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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lets Talk about Pain...

When I started writing this entry, it started raining. Now, the rain seems to have stopped and I expect it to rain again in a few minutes. I Love this weather but I enjoy it most when I am indoors.

Yet, even if I usually enjoy being indoors listening to an audiobook in bed, for example, when it’s raining, my positive experience is dampened by a persisting pain in my back muscles. I have meditated during these moments of pain but I still need more practice in effectively accepting the experience of pain. However, while meditation does help address the suffering caused by pain, it’s a misconception to believe that “it’s all in the mind”.

Indeed, Buddhism doesn’t deny that there is a biological factor involved in the experience of pain. However, Buddhism makes an important distinction between pain and suffering (or more accurately “dukkha”). In this sense, while pain is real, discomfort itself or how we relate to this pain causes the real suffering. Thus, by choosing to reject or deny our experience of our present pain, we give this pain control over ourselves. We become slaves of an idyllic past and mourning a future that never was. By resisting pain, we don’t change and, if there’s no change we are bound to wither and die.

This may all sound defeatist, but I’m not saying that one shouldn’t take any action to reduce pain. However, an experience of pain can teach us about what it means to be human. It reminds me that I am limited. I am reminded that I share with others in a human experience,.

I discover that, in spite of any pretensions, my body is no different to that of other living beings. Pain is an invitation to appreciate how precious life and how life is impermanent and how it could end at any minute.

With all its unpleasantness and discomfort, pain awakens us to the present moment.

And, the only moment that we can truly change is but now.

For, like the rain, our lives can end at any time.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Virtues of Pain

It’s now more than a week since persistent back pain caused by an injury has forced me to consume pain medication which adds up to the daily dose f steroids I need in order to keep my general condition under control. These days were also more difficult following a number of disappointments I had in my life. Indeed, only now can I seem to have renewed hope in a better tomorrow. A tomorrow when I can return back to work and join my work mates once again.

Even if I wish to escape the pain, I must admit that, whatever we do,. certain type of pain is inevitable and may be even necessary.

Here I am not saying that I just accept the pain that's purely physical without making use of medication to relief the immediate pain. Indeed, one should make proper use of technological innovation to address the symptoms of pain. But, then again, we should accept the fact that not all pain is valueless and that pain itself can help us connect to others and to our basic humanity.

Such an approach to pain appears to be a contradiction to the pleasure seeking or hedonistic ideal that equates pain and suffering with evil while pleasure and physical comfort are the higher goods of our current age.

While it’s a natural response to reject pain, not all pain can be removed. I have experienced moments of pain where I even questioned if there was any point in going on. These moments often led me to consider even suicide. But these thoughts eventually would last for days or even months until I would realize that, instead of brooding on my bad fortune, I could learn from this experience. It’s not easy as it might appear when expressed in words and I don’t judge those who failed and and are no longer with us.

However, I can’t help worry about the implication of a hedonism that aims to reject pain because it often leads to the elimination of those people whose lives, due to their pain, are deemed unworthy of living as their lives are perceived as insignificant burdens and ‘lies not worth living’. A life such as my own. In addition, a pleasure seeking attitude to life may result in a decrease in palliative care treatment and lack of funding in pain management research. It would mean removing the person instead of alleviating the pain.

There were many things I reflected upon during these times of pain. Things that I had forgotten as I went about with life until I was forced to stop. I realized how, in spite of any disagreements, my family was there to support me.

I realized that my friends hadn’t abandoned me in this moment of need. I realiszed that if it wasn’t for the work of many others unknown to me, I would’t have anything to brink or eat, no electricity, no means of reaching out to the world. If it hadn’t been for those who encouraged me to ask the right questions, my life today would have been different. Finally, if it hadn’t been for doctors and scientists that have developed treatment and medication to deal with conditions like my own, I would not be here today.

In this sense, pain reminds us of our own vulnerability as human beings and awakens us to the fact that we need each other in life and that we are part of one single human family.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Renewing Trust After Betrayal

Recent experiences where I was misled and deceived led me to question once again, my trust in other people. In the past, I had been taken for a ride so many times because I was young, inexperienced or even because I was disabled and different. I had also my fair share of disappointments were I built high hopes and expectations, only to discover these were just hollow illusions. In time, I would start to trust again and took care in choosing well whom to trust.

