Friday, June 4, 2010

Satisfaction (Not) Guaranteed

The First Noble Truth - the Truth of Suffering - explains that nothing that we can ever attain in this world will bring us lasting satisfaction. It identifies this unsatisfactoriness as "dukkha." If nothing that we can find will satisfy us, can this also be a truth about our meditation practice? In some ways, I believe this is the case.

When we practice vipassana, or mindfulness meditation, we identify a primary object of attention that we will place in the foreground of our awareness, and it is to this object that we return when the mind wanders. Usually, this primary object is the feeling of the breath, but it can be any other sense object, as well. The experience of the wandering mind, and the awakening to that experience, is the key element of the practice. It is also the key element in our sense of dissatisfaction with the practice itself.

Sometimes, the mind is very turbulent and restless. The thoughts this kind of mind can churn up are often of the ruminating variety, and are often about subjects we would just as soon not dwell upon. Yet, there goes the mind toward that unpleasant or uncomfortable train of thought no matter how many times we catch it happening and return to the breath. This can be a very unsatisfying experience.

Like the wandering mind, the unsatisfying experience can be a doorway to our awakening and insight. We can note that "dissatisfaction is like this" because we are having the direct experience of it. Later, after our practice in our daily life, we can also be aware of moments of dissatisfaction and can perhaps remember what that was like during our practice. We can then bring to mind that this experience of dukkha is the existential quality of being alive, and that it is not the dissatisfaction itself that causes us problems, but our reactions to the dissatisfaction. The tight fist of grasping is released, and we can experience a moment of the cessation of suffering, or nirvana. For that moment, at least, we are satisfied.


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