Despair

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My conversion to Buddhism came not from a flash of light on the road to Damascus or the view from a mountaintop, or even an intense gaze into the eyes of a newborn dolphin.  It was a process.  A hard slog that took a few years, marked by numerous discoveries within Buddhists texts and then watching those texts prove themselves true in the path of my life.  One of the first was the Buddha’s description of despair.  He called it laziness.

It pissed me off to read that.  I had been proud of my despair.  It was deep, and painful, and real.  It was the result of me being a deep thinker and from my having a vast intelligence that could not find a happy place in the cruel, unforgiving, unfair, unintelligent world.  I was fond of my despair.  I liked having it.  I was good at it.  And despair sounds so much better than depression.  In my despair, I could accomplish nothing.  Morosely unmoving, sadly sitting. Pointlessly meandering the streets; my pain was too deep to process or to be understood by outside minds and eyes.  There was nothing I could do.  There was nothing anyone could do.

Sounds like Laziness, doesn’t it?

The words of the Buddha on despair were electric.  My first reaction was shock; that a being of compassion could insult my precious despair?  What the hell?  Then as the current of the thought ran through me, I saw its accuracy.  And as the energy of the transforming sutra settled in my mind, I knew I wouldn’t be the same.  I could not be able act as I used to when despair came upon me.  If I did, I would remember what I read, and I would not allow myself to be that way.

It was a revelation.  Goddammit.

For despair is an act of laziness.  A slight-of-mind-trick we use to avoid our real problems.  A mask to camouflage our real pain.  Instead of attacking that which makes us unhappy, we wallow, warm and comfortable in the shit of our lives, convinced by Mara/Satan/ourselves that there is nothing we can do.  And with despair, it is the ego that reigns.  Ego is the voice that keeps it strong and permanent.  My pain is too strong: it is born of my uniqueness in the world.  There is nothing like me in the entire universe, and the fact I am angry, sad and alone proves it and makes it worthwhile.  The strength of the ego in despair is why the Buddha approaches so aggressively and directly.  The ego is fierce in its defense, and sly  in its tactics.  To defeat the ego it must be faced boldly, clearly and a hundred times a day.  The struggle against ego and the myth of the self is a major part of the Buddhism, and a struggle most Americans find outrageous, as the sense of self is a political foundation of our government and a financial pillar of our economy.  In a very practical sense, if we were to rid ourselves of ego, it would cause the American Way of Life to collapse.

It’s a revolution revelation.  Goddammit.

That  “Goddammit” refers to what Stacy and I have felt as we have travelled on our spiritual paths upon discovering certain revelations.  Some are pleasant, some are confirming, some are joyous, but some are hard truths that as soon as we feel them, we know we must change our lives.  That we cannot ignore them , no matter what useful rationalization creeps into our mind.

“Goddammit!  Now I have to change my life for the better.”

So what is goddammit-y about that?  It should be great?  Right?  It should be a joyous shower of feathers and chocolate and unicorns and sparkles and Perky Facebook Posts.  But it’s not.  It’s work.  That frustration, that hypocritical frustration, proves the hold that ego has on us.  For the ego is not merely our sense of individuality and personhood and self: it is the hold that the past has on our lives, whispering in that loud shout that what was, is more important and real than what could be.

And it’s not, Goddammit.  What could be is an infinity of love. What was is gone.  Bloody gone.

And for those who are in despair, deep depression, extreme sadness, do not trick yourself into thinking I am trivializing your experience by claiming the cure is as simple as just getting up, taking a shower and puttin’ on a happy face.  Or reading a little Buddha.  Or saying a prayer.  Or helping an old lady cross the street.  It’s a fight.  A friggin’ brawl.  A bloody slugfest, toe-to-toe against the only thing in the world that can truly defeat you: yourself.  And you will sometimes lose, and it will hurt. People will not understand, and you will not understand yourself.   But you can win.  You should win.  You will win.  And  the war starts with this:  You are suffering.  You suffer only because you are alive.  There is a way to stop suffering.  The Buddha can teach us that way.  That is the Four Noble Truths that all Buddhists must first accept into their lives.

Can I paraphrase that?  Of course I can!

The sadness you feel is real.  You are not sad because you are a bad person, you are sad because you are alive and all creatures experience pain and sadness.  You can stop feeling this pain, it can end, it should end.  And there is a way to make the sadness stop.

Isn’t that cool?

NEXT BLOG POST FROM JOHN—ECSTASY

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About stacyandjohn

She is an Episcopal priest, He is a Theravadin Buddhist trying to be a playwright. They blog together, on their religions, their relationship, other religions and about breaching the chasm between Niravanas and Heaven.
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