Lola, our 3.5 month old kitten went outside yesterday afternoon with all her brothers and sisters and her mama. They all returned but she has yet to come back. It is now the next morning 4 am.
She is the youngest and the smallest and the cutest of them all.
She has missed her dinner.
I miss her. I kept listening all night to any sound on the door to see if she was back. I called out for her.
Clearly, I am attached. And I know that attachment is one of the root causes of suffering according to Buddhist thought. I am suffering.
Something happens in life. We don’t like it. We want it to be different than it is. We want it to be like we want it to be. And when it is not, we suffer. We are sad, angry, upset, restless and overall feel not so peaceful and content.
This is dukka or suffering. It is also the First Noble Truth. There is suffering in this world. I am suffering because my kitten is not home and I want her to be home. I am suffering because of my attachment to the good feeling I have when my kitten is home with me.
Do you know how this feels? Is there something you are suffering about?
While I am not at ease and sad, I also know in my heart that there must be a way out of this. First I know that things change. Nothing is constant. There is impermanence. Could this fact of life be my lifesaver? My refuge from my own pain?
Impermanence means that whatever I am going through is not going to stay this way for all time. The intensity of what I feel may change and even slowly dissipate. I may overcome this situation and find access to peace and even to joy and laughter again.
So that flicker of hope already helps me in seeing the bigger picture.
That means whatever is going on, there is a root cause for it. The cause is inside my mind. The thoughts, the reactions, the sensations that emerge in response to the things in the world are part of the root cause of suffering. So that means, if I remove the causes, I can remove suffering.
That’s the Second Noble Truth. There are certain things that cause my suffering.
So how do I deal with these causes of suffering. I must stop these causes that are inside my mind. I must learn to train my mind which is best done through meditation. In meditation, I can train my mind to simply observe. This is a ray of sunshine right now in the middle of my suffering - my yearning for my kitten to return home, my sadness emerging from her absence, my fear of her being in trouble without help, my desire for her to not suffer, my desire for her wellbeing at all times and not knowing if she is well, my inability to help her in case she needs my help - all root causes of my suffering.
But there is a way out.
There is a way out of suffering. That’s the Fourth Noble Truth. There is a solution to it. We CAN dissolve suffering and pain. There is a way out of this.
Does that give you a sense of hope as well? Whatever you are going through, there is a way out of it. It is not permanent and you can do something to change it.
So that means, I can take steps to help myself out of my own suffering. By observing and accepting what what I am feeling, I can dissolve it. By not having craving and not having aversion towards it.
I have to learn how to not crave things - in my case, how to not strongly want Lola to be back home.
I have to learn how to not have aversion to things, in my case, how not to dislike that she has not returned.
No craving, no aversion.
Does that mean I must walk around like a feelingless ball of rock?
It means I must learn how to deal with reality again. I must learn how to accept life first. I must learn how to be fine with what is. And this comes from not believing all my thoughts. Accepting my feelings and my situation as they are without judging them as bad.
By observing my breath. Specifically speaking, observing how the breath touches the area above the upper lip and below the nose. If I can just observe that area and how the incoming and outgoing breath touch it, I can help myself out of craving. This is one of the practices that the Buddha taught and the main practice that Webu Sayadaw, the Burmese Monk of high stature who was thought to be enlightened, taught.
When I am focussing on the area above my upper lip and below the nostrils, I can feel my mind slowly calm down. It is like a wild, turbulent ocean with big waves going everywhere, calming down slowly and become a serene, peaceful body of water with undulating waves making a soothing sound as they roll across the beach.
When I observe my breath and how it touches that area, I notice that my breath slows down. I take softer and softer breaths. I feel a wave of calm.
When I observe my breath and how the incoming breath and outgoing breath touch the area below my nose and above the upper lip, I feel my body slowly dissolves. I feel vibrations, very gentle sensations at times, at times heaviness in my legs, at times I feel I am floating and without a body. But for this, my body is sitting upright, without any movement - very very still.
These are moments of extreme peace and contentment.
This is the Third Noble Truth. Nibbana, the cessation of suffering.
This is the outline, a script, a recipe, a formula for getting out of suffering and being at peace that the Buddha gave us 2500 years ago. It is not about believing in a God or following a religion. It is about a practical solution to our every day human condition - suffering and coming out of suffering.
Right now, my kitten is not home still. It is 4:49 am the day after she went for a walk. I hope she is resting under some bushes in the forest behind our home. I hope that she will be back home. But right now, I am fine. I know that this is not permanent. I know that this too shall pass.
All I can do is observe my breath. I will do that now. Will you join me?
Update: The little kitten, Lola, came frolicking back home later that same day and began playing with her sister and brothers! As if she had never left :-)