I’ve received a number of great book recommendations since I started this project. My friend Lisa recommended a book called Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate by Wendy Johnson,and Katie a memoir by Rosemary Mahoney called The Singular Pilgrim. I also just picked up Sarah Napthali’s Buddhism for Mothers from my friend Steph, and that one seems absolutely perfect for me at this stage of my life, when so much of my dukkha is caused by angst about my kid or about the (im)balance of our lives since we had a kid.
Dukkha? Yes, dukkha. In all the books I’ve been reading, “dukkha” is translated as “suffering,” but then there is usually a quick disclaimer that by “suffering” the Buddha did not necessarily mean grief but discomfort. The daily discomforts. The dissatisfactions. The unsatisfactions. (Look, I made up two new words.)
Sarah Napthali says this: “…the first Noble Truth is that life is inherently unsatisfactory and imperfect. Before motherhood, we may have found this teaching overly pessimistic. If we felt less than happy we could catch a movie, ring a friend or distract ourselves in a myriad of ways from any pain.” And while she’s talking to mothers here, she’s also talking to the rest of us: every day, we feel small pain and discomfort, imperfection, and we distract ourselves from it.
I think a part of me, learning this over the last few weeks, has felt disappointed that this is all Buddhism can offer. The teaching is that I need to accept that I will feel anxious, that happiness is impermanent, and realize that my attempts to overcome this discomfort are distractions, tricks. My job, it turns out, is to learn to accept the discomforts and allow them. At this stage I don’t quite get how this leads me to get over my anxiety and be a happier person, but I think I trust the road nonetheless.
In any event, I decided over the weekend that one of the best things I could do on this mindfulness experiment of mine would be to notice the daily dissatisfactions and record them. And so I am introducing the Daily Dukkha, or, if that sounds a bit too much like me reporting on my…regularity, the Daily Challenge. Because I can’t promise to post every day, and wouldn’t want to impose that pressure on the girl who’s allowing herself to take a break, I won’t—but I will try to post as often as I can.
The Daily Dukkha. It has a nice ring, no?
So here is one for today. Well, since it’s only 10:00 a.m. here in California, I will post yesterday’s challenge (yes; the DD will likely be retrospective).
We were at a party, and I wanted to go. A well-meaning but overly chatty friend had cornered me, and Lex was running wild with the other kids. Marc was very much enjoying a beer. And all of a sudden I was done. It was past Lex’s bedtime, I hadn’t rested as much as I’d wanted to over the weekend, and I wanted to go. But extracting the boys was nigh impossible. Marc said sure, we can go—but made no attempts to remove himself from the chair where he was comfortably lounging. Lex pitched a fit when I gave him the five-minute warning. Marc stayed put. Finally when Marc rose and allowed Lex to take one more spin in the wagon even though five minutes were long passed, I felt myself get completely pissed off, and I hissed at Marc in the living room at my friend’s house.
On the ride home, I recalled some of the good advice from The Happiness Project, something to the effect of let it go.
At home, Marc asked whether I was angry. I made the “a little bit” sign with my fingers. And then I took a deep breath.
“It is hard for me when I say I’m ready to go and you say ‘sure,’ but then I’m the only one trying to get the three of us out the door,” I said. “It’s really difficult for me.” We talked for another minute and then I let it go. And Marc did too.
Because if there’s one thing that really gives me dukkha—ha—it’s when I feel I need to say something but then the whole night gets ruined because I’ve opened my mouth. You know that feeling?