That’s what my dermatologist has been telling me for the past 2 months as I continue to break down in his office after weeks of coping with acne that i never had before in my life. It started with a small irritation on my skin a few months back and over the weeks began to flare up consistently into pimples! pimples that i ironically never experienced as a teenager.
Feeling like this trial will never end, doing all the things that i’m supposed to, I had begun to spiral in emotional despair over the way my skin is looking. I had just spent 2 hours in my dermatologists office, having a pity party, angry, emotional, and behaving like a spoilt child. A few hours had passed and I had to prepare for a class that I was teaching on Psychology, for which I had assigned chapters from “Buddhist Psychology” by Caroline Brazier.
I began to read through the first chapter,
Dukkha – the first noble truth – “Whoever we are, we cannot avoid painful experiences. We become sick, we get disappointed, and we lose people we love. We do not get what we want, and we die. This was the Buddha’s first understanding. More than this, though, these things are not shameful.”
Dukkha Samudaya – the second noble truth – “When we encounter dukkha, responses arise in us. This response has emotional energy.” Buddha describes this energy as a “thirst”. “We seek to assauge it with distractions. Although we might use the energy by acting to improve the situation we are in, we often feel powerless.”
“So a first step in releasing ourselves from our compulsive patterns of behaviour is to master the ability to find stillness in a place of suffering. Although our impulses may all be towards doing something to distract ourselves, we need to learn to stop and just be with the feeling of dukkha, suffering.”
I couldn’t have read this chapter at a better time. Stuck in my self-prison where I identified so strongly with my once clear skin, that the minute it started to get out of my control I began to do everything I could to take it back to what it was. I was consumed with it and depressed by it. But I didn’t want to face those feelings, I just wanted to pretend that I was feeling nothing and coping just fine. That night, after reading the wise teachings of Buddha I decided to do what I had been distracting myself from: sit with the feeling of dukkha. what exactly about having these break outs was making me feel this way about myself? I started with closing my eyes and facing the painful emotions in my heart, the despair, the frustration and I realized that I connected my skin with my self-worth. That I won’t be lovable if my skin isn’t clear. How incredibly insane that is I only realized once I confronted it. I also confronted the realization that everything is impermanent and that I had to encounter this world with whatever I had in the moment, not what I had in the past. Seems so small and insignificant but we all get caught up in these cycles of dukkha. Not realizing that our responses to something we dislike or something that gives us pain, distress, is conditioned and rooted deeply into this idea of a “self”.
Yet , like Buddha said, we can release ourselves from the cycle of dukkha. this is the third noble truth-nirodha- the way to face dukkha is to let of the object to which the thirst has become attached to.
“typically, as a person faces affliction, a feeling response occurs. The person shrinks away from distress, falling into patterns of distraction and escape. The pain of dukkha feels shameful as well as unpleasant. The person tries to hide. If he or she can be supported to face the pain at this point, however rather than dispersing it, the possibility of transformation occurs. The person breaks out of habitual patterns of behavior which have a limiting or dulling effect, and frees energy to live more fully and usefully.” Ameen!
Finally, I arrived at this cross road that night, while I faced the difficult feelings inside of me. I started to question things that I thought I had put to rest, but that had come back to the surface. This is conditioning. We keep on returning to the same patterns & feelings. Mine were centered around a feeling of not being lovable, of being imperfect and ashamed of that imperfection. I began to understand that the only way out of my suffering was to let go of my attachment to what i once had, in this case clear skin, and just accept what I had in the moment. at the same time realize the impermanence of my “self”, and to encounter that impermanence with courage and dignity.
So then I finally reached Buddha’s fourth noble truth – the eightfold path. This truth outlines the spiritual path, one that I am destined to tread in this life. “Right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right samadhi (state of clear meditative mind).
There are two elements to this spiritual path – one that reminds me of what Kabir Helmenski wrote about love. That we can also attain love through the fruits of love. One can train on this spiritual path that Buddha has laid out, and by working on all the different elements of the 8 fold path, achieving one will give the conditions for the others to arise. “training involves harnessing energy and directing it in positive directions rather than frittering it away on distractions. The elements in the eightfold path are each concerned with positive application.”
So thank you Caroline for coming to my rescue with your wise reflections on Buddha’s teachings, and letting me experiment on myself with Buddhist psychology. Realizing suffering is inevitable, but I have the choice to opt out of further suffering, or “optional suffering”, break free from a conditioned pattern, and throughout learn and unlock mysteries in my heart.
Om Gate, Para Gate, Para Som Gata, Bodhi Svaha, let go, let go, to the love light of your soul. (Heather Noyes)