A week ago today was the toughest day I’ve had in a minute. Please, allow me to bore you with the details.
I awoke with the beginning of a head cold. I arrived at the clinic and promptly arranged for my heavily sugared and heavily creamed coffee. This part is good…it’s real good…and addictively delicious. A little later that morning I found myself training a new hire. This is also something I enjoy, although a bit less so with a fledgling head cold. The whole process of training someone means everything goes half the normal pace and requires twice the energy and focus. At the end of the day, I found myself not only entirely spent, but also doing what I usually do at the end of a Thursday (the busiest, most hellish day at the clinic), which is to wrap things up as fast as possible and change into more comfortable clothes to wear to class. I make my way out to my car where I discovered the battery was dead…something the shop warned me of two weeks ago while I was in for an oil change, but otherwise would have been a total surprise. This is truly enough to send me into orbit. You see, anything car-related is a mystery to me. When I sit down into my car, and insert the key, the damned thing needs to move or I’m in fits. Additionally, as I’ve already admitted in prior posts, all things number-related are also practically mind-boggling for me, which makes perfect attendance in class more than mandatory for me. And guess what –when your car won’t start it’s REALLY tough to get to class. More stress.
So, I call my male spousal equivalent and instruct him to bypass his usual stop at the gym as he’s leaving work and come instead, immediately, to pick me up because he’s now my ride to and from school. Even though anything on his schedule that night was neither mandatory or nor something anyone else depended on him for, it was very clear by his demeanor that he was far from thrilled to be called to aid someone like myself. Truth be told, this actually hurt my feelings more than a little. I pride myself on rarely asking for anything from anyone, and growing up it was taught to my brothers and I that you should always be more than willing to help someone else, and never guilt them for it. In defense of my beloved, he didn’t actively guilt me and he didn’t argue with anything I said I needed, but my ego was still bruised, I suppose, because my perception was that he was pissed because he had to give up an evening of doing nothing in favor of an evening of helping me. But whatever, it’s entirely unimportant and inconsequential, but at the time stung pretty badly when I already wasn’t at my best.
So he gets me to school. While I’m in class he’s kind enough to run around and buy a new battery, although it wasn’t able to be installed. He did also manage to get my car to start on the old “dead” battery. So class ends, he picks me up to take me to my car to that we can figure something out… and it starts raining.
That was just about icing on the cake.
At the beginning of this post, I requested you, dear reader, to allow me to bore you with the details of my miserable day. I used the verb “to bore” intentionally. By virtually every comparative standard, my life is a walk in the park. I find myself, as I age, increasingly self-guilted at thoughts and complaints that arise during my moments of struggle. Days like this one, while painful and frustrating at the time, unfailingly remind me of concepts like Maya, gratitude, and perspective. I’ve said before that even the poor in American are richer than the poor in India. Conversely, even a really crummy day in Josh’s World is still better than a normal day in a lot of folks’ lives. I really shouldn’t complain.
But the reality here is that suffering is universal and applies to all –even a soul as advanced as a Rshi. In the same way that concepts like karma and Brahman are universal, impartial, and impersonal, so is suffering. Everyone suffers, and that fact is what sets such an easy stage for compassion toward those who’re suffering (in their own way).
While suffering shares some pretty big similarities with the likes of karma and Brahman, unlike them it isn’t ultimate. (There’s actually a quasi-loophole that technically makes karma not ultimate either, but it’s a very small loophole indeed!) The biggest aspect of suffering that keeps it from ever being ultimate is that, while few very people indeed have a choice in the suffering that may already be on its way to them, each of us has a ton of control in regard to controlling that suffering once it arrives. What I mean is that no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, you will always, always, always have a choice in how you decide to react to that pain.
Patanjali wrote extensively on this. In Sanskrit, the word for suffering is dukham. According to Patanjali, none in the phenomenal world is exempt from experiencing dukham. None. Many people ask, “Why me?” Patanjali answers, “Why not you?” There simply is no hierarchy in suffering. Suffering is suffering is suffering… and every living thing will know it. He explains that not only is dukham inescapable, but also that its existence cannot be denied, and neither can it be denied that it causes pain. The good news, according to this sage, is that anyone and everyone can change their reaction or response to dukham and a great way to start this process is to avoid responses like blame, guilt, or regret. In the Yoga Sutras, 2.15 & 16 teach a valuable lesson applicable here. In 2.16, Patanjali wrote, “Heyam dukham anagatam,” which translates in some cases as “Pain that has not yet come is avoidable.” This should serve as a tremendous source of hope for those on the path of Dharma. We know that pain is often a part of existing. We know that the cyclical nature of karma means it’s likely we’re due at some point or another for pain. But we are in control over whether we perpetuate suffering in our own lives, and we also have the ability to control how miserable our experience of pain might be.
In retrospect, for me the hidden benefit found in my miserable Thursday a week ago is that I don’t need to regret that I waited too long to get my battery changed. Nor should I feel guilt for asking someone to help me. And I shouldn’t blame my spouse for reacting as he did. After all, whatever was on his schedule or not, in his own way he suffered that day too and I shouldn’t place my own suffering above another’s.