There’s a cure
And you have finally found it
Will shrink you ’til you’re underground
And living down
But it’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
It’s not going to stop
‘Til you wise up
~from Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up”
Before meditating the other day, I read the following from Chogyam Trungpa’s Ocean of Dharma entitled “The Truth of Suffering”:
We must work with our fears, frustrations, disappointments, and irritations, the painful aspects of life. People complain that Buddhism is an extremely gloomy religion because it emphasizes suffering and misery. Usually religions speak of beauty, song, ecstasy, bliss. But according to Buddha, we must begin by seeing the experience of life as it is. We must see the truth of suffering, the reality of dissatisfaction. We cannot ignore it and attempt to examine only the glorious, pleasurable aspects of life. If one searches for a promised land, a Treasure Island, then the search only leads to more pain. So all sects and schools of Buddhism agree that we must begin by facing the reality of our living situations. We cannot begin by dreaming.
Facing the reality of my living situation is something that has been on my mind a lot lately (possibly since birth). I tend to bristle at Pollyannas, am wary of always “looking on the bright side,” and have cautioned friends and family members not to blow sunshine up my *ss. I am drawn to examine life’s painful, messy, and uncomfortable aspects. Though some consider me a pessimist, I have always thought myself a realist.
I don’t mean to be a downer. The negative side of things just seems truer to me; putting a positive spin on everything smacks of delusion and denial. Like everyone else, I yearn to be happy but I struggle with what this means. What is happiness? Can one be happy and still acknowledge the difficulties in life, the sense of chronic ickiness, the presence of suffering, disaster, and death?
Recently I attended one of the Rubin Museum’s Happy Talks with Aimee Mann and Neil Labute, two artists and individuals I have admired and followed for years. Neither is known for his or her happiness per se: her lyrics are raw observations of conflict, disappointments, depression, and anxiety; his plays portray some of our least savory characteristics and personal struggles. At the talk, however, both reported they are generally happy.
This has me thinking that perhaps it is the acknowledgement of difficulty that allows happiness to exist. One cannot exist without the other, yet it is incredibly difficult to hold both the positive and the negative aspects of life in one’s mind simultaneously. By acknowledging the existence of life’s unsavory bits, however, perhaps we are freed up to enjoy the beauty, joy, and softness that is also present.