resistance
One day I was out for a walk and I was doing a come-up-with-a-gratitude-a-minute meditation. Even if at the start of this meditation I am feeling low, by the end I almost always have a smile on my face and may even start to chuckle to myself. However, this particular time I just felt myself getting more agitated and hence more frustrated. I was putting in the effort, I was using my tools, but I wasn’t feeling at ease. I felt hopeless and all I could do was give up. Then the thought came to go back to the beginning.
Back to the Beginning
I went to the first Noble truth, life is suffering. This brought some validation to my feeling that life was feeling hard. This slowed my mind down and allowed for the insight to arise that “life is hard and it’s even harder when I think it shouldn’t be.” This caused me to release a burst of laughter as I could see why I was feeling frustrated. What I was realizing was the second noble truth or the cause of my suffering. What I was doing, is the trap Joseph Goldstein referred to as “awareness with agenda.”
Comprehensive Definition of Dukkha
In a talk on the Four Noble Truths, Joseph Goldstein emphasized understanding the comprehensive meaning of dukkha as the word suffering isn’t sufficient. The physical pain of sickness, aging and death are not the extent of Dukkha. Another element is that all things that are conditioned create suffering, or clinging to the five aggregates (form, sensations, perceptions, mental activity or formations, and consciousness) causes Dukkha. Goldstein also expounds the unsatisfactoriness or unreliability of reality, craving for (continuing) existence, becoming or the planning mind, and the craving for nonexistence are also causes of suffering. An amusing contemplation of the craving for nonexistence comes from a quote by Wei Wu Wei.
"Destroy 'the ego', hound it, beat it, snub it, tell it where it gets off?
Great fun, no doubt, but where is it? Must you not find it first?
Isn't there a word about catching your goose before you can cook it?
The great difficulty here is that there isn't one."
Methods of Noting Resistances
At times I need specific methods to clearly see the resistances in mind so I can focus. Jack Kornfield says the way his resistances compound and build off of each other it’s as if he’s building thought castles. Here are a couple “clearing” or “identifying” meditations I’ve found helpful.
In the Book of Nines from the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha lists the nine things rooted in craving. The progression goes:
craving leads to pursuit which leads to
acquisition which leads to
decision which leads to
desire and lust which leads to
(selfish) tenacity which leads to
Possessiveness which leads to
extreme greed for wealth which leads to
(concern for) protection which leads to seizing of cudgels and weapons, there is quarrel, strife, dissension and offensive talk, and there are slander and lies; such evil and unwholesome things may appear.
Sometimes I will play a game with myself when I notice I’m resisting something. First, I will see which stage I am at in the nine cravings. For example, if I’m studying too hard and I don’t take a break when I’m tired, I might be experiencing (selfish) tenacity because I desire to have more knowledge and ability. Second, I will trace back what preceded the initial resistance. So, what caused me to push myself in my studies? I remember the desire and lust I experienced from the power and rewards when my knowledge and ability were recognized.
In Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance I’ve found useful reflection questions. One asks the practitioner what stories and excuses are you giving yourself for feeling like you can’t be present. At times I end up writing down a cascade of thoughts. When I see the numerous thoughts I’m experiencing it can do a couple things. One, it allows me to relax as there is space in my head. Second, it can cause me to laugh because I realize why I’m having such a hard time getting a clear perspective.
Two of the following guides from Tara Brach give me confidence. One prompt reminds the practitioner to know that if you experience a pleasant or unpleasant feeling or thought it’s natural. It’s the body's job to send information. Any thoughts or feelings you have are acceptable. The next suggestion is to trust that your body knows how to heal itself. These directions help me to take the unpleasantness I’m feeling as a guide to show me what I need and the trust to follow that wisdom.
Thich Nhat Hanh says the practice of Samantha (stopping or not searching for anything at all) as crucial due to our habit energy of running (or not being present/aware) being very engrained. This practice is seen to some as one wing of a bird with the other wing being Vipassana (insight meditation). He suggests on the in breath to say “I am home” and on the out breath to say “I have arrived”.
In closing this post I’d like to share a quote that is a balm for me. It came from a teaching in which Thich Nhat Hanh was talking about the art of suffering. “When you know how to suffer you suffer much less because in you there is the understanding and compassion…. you can make great use of this suffering to create joy and happiness. Suffering is useful. You cannot grow the lotus flower if you do not have the mud. Those of us that know how to use the mud can make beautiful lotus flowers.”
Ah, one final quote: “To know suffering is to know peace” - Maha Ghosanada
Be Here Now Network. (2020, October 30). Joseph Goldstein – insight hour – ep. 30 – the four noble truths: Dukkha. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ga8VcJRovO4
Be Here Now Network. (2020, October 31). Joseph Goldstein – insight hour – ep. 31 – the four noble truths: The origin of dukkha. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsQDpHFw6ak
Brach, T. (2004). Radical acceptance: Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha (Bantam trade paperback edition). Bantam Books.
Plum Village. (n.d.). Surrender yourself to the present moment | dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, 2004-01-14. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N93IvR45D80
Plum Village. (n.d.). If you know how to suffer, you suffer less | dharma talk by thich nhat hanh, 2013. 07. 29. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTgv4iPgQ2o
Skandha. (2021, September 16). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Skandha&oldid=1044735974
Ben graduated with a psychology degree from Warren Wilson College and is currently working on a master’s in counseling with an emphasis on trauma from Grand Canyon University. His fundamental spiritual experience was sitting 10 Vipassana courses.
He also attends online meditations at the Seattle and Chicago Dhammakaya Meditation Center as he appreciates the emphasis on cultivating self-kindness and sympathetic joy. Presently, he coaches youth soccer for work.