Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Watching Samsara

Yesterday was one of those days when I became acutely aware of the meaning of the phrase "the terrors of samsara." What is the primary feature of samsara? Suffering.

It started with not enough sleep to satisfy a gnat, so that by noon I felt as if my mind was dragging my body through the universe by sheer force of will. You must know that feeling. That all you really want to do is just let yourself collapse. But you can't. Gotta keep going. Gotta make time.

I stepped out of the house at 8 am. into a dreary day with rain falling not hard but steady, climbed into Minnie Van Nice and within seconds was off and running. And that's what I do. Run. How I earn my living. Running. From pillar to post, here and there, to and fro, up down over and out. Nonstop most days. But I'm good at it because I really only have one goal: get the package delivered and go home. Home. That's always my ultimate destination. The sooner I deliver, the sooner I'll get home.

So that around noon I found myself hurtling down the 401 towards Toronto at an excessive speed (although not excessive enough for many others on that road), slicing through rain clouds at ground level, Gentle Giant loud and frenetic on the stereo, eyes in the back of my head watching out for kamikazes...Then it hit me...the noise, the grip on the steering wheel, the tension in my shoulders...this was it! Samsara for sure. And its primary characteristic. No amount of peanut butter M&Ms could sugarcoat the load of physical exhaustion and mental anguish I was experiencing at that very moment when what I wanted most was to somehow get home so that I could explore that vast unconscious land I like to call Oblivia.

I suddenly realized that the activity I was engaged in (in this case, delivering a display stand to a convention booth at the Royal York Hotel), the thing that I was spending my time doing, was about as close to meaningless as you could get and certainly futile from a broader perspective. Which led to the next realization: if I didn't get about the business of liberation from Samsara, the real business of this life and all lives, I was doomed to have to do this, or something very much like it, all over again. And that scared the hell out of me. All this again? How can I do this again?

In case you haven't noticed, existence in Samsara is hard. When even pleasures are tainted by suffering, how can it not be hard?

No control over it. We spend our lives trying to gain control of our destinies...security, money, good food, happy pursuits...without thinking about how small these destinies are, really. And all we're really doing is setting ourselves up for the next uncontrolled version of where we are right now. The same struggle again. The same dragging your body through space. The same worry about the lunatic coming up fast behind you in the passing lane.

So I put on a tape of the Dalai Lama teaching. And what was he talking about? Dukkha -- suffering. And he said it's crucial that one recognize one's suffering, the ways in which suffering occurs, and the extent of it. You can't relieve suffering you don't know you have.

Well, I certainly recognized it yesterday. No problem there. Now I'm happy.

But of course, that's only temporary.

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