It is day three of the retreat, and I’m feeling settled into the daily routine of sitting meditation, walking meditation, cooking lunch for the group, and a walk after dinner along the river nearby. My mind is calmer than when I first arrived, but with greater calmness comes increased clarity, and by day three I’m a little dismayed by what I find. Not only am I judgemental towards myself and others in the group (I’m used to that!), I’m also critical towards almost every moment which arises and falls. It’s very subtle, and doesn’t prevent me from feeling deep contentment and joy at times. But the judging mind quickly weighs up each moment, and for some reason seems to find most of them deficient in some way.
It is a strange phenomenon, this eternal dissatisfaction most of us seem to feel with our lives, even when things are going quite well for us. The Buddha called it ‘dukkha’, which is often translated as suffering, but could be more accurately described as ‘the unsatisfactory nature of existence’. It’s not necessarily dependent on external circumstances, but seems to spring from our own frame of mind. In Milton’s poem ‘Paradise Lost’, the fallen angel Satan says,
The mind is its own place,
And in itself
Can make a heaven of hell,
A hell of heaven.
Most of the time, if we look at the actual moment, our lives are okay. It may not be some idealised version of paradise we’ve conjured up, but we’re not usually in immediate life-threatening danger. Of course there are times when life is anything but okay, and some people live long term with ongoing suffering, trauma or pain. Few people would get through life without experiencing times of great misery and distress. For much of our lives, however, even when our circumstances are not too bad, our minds, at a subtle level, judge our lives to be deficient in some way. What would it be like to sometimes say to ourselves,
‘What I have, right now, in this moment, is enough.’
Weekly practice idea:
From time to time, say to yourself, ‘it’s good to be here’. What comes up for you when you say this phrase?