Sunday, July 8, 2012

On dogs and caves and ecstasy

'If you can sit quietly after difficult news;
 if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm;
if you can see your neighbours travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy;
 if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate;
if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;
if you can always find contentment just where you are:
you are probably a dog.'

The quote is by Jack Kornfield, one of my favourite Buddhist thinkers, of the Theravada way. He wrote the wonderfully titled 'After the Ecstasy, the Laundry'. i related well to that, having had in my life both ecstasy and laundry. A fair bit of laundry, actually.

The first and obvious thought is that i am not a dog. Should i emulate a dog? There is a view in Islam that animals are already Muslims. Islam means submission, and animals already submit to the will of God, without effort. Muslims are not into dogs much though. Only one dog gets to go to heaven. That is the dog who guards the Seven Sleepers. These early Christians hid in a cave from their persecutors, fell asleep and woke hundreds of years later, into a Christian world where they were welcomed. It's not a big story among Christians but it features well in the Islamic world, and the faithful dog who guarded them got to go to heaven with them when they died.

So i can't be like a dog, i do not naturally submit, nor do i easily give up my limited view of the world, even when i recognise it's illusory, or unsatisfactory, or problematic.

We suffer and we are aware of our suffering. i used to be quite blithe about the meaning of suffering, when i was younger and actually was suffering more than i am now.  i thought that suffering was either due to spiritual tests of some obscure sort, or due to my not trying hard enough. i did not see suffering as mysterious. And it is mysterious.

i have said before that we live in a society that seems to deny suffering any meaning. We go from - A bad thing happened, to I feel bad, to I should not feel these feelings, to I cannot tolerate these bad feelings even for a moment. Thing is, we suffer, we just do. We need a far more sophisticated and intuitive way of thinking about it, so we can do more than just tolerate it but actually derive some wisdom there.

i struggle to lean into suffering and to discern its lessons. i wish i was a dog. i am glad i am not a dog. It is mostly OK to be this human.

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