However, we remain human. And, despite my meditation practice, there are things that can blind, metaphorically, the best of us. Not that I’m the best. The point is that when the self hears things that it likes to hear, it tends to lower its usual defences. And, as the illusionary ego grows and grows, it has the tendency to take over common sense. From then on, there is a danger that the delusion becomes reality and, in effect, any doubts are countered by irrational thinking, you’ve reached a point of no return.

Thus, when you learn that all your time and energy you invested was entrusted to deceitful people who just want to exploit your pride for their own advantage, then there is your reality collapses. You wake up from a dream into a hard reality. And, as in my case, you only want to hide away and cry. You start blaming the people who betrayed your trust. You want to find a way out. You don’t want to face the fruits of your mistakes. You even try to pretend it never happened. And you return back to reality, you cry and cry until you want to escape from the fact that you’ve been betrayed.

Even if other people may have had a large part to play in breaking your trust, deep inside you blame yourself for being too trusty or even stupid for not spotting the red lights. Then, you discover that you are angry at yourself. At letting your guard down and following the chants of the tempting sirens. At that point, you start questioning yourself and, perhaps, doubting all the decisions you take from then on. Not that you didn’t do this before but, now, there’s greater suspicion and mild paranoia. Can you recover from betrayal? Can you trust again?
Some time has passed since these events took place in my life. I haven’t yet recovered from the feeling of being betrayed. I am not fully recovered from a feeling that I am still vulnerable. In this sense, this was a painful experience but also a wake up call. It reminded me that inasmuch as I have moved forward in these couple of years, I will never be completely immune from temptation, emotion and desire.

I remain human with all the good and bad that comes with being human. Whether or not I renew my trust depends on many factors. What I can say is that there’s no magic formula. People are people. The nicest of human beings are capable of deceiving or betraying you if they believe they’re somewhat justified in their actions. Yet, it’s impossible not to trust anyone in the world. The very foundations of human society is based on a degree of trust. We trust that the water we drink is safe. We trust that the food we eat is free from poisons or contaminants. We trust that the builders who build our houses used the right material. The list is endless.

The only thing we can do is to be aware of who we are. To be mindful of what we are thinking. To take the time to know yourself. My mistake was that I noticed the warning signs but I chose to ignore them in pursuit of a flight of fancy. If I had been perhaps more receptive to the thoughts that were going through my mind before I took the wrong decisions, I might have prevented all this from happening in the first place.

While I will try to be more careful in whom I place my trust, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be forever safe. For, unfortunate as it may be, human beings will continue to find more subtle ways to betray and deceive others. On the other hand, you cannot give up on trust completely. Knowing yourself is a great way to protect yourself but it isn’t foolproof.

And when you’re betrayed, you should have the courage to accept what is and take remedial action if you can..

But denying it will only render you a slave to the betrayer.

A slave to your own self.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Way of Water

Today, I chose to talk about water. A simple enough molecular structure composed of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom. Everyone needs it and, no, you don’t need any chemical formula to appreciate its value. Water is an example of a liquid that much to teach us about reality and about ourselves.

It’s a liquid that changes structure depending on the environment. It can be ice, snow, rain or steam. In each case, the experience of water changes but, at its foundation, it is still composed of the same molecules. Water may come from the river, the ocean or through the sea. But it remains water and it’s continuously being recycled as it shifts back and forth from the solid, liquid and gas states. The same water falling as rain in New York is not that different than the rain falling in China a few days later. Water droplets are, of course, not exactly the identical ones as they are distinct but, in essence, they are similar.

In this sense, humanity is like water. We constantly change the way we look, the way we think and what we believe. But, at the core, we remain human beings facing the same challenges of life. However, water itself is something that has been instrumental in the creation of life on Earth. Our bodies cannot survive without it and we are mostly made up of water. All our organs depend on it to keep working. Without it, we will die. On the other hand, water can kill us if we drown in it. Water helps us survive but can also be a destructive force when it causes flooding or organises into a tsunami.

Thus, it is only in moderation that water is sustaining and preserving. Excesses at both extremes can either lead to dehydration or suffocation. Water can cause hypothermia. And when you realise how vital water is for our survival and how it makes up over two-thirds of the world’s surface, you quickly realise how, if we continue to pollute our seas with waste, chemicals, nuclear material and oil., we may be compromising the future of all living beings and condemn us to extinction. Lacking an impending space programme that permits us to live on other planets, the water we have on this planet is the only source that can keep life going.

