Waiting for the Big One: A Small Meditation on Dukkha

Waiting for the Big One: A Small Meditation on Dukkha September 11, 2020



As it happens yesterday, the 10th of September was, among other things, the 511th anniversary of the Lesser Judgement Day. When I saw this it reminded me of several events in my life. The Great Recession, for one. Not the Great Depression, but hard. In 1989 Jan & I experienced the Loma Prieta up front and ugly. It is recalled as the Pretty Big One.

Not that I’m looking to participate in a full on Judgment Day, Great Depression, or the Big One. I deeply do not want this current awfulness to surpass the 1918 flu pandemic. And, well, we are more than six months into this weirdness.

And I find myself ruminating about those near misses of our lives. Leaving the house fifteen minutes late, only to be caught in the traffic jam caused by the terrible accident from fifteen minutes before.

And today, well, it’s the nineteenth anniversary of 9/11. That’s a pretty big one. For other parts of the world, it is an all too familiar catastrophe. And that shouldn’t be ignored. But for us, big. Really big. And that shouldn’t be ignored.

It’s one of those days seared into my memory, gathered together with only a handful of terrible things, three assassinations, John Kennedy, his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King Jr. And in the moment, joined with only one good thing, that first human step on to the moon.

Some wag noted as we’re somewhere between forty-five percent and seventy-five percent water, we’re essentially cucumbers with anxiety.

And it’s that anxiety that I find a compelling subject in the moment.

The first big important noticing of Buddhism is dukkha. We commonly render it in English as suffering. Although while that’s true, it isn’t true enough.

Within classic Buddhist thought it is seen as something that pervades the universe.

Me, I sometimes call it the buzz. It represents the reality that nothing is substantive in any long term sense of that word. Everything is in motion. Everything is birthing and dying. It’s all in play.

That’s dukkha.

Although its something painful, I suspect, only for humans, or any other creatures in the great cosmos with a sense of self-awareness.

For us it manifests in a constellation of experiences. Dread. Anxiety. Some fundamental dissatisfaction that sprinkles dirt on top of every experience.

In words it boils down to, you’re going to die. I’m going to die.

Humans for a very long time have cooked up excuses, stories about some magic part of us that doesn’t die. But, there’s not a lot of good reason to think such a thing, and so dreams come.

And each of these pretty big ones, they haunt us, they whisper in our ear, the big one is coming.

Now, there’s some good news here. The Zen way proclaims a path to realization, where we discover the buzz and our freedom are in fact not two. Other spiritual traditions take us to the same encounter. And, honestly, one doesn’t need a spiritual tradition to find that awakening.

Although the religions have all the best terms for it. It’s a grace.

So, on this anniversary of a terrible thing that upsets foolish complacencies, fantasies that we are immune to the hurt of the world, an invitation.

The secret of our healing is noticing the connections.

I think of 9/11 and one of the many phone calls from the towers. One father said something awful is happening, and that he doesn’t think he will make it. He expresses his love.

And then he says, take care of the children.

I think about that love. Love is a messy word, with vastly too many meanings. But, for me, the love, the love in that call from the twin towers, from, what for him, was definitely the big one, was the true love. The love that knows the connections. The love that entangles all the objects of the universe and reveals they’re all subjects.

Love is the real big one.

Caring for one another.





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