There is no 'should.' There is only what is.

By Sarah E. Reynolds | May 17, 2019

According to an article I read recently, the Buddha said, "Suffering is the demand that experience be different than it is."

That struck me as profoundly true. We so often want -- demand -- that things be different; specifically, that they conform to our self-interested notions of what should be, and we have very little control over other people and events. It is a recipe for suffering.

The driver in front of me should go faster, should slow down to let me pass; my boss should pat me on the back, give me the day off, pay me better; my partner should or should not do something; I should have done or not done, felt or not felt, this or that. It's hard not to think these things, and yet it is easy to see that they are a major source of our suffering and unhappiness.

This is not to say that we should simply resign ourselves to whatever happens to us and around us. We should do what we can to alleviate illness and pain, in ourselves and in the world, and sometimes that means getting help from a doctor, a therapist or someone else.

When we begin to see our demands that experience be different for the futile effort to shore up our ego that they are, we can release them. Not all at once -- it's a process, and it takes repetition. But once the process is underway, we start to see that these thoughts, these "shoulds," are not us. They are not who we really are, and by relaxing our identification with them, we can make room for another way of viewing the world.

Coming to our experience with less of a need to control it, we are actually more able to have a different experience, because when you change how you see, you also change what you see. When we question the thought that the world should conform to our preferences, we can see how the world actually is, which is useful for knowing what change we want to make, and making it.

Increasing our ability to experience life as it actually is also makes room for delight. When I'm not distracted with wanting the world to be different or interpreting life in terms of my own small desires, I have attention to spare for the breathtaking colors of a sunset, the fragile beauty of a honeybee's wing, the exuberance of fox kits at play. As the poet Mary Oliver says, "how could there be a day in your/ whole life/ that doesn't have its splash of happiness?"

It's important to say that none of this is a matter of simple will, of waking up one day and deciding to see things differently. And for almost everyone, it happens gradually, not in a flash. It is essential to have a regular practice that allows us to enter the state of mind where we can see our thoughts as separate from our real self. That state must be developed, rather like exercising a muscle, if we want to be able to enter it at will.

My own practice is Centering Prayer, about which lots of information is available on Google and elsewhere online. And of course there are many other practices, some of which are not associated with any formal religion at all. You might Google "meditation" or "spiritual practice" or "mysticism" for more information.

As spiritual teachers have long pointed out, we may have to ask ourselves whether we really want to be free from our suffering. Like the cliche of executives who compete to be the hardest-working and most stressed-out in the office, sometimes our suffering itself may be part of our (false) identity, used to bolster our ego.

"Who am I apart from my judgments about the world?" can be a useful and illuminating question to meditate on. I was startled, when I first asked myself that question, to realize how much of my sense of self was based on those judgments.

I'm not close to realizing my goal of coming to my life without judgments or agenda. But I'm awake enough to believe that is a desirable goal, and either foolish or optimistic enough to believe I can get much closer than I am now.

I will close with a Buddhist saying I learned from a friend. "May you be held in compassion. May you be free from pain and suffering. May you be at peace."

May it be so.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Patricia Edith Kaplan | May 22, 2019 08:49

Thanks for this much needed explains the fix we are in and the desire to escape our human experience.  The current rush to extinguish the human response, be it sadness, anxiety, struggle, etc through medication....I would offer, if only we were present to one another, I believe we would reduce the need for medication substantially.  Peace to you, Sarah.


Posted by: Mary A McKeever | May 18, 2019 16:35

A-Men to that!


Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 17, 2019 13:41

Shalom!   Thank you, Sarah, for a very informative article.  The days in which we live is filled with opportunity. Centering prayer has become an important part of my personal spiritual journey. On Wednesday, evenings 6:30-7, Rockland Congregational Church has a contemplative prayer time not associated with any particular religious practice. Am sure there are others.    Peace...….

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