A layman went to visit the Buddha, traveling many miles to seek his advice. As he stood before the Buddha he said, “Bodhisattva, I have many problems in my life”.
The Buddha replied, “I cannot help you with those”.
“Well then”, the man said, “I also have problems with my business”.
“I cannot help you with those either”, said the Buddha.
“What good is this then?” asked the man.
“There are 80 kinds of suffering”, the Bodhisattva replied, “and I cannot help you with any but one”.
“What is the one?”
“How you deal with the other 79”, the Buddha answered.
[divider_line] There is no way for us to avoid the 79 kinds of suffering. The world happens to us, to our friends and family, and there is little that we can do to change that. However, we have control over #80: We can control how we respond to the world’s insults, and we can allow ourselves reprieve from the suffering that we cause ourselves. The mind has been compared to a clenched fist, grasping firmly and struggling against itself. With practice, we can release that grip and relax the hand. We can allow ourselves to stop pushing back against our experiences.
With the right mind, it is truly liberating to step off the ground and embark on a climb of unknown consequences. As we look up from the ground, we might wonder if we’ll succeed, or we cringe, knowing the effort that will be required. I often joke at the base of the climb, “I don’t wanna, it looks hard and the holds are real small”. The joking is a way of letting go– of voicing what I’m quietly saying to myself in my head. Acknowledging the voice, I can let it go.
When we embark, and really commit, we’re liberated. Part of what I find so enticing about the difficulty of a climb is that it is absorbing. It requires such focus that there is no room for that negative voice in my mind. I just see, react, and act. Certainly, there is still struggle, and challenge, and often failure, but the quality of the effort redeems that failure. Simply approaching the effort with a process-oriented mind, open to unexpected experiences, turns a climb into a success regardless of the outcome.
The quality of the effort. That’s the thing. That, with practice, we can control.
As Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts”.