I was raised Catholic and for many years I took my Catholicism very seriously. I also had the fortune of being born with a predisposition toward anxiety and depression. There is a genetic link and these do run in my family. I used to blame my alcoholic upbringing for these disorders but I have come to learn that my brain came hardwired from the factory floor this way. I do think the stress level of the alcoholic home did tip the balance in these disorders and causing them to be chronic.
I sought solace for these issues in Christianity. I also had a ton of therapy and over 25 years in a 12 step group for families of alcoholics. I have come a long way and I desire to continue growing. Eventually my journey into Christianity brought me into some Fundamentalist Churches. I always felt like a foreigner there. I was truly searching for God yet I never felt I was “one of them.” I guess I could never completely believe everything I was being told. However, I was gratefully influenced and affected by them and today they form some of the negative and critical messages scurrying about in my head. Through the years I found my anxiety and depression symptoms worsening because of the negative influences of Christian Fundamentalism and after my first wife and I divorced I slowly began to extricate myself from that sub-culture.
I was still hurting and God had not healed me as other Christians said he would…and the reasons he didn’t were usually my fault. As I began to get well in therapy I learned that within Fundamentalist Christianity many psychological games based on ego defense were often played and they’re often destructive. I don’t want to stereotype all Christians being that way because they were not. I have met some wonderful loving and kind Christians that really do mirror the kindness of Christ. Through the years I have also questioned a lot of Christian theology but that topic is for another day.
It was then that I began to to examine other faiths and I was introduced to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The first one I could relate to…that life is dukkha. In English this is commonly translated as “suffering.” I have also heard that it can mean anxiety, stress, unsatisfactoriness and discontentment. I have also heard that dukkha described as death, aging, sorrow, grief, pain and despair. Boy could I relate to that! I don’t think anyone who walks through this valley of tears we call life can escape from dukkah.
I really had a problem for a long while with the Second Noble Truth. It says the origins of dukkha is Samudaya which means “coming into existence” or in layman terms…craving..desire. So in my mind desire was wrong and I wasn’t supposed to have any. That was the way I interpreted the Second Noble Truth. I struggled with that because I was still very attached to my desires! I wanted sex, pleasures of the flesh, including stuffing my face with good food; I wanted prestige and the praise from my fellow man for what a wonderful singer I am and so many other things. Well, in time I learned that these things cannot bring the inner peace I seek. Because I have had all of these and still experienced dukkha.
I also learned more about craving. Craving is not just grasping at what we want to experience, craving is also pushing away the things we don’t want to experience. It is a way of rejecting whatever the present moment is offering. So if someone is being a jerk, and I don’t want that, my craving for them to stop or to change to suit my will is my craving for something other than what is in the present moment. So learning that Samudaya is craving for the things we want and craving for the things we do not want, I was able to accept this principle much easier.
The Third Noble Truth says that the way out of suffering is to cease the craving. In my misunderstanding of this Noble Truth I thought I had to stop wanting by a force of my willpower. However I learned that trying to stop myself from ‘craving” was still practicing samudaya and experiencing dukkah because I was still resisting (pushing away) what was in the present moment. In other words if I was craving for a new guitar trying to stop myself from wanting a new guitar, feeling guilt and shame because I wanted a new guitar was not how the Second Noble Truth works. I learned that I cannot stop my cravings by an act of self will.
So How do I cease from craving? The cessation of dukkha: is through the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path; which is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. I will not go into all of these things today. One of the reasons is because I have not gone through them all myself! I am still learning. The one that Zen concentrates on the most and the one I am most interested in is mindfulness. Mindfulness is where meditation comes in. It is a way of training the mind to be consciously aware the cravings of our Monkey Mind as Buddhism puts it. We often go through life on automatic pilot reacting to the precepts of our mind without much conscious awareness of what we are thinking/feeling, doing and why we are doing the things we do. Buddhism teaches us to bring into conscious awareness the actions of our mind. As we become the observer of our minds we are not swept away and caught up in the stream of thoughts which hooks us so easily and causes dukkha.
Within the First Noble Truth is the concept that all of life is temporary and that nothing lasts forever. Our thoughts are fleeting and impermanent. Everything in life is impermanent and mindfulness meditation teaches us to detach from the things we cling to, which is a form of craving, to experience the serenity and peace that lies within.
That is it for now. I will write more shortly. Thanks for reading!
- Posted in: From my Heart