Life is Suffering -- By Laura Houston
When I was 20 and studying Buddhism, I decided it was not for me. One of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism states that “Life is Suffering” and this negative kind of thinking just didn’t sit well with my youthful, ignorant, girl-from-Kansas self. Back then I was an optimist. Hopeful. Naïve. When you are 20, have big hair, wear size 8 Jordache jeans, and drive a 1978 Camaro with a killer stereo, there is very little compassion or understanding for suffering in life.
But fast forward only 15 years later, and that same unaware girl had gotten fat, had been married and divorced, hated her career, and drove a four-door Mercury. I was miserable, sad, lonely and afraid. So I turned once again to studying a spiritual way of life to turn my heart back on, and I kept coming back to the phrase, “Life is suffering.”
This is one of my favorite journeys into wisdom. And, no, I won’t tell you the complete lesson. You have to figure it out yourself or it’s no fun for the rest of us who ran around bumping into walls for ten years. But I can tell you this: the recognition of this truth does not bring about sorrow or loss or depression. It brings on freedom.
No matter what choice you make in life, you are going to have to pay a price for it. You cannot escape suffering. This insight is magnified in parenthood. I watch my boys make choices every day in their development that causes them pain and pleasure. I'm learning the lesson all over again. What follows is a very small, simplified example, but when it comes to wisdom, it’s good to start small sometimes:
Lyle and Wyatt both love little girls. They are fascinated by them – drawn to the bright pink clothes, the sparkly hair ties, and the fistfuls of curls on their head. Any girl brave enough to play with my boys will come away sans barrettes, headbands, hats, gloves or anything else that’s shimmering and pink. So on the playground Lyle follows the girls around, hoping for some attention. Sometimes an older girl will take a fancy to him and quickly makes him her baby by swaddling him in her coat and stuffing him into a makeshift crib under the jungle gym. Most of the time the girls scream and squeal and tell Lyle to go away.
Ah. Poor Lyle. He gets his heart broken. But the next day there he is again, trailing after the girls. But maybe this time he has learned something and he chooses not to be so grabby and aggressive. As a result, the girls are not so repulsed by my little boy. They tease him and won't let him on the slide. But then after some clapping and smiling on Lyle's part, the girls come to an agreement: Lyle can come inside their "fort," but only under the slide. He's glad to do this, but he's not exactly cooperating with all of it.
Outside of the female fort, Wyatt is teetering back and forth on his feet, pressing his fist in and out of his mouth, and making his "wubbawubba" sound. He wants to follow his brother into the fort, but he is a little more leery. He has also had his heart broken by a girl in the form of a good shove when he tried to play the wubbawubba song on her arm. And as he stands there rocking and making his strange sounds, the girls begin to shriek at him.
“He’s creepy,” they say. “It’s that creepy baby again.”
Then one of them takes a closer look.
“He’s cute,” she says to her comrades. “This one is much cuter than that one.”
She points at Lyle.
“Let’s take this one, too. He can be our slave.”
So the girls bring Wyatt into their fort and after some discussion that turns into arguing, they decide to kick both boys out.
They shove Lyle and Wyatt out into the bright, warm sunshine of the playground and ban them from returning to the home under the slide. My sons cry a little. They try to get back in. They whine. They push, but the girls push harder. Wyatt falls down, gets up, and starts to play his wubbawubba song. He toddles off in search of me, but detours when a falling leaf skirts across the air and lands close by. Lyle sees a soccer ball bounce across the path, and he gives chase. The girls and their rude dismissal are forgotten.
I hope my children can always recover from rejection so bravely. I hope they understand that if they want to play, they are going to get hurt. They are going to get kicked, bit, shoved, pushed and run over any time they try to have fun or do what’s right for them. And someone will always try to make them a slave. Even in fun. And, yes, it’s going to hurt. Sometimes more than others.
The alternative is to choose differently. They could choose to stay inside, to stay safe, to not take risks, to not chase girls, or balls, or dreams, or anything else that makes life so wonderful. But no matter what they choose, they are going to get hurt. They are either going to cry from loneliness or cry from heart break. They are either going to ache with ignorance or ache with experience.
I cannot always choose for them, and if I did, I may not choose wisely. I want to protect them from mean people. I want to spare them the bullies of the playground. And I will do my best to be a fair and just buffer between them and the world. But in the process of watching them choose, if I am a good mother, I will teach them that they are also learning to live. And it’s hard. Yes. It’s hard. But after all -- life is suffering. And I mean that in the best possible way.