Uncertainty And Suffering

All that I possess and use
Is like the fleeting vision of a dream.
It fades into the realms of memory;
And fading, will be seen no more.

-8th-century Buddhist master Shantideva from “The Way of the Bodhisattva”

We constantly search for certainty in an uncertain world. The American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, writes beautifully on this subject HERE. Seven plus months into a pandemic with no clear end in night is a constant affirmation to take life “one day at a time.”

Most of us can handle extreme difficulty and stress in service of a larger goal. When it’s voluntary and we know there’s an end point. “I just need to get through X to get to Y.”

Real suffering occurs when it’s involuntary and you remove the end point. When you have no idea how long the difficulty will last.

A personal metaphor…

I remember many years ago, going for an early morning run with a close friend. We were in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, a college reunion of sorts. Besides being an avid and exceptional runner–much faster than me–he also had familiarity with the route. He’d run it before and knew when and where it would end.

I didn’t.

The first run day, I was absolutely dying. (And he was running considerably slower than usual to allow me to keep pace.) My internal dialogue was “How much longer? How much longer?!” I wanted to quit several times. Finally, after about forty five minutes or so, we turned a corner and I recognized the house where we stayed. I was suddenly energized and finished strong.

The next morning–even though I was badly hung over and had barely slept (college reunions will do that to you)–was a much more enjoyable run. I could better tolerate the suffering. Because I knew it would end.

We’re all suffering in different ways right now. There’s so much uncertainty. But even though we don’t exactly know how or when, we will get through this.

This too shall pass.

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