Reflectionary for the Open Heart

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism-suffering-Dukkha

The Buddhist tradition recognizes 4 universal truths about life.  They are called the 4 Noble Truths and apply to all of humanity.  The first truth is simple.

Everybody suffers.

From my Christian perspective, I have always been uncomfortable with the notion of suffering.  For me it seemed if Christ suffered for humanity’s sins, then humanity shouldn’t have to suffer at all.  Therefore being a good and faithful Christian meant for me, that if I suffered, I didn’t have enough faith.  And as person who is blessed to be warm, safe, dry and well fed each day, I have always felt guilt for thinking I suffer or have anything to suffer about.

It wasn’t until I studied Buddhism that I came to accept that despite where I live or how I live, I will suffer.  Having it acknowledged, gave me permission to recognize that I do suffer, in spite of the blessings in my life.  When I think I have no cause to suffer, I fight hard to pretend I am not.  I work to cover my feelings of sadness, anger, or fear that accompany life’s journey.  Covering feelings takes work.  It takes distractions sometimes in the form of compulsive behaviors.  At some point those behaviors that serve as distraction or comfort take on a life of their own and then they actually become another source of suffering.  For me there is great peace in accepting that everyone suffers.  I can begin to let go of the distractions that keep me from accepting that I suffer.

What does the suffering mean to you?  How does it make you feel?  Do you ever use this word when you think or speak about your life?  Why or why not?

I invite you to close your eyes in a moment and take a few slow deep breaths.  Sink into a soft, quiet place deep within.  As you relax and quiet yourself, begin to think about your relationship to the notion of suffering.

Return to the rest of the exercise after you have reflected for a few moments.

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Write down the words, “I suffer” on a piece of paper, your computer or phone, so that you will have them with you today.  Take them out several times today, as you remember, and look at them. Be present with these words and pay attention to how you feel when you acknowledge that you, like all of humanity, suffer.

Rev Lori Whittemore, MDiv

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