Monday, November 10, 2008

The Truth Will Set You Free

Kris Wilder is putting together a new book, tentatively titled: "The Deeper Questions: Why We Train in the Martial Arts." He kindly asked me to write a section for it. I finished writing it and I am afraid that most people will see it as dark and depressing, but it isn’t. It, like many truths, is a key to a wonderful freedom. There are a handful of hard truths, very real, very powerful things and it seems that most people’s lives and civilization itself is often a sad and desperate attempt to make these truths less true.

The most famous? Possibly, from the Buddha: “Life is suffering.” Or, my favorite paraphrase, from The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell something.”

Maybe that’s a big truth and maybe it’s dark and maybe it’s scary, but it is profoundly liberating. Getting handed a shit sandwich with life isn’t that big a deal… but the idea that it’s not normal, that the sandwich of life is supposed to be roast beef with bacon and cream cheese lightly toasted with brown mustard… The little cry baby belief that it is personal, that it is about YOU, the illusion that the universe knows or cares who you are…that’s the part that hurts. The suffering, if it is that, lingers in the gap between the expectation and the reality.

Most humans through most of history have had a pretty rough deal. You don’t see it in America much (no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that the country is awash in poverty and homelessness and violence- the math doesn’t work when the greatest health risk to the poorest Americans include complications from obesity). We are programmed, it seems, to think that our lives are hard, and they are. But only compared to an ideal that never really existed. Things, stuff, money, don’t mitigate suffering (though they can mitigate pain or deprivation, but those aren't the same) , they just focus your imagination on different things to suffer about.

I’m trying not to talk out of both sides of my mouth here. There is real pain: tasers hurt. Old bone breaks and medically installed hardware hurts in your joints when things are cold and humid. You will lose friends that you love. But most of the suffering comes from elsewhere, from an expectation that joints aren’t supposed to hurt or that friends are eternal. That is the difference between grieving and wallowing. Both are about you, but one is honestly about what you lost and the other is about what you thought you had a right to keep.

Accepting this truth and a few others allows you to live…more? Harder? Better? It allows you to love harder because you are busy loving instead of whining that things aren’t perfect and love is ‘supposed to be perfect’. It allows you to play and learn getting better every day instead of wasting time and emotion trying to figure out how good you are or if you are ‘good enough.’

What do those phrases even mean? What is a ‘perfect love’? What would it look, feel, taste, like? It can’t be both perfectly smooth and exciting. And ‘good enough’? For what? To who? If you ever perfectly achieved it, then what?

Most of the big truths are like that: the totality of the statement is bleak: “Life is suffering.” “You will die.” But each of them is a key. When you quit wasting energy attempting to evade the inevitable; when you quit building a structure of lies to protect yourself from the truth you can live at the level of truth.

Caveat emptor, though. It’s really not for everybody.


Kai Jones said...

Yes, it's freeing to know the truths. Shit just happens, but happiness we have to work for, and it's important to focus on adding moments of happiness to life.

There's no magic moment when you've finally fixed all the bad stuff and dealt with all the shit and suddenly your life will be easy and happy. You don't have to wait until you've done those things to deserve happiness; it's not taking away from your effort to fix the bad stuff to add some happiness to your life. Don't wait, do it now.

Doing the things that make you happy is one of the things that makes it easier to deal with the bad stuff.

Steve Perry said...

Well, if'n you are gonna invoke Buddha, put down the other three parts of the Four Noble Truths.

1. Suffering exists.
2. The cause of suffering is attachment.
3. There is a way to overcome this.
4. The way is the Eightfold Path.

While you may or may not agree with 4, I suspect that you tend to believe 2 & 3.

Anonymous said...

Re: LIfe is suffering, the Princess Bride quote

Well, I think that is a little much; there is a lot of suffering in this life, and a lot of living to be done in suffering, but there is joy as well. I doubt you typed this post while being menaced with hot irons.

Re: Why we practice martial arts

I wish I could recite everything that James Hillman, Jung's last living student, said in his book about human conflict and suffering, A Terrible Love of War. But I can't, so I'll just list the chapters and hope you all read it:

1. War is Normal
2. War is Inhuman
3. War is Sublime
4. Religion is War

Anonymous said...

This got me thinking about the nature of "suffering". This might sound strange, but just the act of being alive, breathing, metabolizing food, keeping the necessary balance of tension and relaxation to enable me to sit here on my chair and type these words, all the while shedding and building cells, aging, these are ways of suffering.

But, if I imagine myself begging "god" or the universe, or space/time for this amazing experience that has never been known before, and actually being
granted this impossible wish....

Well maybe I got what I wanted, and suffering is just another word for life.


Kai Jones said...

As far as the Four Noble Truths, I believe just the opposite. E.M. Forster had it right: "Only connect."