We may have bad experiences of water. W e may have been close to drowning, have an entire life and livelihood because of a flood. You may have even lost loved ones because of the sea. Yet, even if it’s no consolation, water itself is not good or bad, it just follows its nature. We, on the other hand, can adapt to the world and even change our reaction to life. At the same time, like water droplets, we are different in our own ways but so much alike in so much, much more than we want to admit..

For a start, we all depend on water as long as we live.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

This isn't really my life...

We are often exposed to news stories reporting on the deaths of motorists, people still dying in places far away as a result of war, natural disasters or the injustices of poverty and intolerance. But, does hearing these accounts day and night, stir us in any way? Or have we become so used to these stories that we don’t perhaps stop and reflect that, behind these victims, there are real people? People who are suffering or even dying? While the killings still happening in Syria are cause for concern, many other people this minute are dying out of unnatural acts of our human failure to love and respect each other as equals.

So, we have the rich and the poor, the so-called ‘developing’ and the ‘developed’ worlds. There are the fit and the unfit. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and many other religious traditions. There are secularists, humanists, and atheists. But, if I think about it, all these categories are created by us. Yes, all of us continue reinforcing these differences, often without knowing. We want to belong to a group in society that we feel is more like us. It’s irrelevant whether we identify as criminals, drug dealers, practicing believers, or convinced atheists. If we are given the opportunity to express our feelings, we tend to like those like us.

But, then again, can we really claim that our lives are ‘ours’? Many would claim this is a fact. Our life is our life and nobody has the right to impose anything on us against our will. In this, I wholeheartedly agree. The problem is when we lay claim to all our achievements and to our current position. The illusion manifests itself when we believe, without question, that our bodies belong to us, almost as if they were an object or property we have. With that I would have a problem. For, in truth, if you aren’t careful, you might run off with the impression that you can make it on your own on this Earth. In its extreme form, such a delusion may lead us to neglect our bodies or, worse still, harm others because they become simply possessions and objects to manipulate like any other utensil.

There are a couple of questions I will put out there. I won’t answer them or presume to know the answers to any of them. And, once you start reading, you will quickly realise the answers are pretty straight forward. I will, however add a short comment at the end of each question for further reflection.

Did you choose to be born?

Who brought you to the world?

Have you created the society, the culture, the science, the structure and the world you are now living in?

Have you created the planet Earth and all the living beings that populate it?

Have you created the Earth itself, the planets in the solar system and the Sun?

Have you created this galaxy, this universe and the cosmos beyond?

Have you created the stars and the matter forming the basis of material reality?

Have you sparked off all of this and can truly claim that this life, which spans for an infinitesimal stretch of time your own making?

Of course, we remain responsible for our own thoughts and actions to a point. And, even there, we are always limited as human beings. We still need many others to make it through the day. We need other living beings to survive on this planet. Starting from what we think insignificant such as flies and bees to those we deem beautiful and worth preserving. Yet, if you think about it, all beings contribute in their own ways to the welfare of the planet. Even if it may be yet unknown to us.

Unfortunately, the human species is perhaps the only animal who has actively exploited nature for its own ends. The only ‘self-aware[ being that still assumes that everything will go on as before in spite of the impact of waste, pollution, deforestation, nuclear disasters and so much more.

But, wait, I am a human being too! My life depends o so many people, so many living beings, the Earth and the stars that populate it. I cannot keep detached from all that is happening. Like you and the rest of humanity, my life depends on others. To what extent, I and others, are committed to preserving our Earth. To how far we are prepared to put our differences and desires to control and gain power for the welfare of all human beings. Indeed, our life, our bodies and even our thoughts are not exclusively our own. They are constantly shaped and sustained by the Earth. Even the very atoms and molecular structures that form our bodies originated in the beginning of the universe.

Indeed, as I ponder on the ending of another day. As another night falls beckons. I look around me with a sense of gratitude. As I look at the night sky with my feeble eyes, I ask myself…

Are we all sons and daughters of the stars?

Made of the same stuff.

Matter that will not last forever.

What exists beyond that is a matter of speculation and personal faith.