the god of no discomfort and no unpleasantness
A friend sent me something that made me think of an amazing passage from a book called Nothing Special, by Charlotte "Joko" Beck, a zen teacher. Thought I'd share it with everybody here — for me, it certainly speaks to the core fear I feel every single day when I open my eyes in the morning, a fear that often manifests in procrastination and perfectionism.
The book consists of dharma talks Joko delivered to her students at the San Diego Zen Center. This is from "The Cocoon of Pain":
When we bow in the zendo, what are we honoring? One way to answer this question is to ask what we actually honor in our lives, as shown by what we think and do. And the truth of the matter is that in our lives we do not honor buddha nature, nor the God that encompasses everything, including life and death, good and evil, all the opposites. The truth is, we're not interested in that. We certainly don't want to honor death, or pain, or loss. We we do is erect a false god. ...
What is the god that we erect? What do we actually honor and pay attention to moment by meoment? we might call it the god of comfort and pleasantness and security. In worshiping that god, we destroy our lives. In worshiping the god of comfort and pleasantness, people literally kill themselves — with drugs, alcohol, high speeds, recklessness, anger.... Until we honestly see that this is what our lives are about, we will be unable to discover who we really are.
We have many ways to cope with life, many ways to worship comfort and pleasantness. All are based on the same thing: the fear of encountering any kind of unpleasantness. If we must have absolute order and control, it's because we're trying to avoid any unpleasantness. If we can have things our way, and get angry if they're not, then we think we can survive and shut out our anxiety about death. If we can please everyone, then we imagine no unpleasantness will enter our life. We hope that if we can be the star of the show, shining and wonderful and efficient, we can have such an admiring audience that we won't have to feel anything. If we can withdraw from the world and just entertain ourselves with our own dreams and fantasies and emotional upheavals, we think we can escape unpleasantness. If we can figure everything out, if we can be so smart that we can fit everything into some sort of a plan or oder, a complete intellectual understanding, then perhaps we won't be threatened. If we can submit to an authority, have it tell us what to do, then we can give someone else the responsibility for our lives and we don't have to carry it anymore. We don't have to feel the anxiety of making a decision. If we pursue life madly, going after any pleasant sensation, any excitement, any entertainment, perhaps we won't have to feel any pain. If we can tell others what to do, keep them well under control, under our foot, maybe they can't hurt us. If we can "bliss out," if we can be a mindless "buddha" just relaxing in the sun, we don't have to assume any responsibility for the world's unpleasantness. We can just be happy.
All these are versions of the god we actually worship. It is the god of no discomfort and no unpleasantness. Without exception, every being on earth pursues it to some degree. As we pursue it, we lose touch with what really is. As we lose touch, our life spirals downward. And the very unpleasantness that we sought to avoid can overwhelm us.
This has been the problem of human life since the beginning of time. All philosophies and all religions are varying attempts to deal with this basic fear.
Highlighting pointless, since every word resonates. And she goes on to
talk about a solution in the same wonderfully blunt, acerbic way; I'd
like to continue but I should get to work! When I get a chance I'll add the rest of this talk.
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thanks vic, findingaway
Glad to hear that passage hit home with you, too.
@vic - "discomfort dodger" — good one. Fits me perfectly. My dodges NEVER work; "... And the very unpleasantness that we sought to avoid can overwhelm us."
I'll transcribe some more when I have time. (Of course, her solution is a pretty hard-ass one; no magic to be had, only presence and acceptance, and the paradoxical way that showing up for pain seems to ... change it, somehow.)
I heard someone once use the term "Discomfort Dodger" to describe themselves. When I look at what I am doing many times, that is how I see myself. Can't wait to see her "solution". A self-talk like I use for myself is "I wonder how my hp is going to use this for something good?" He always does.
There are some interesting parallels here with a book by M. Scott Peck "The Road Less Travelled" published back in 1978, which made a big impression on me when I first read it. His framework is psychology/psychiatry but a similar concept - by running from or trying to escape from pain we bring only more pain.
Seems I need to learn this lesson again and again!
And for now I need to get back to my work too.