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How Can You End Your Suffering?


By A. Devia

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"The root of suffering is attachment." -The Buddha

"The root of all suffering is unmet expectation." -A. Devia

"You know, Ophelia, it's not really letting go of the past that is the problem."

"Well that's good, because that stuff is sticky! It sticks to your heart and your feet and your thinking spot, too!" said Ophelia as she fluttered to a new spot. She glanced back at the old spot like it was sticky too. Considering she'd just been munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it might have been. "So what is your problem?" she asked, licking her fingers.

"The problem is letting go of a possible future that will never be, of letting go of the possibilities you see in another person, or project or plan. That is the real struggle."

"Devia, What do you mean?" asked Ophelia.

"Well, for example, let's say you work in a factory and part of your job is running the machines and part of your job is fixing the machines when they break. If you go into work every day expecting the machines to run perfectly, you're going to go home every night complaining that you had a terrible day because everything kept breaking. You suffered because you were expecting the machines to be in perfect working order."

"So you mean I should just expect everything to break all the time?"

"Well, not exactly," I said, "but you should be realistic about the work. In this case, our worker should go in to work expecting that sometimes the machines will break. And maybe even be grateful that they do break because if they never broke, would our worker still have a job?"

"My cousin, Arigon, was supposed to go to the movies with me last week but never showed up. I was sad. What could I have done to avoid that suffering?"

"Thich Nhat Hanh said 'If you already see the nature of your suffering, how it has come to be, you are already on your way to liberation.' So you need to ask yourself, what caused your suffering?"

"Well she didn't show up, of course!"

"But why didn't she show up? Does she always do this? If she does, then next time, you could invite her and a few other friends, that way you still have someone to go to the movies with even if she fails to show up. Or have some other back up plan; you change your expectation of her behavior. However, if she suddenly got sick, then there isn't much you could have done to adjust your expectations in that situation. It is still important to understand that your suffering is actually coming from your expectations, not from the other person. As soon as you shift the blame of your suffering away from your expectations to the other person, you lose control over the situation and yourself. If you don't have control, then you have no remedy to fix your suffering."

"I don't get it!" Ophelia pouted. "Of course it's her fault, she's the one who didn't show up. It's not my fault she didn't show up. I didn't go sneeze on her!"

"I'm not saying it's your fault she didn't show up. We are each, always, responsible for our own actions. You, however, are responsible for your expectations and your suffering. Let me give you another example. Let's pretend you have a sister who is dishonest and always lying to you and stabbing you in the back. You would suffer in that situation right?" I asked.

"Sure," Ophelia said, curious as to where I was going with this.

"So the first step to ending your suffering is to identify the cause, right?"

"Right! The Golden Snitch guy said that!"

"Uh, Thich, not Snitch. Anyway, the backstabbing sister is causing your suffering because of your expectation that you can rely on her to do the right thing, be responsible, and be honest. So to end your suffering, you have two choices, either, never speak to her again…"

"But she's my sister! I couldn't do that!" interrupted Ophelia.

"Well, you could, but if you didn't want to, your other option is to adjust your expectations of her. You can continue to hope and encourage her to do the right thing, but expect her to do the dishonest thing. You have to let go of the future you saw with a kind, responsible, loving sister who considered how her actions would affect you. You have to let go of the expectation of a future with a sister who might even sacrifice in order to help you. If you are expecting her to do the dishonest thing, if you are expecting her to be the real her, not the her you wish her to be, you will adjust your actions accordingly to protect yourself from her dishonesty."

"Oh, I think I did something like that once. Back when I lived in an Oak tree in Davala with a dryad named, Happy Lady, I hung a shiny thing I found from her branches. We loved it! She was the most beautiful tree in the forest! But one day, I woke up and it was missing. I looked and looked, but I couldn't find it anywhere, I was so sad I cried.  I hung another shiny thing from a branch. It made me smile again. A week later, the same thing, I awoke to find my shiny thing was missing. Someone was stealing my shiny things! I cried again. Davala is full of fairies and pixies and dragons and magpies who all love shiny things. I thought and thought about my problem. I considered just hiding all my shiny things like the dragons do. It would solve my problem and end my suffering, but what good are shiny things if I can't see them and enjoy them? So I thought some more. Finally, I decided to hang all my shiny things in Happy Lady's branches."

"How did that end your suffering?" I asked. "Didn't they just all get stolen?"

"Oh, yes, eventually they did. I decided that the best thing about shiny things is finding them, and watching them sparkle in the sunlight. So I hung all my shiny things so that I and everyone else in the forest could enjoy them as much as possible. Sometimes one would go missing, but it didn't make me sad anymore because I expected them to go missing. In fact, I found that I even welcomed it, because it would make room in the tree for new shiny things. Finding shiny things is the most fun ever!"

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