It’s a common human reaction. Dissatisfaction with the way things are often leads to a determination to make them better. The idea that tomorrow may be better than today is so ingrained in our experience of being human that the possibility of living without it can cause serious mental and physical distress.
Our striving for a better tomorrow is one of the most important characteristics of humans. Science, technology, medicine and a whole range of specialized fields is focused on improving what is.
But this tendency can have a negative impact on another part of our life. A productive way of looking at a human being is from two directions. The first is, how well they fit in to their context. Are they a good husband or wife? Are they a good accountant, engineer, scientist, ditch digger? How well have they perfected their ability to contribute? In other words, have they made themselves useful to those around them?
This is where our human tendency to seek out a better way really shines. We combine our efforts, skills and ideas in ways that no other species can. Although we prove over and over again capable of missing the mark, we continue to try. And the beginning of each of these efforts is a dissatisfaction with the way things are.
It’s the second way of looking at a human being that I want to focus on here. The identification of the source of suffering and dissatisfaction was one of the major contributions that the Buddha made to mankind. But that contribution is often misunderstood. So, let’s go back to the beginning – to the Four Noble Truths which form the basis of all Buddhist teachings.
Humans have a refined capability of self-reflection. We share with every living thing the experience of being alive. The incredible gift of a life force that springs out of itself. All plants and animals share this experience with us. They all know what it feels like to be alive. But humans, and very few other animals (at least as far as we know), are able to consider that life force as an object of curiosity. And this is precisely where our tendency to be dissatisfied comes into play and causes all sorts of damage.
We objectify the wellspring of our life and call it ‘me’. Then we get upset because this ‘me’ is not perfect. Instead of savoring the amazing experience of being alive, we set about redefining the moment during which we are alive and that the virtual creation we call ‘me’. We spend our lives trying to fix it all. We spend our lives trying to change our belief about who we are.
You see, the question becomes whether or not you are willing to accept that the current moment – the one that is occurring as you read these words – is perfect. It is, in fact, the only truly authentic part of your life. The fact that you are living this moment, reading these words and experiencing the thoughts and sensations that you are is really the only part of your life which is not open to question.
The path to such a realization – and complete acceptance – of such an understanding is one that each person walks in their own way and at their own pace. It is a journey inward to the person you truly are and a visit to that wellspring of energy that is the only constant in your life.
The intention of the Four Noble Truths was to identify the source of dissatisfaction – not the first kind of dissatisfaction which I discussed but the second – and to show humanity a way to escape the destructive cycle of self-doubt and suffering.
My own mentoring work begins with precisely that focus. I work to arrange an armistice between a person and their present moment. A truce in the war between their life’s spring of living energy and the avatar which they have created and named ‘me’. Some of those journeys are long and exhausting. Others are accomplished more quickly. Sometimes dead ends and faux progress in case the journey. But I will tell you one thing. For people who have completed it, it is truly a life-changing experience.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD