“By paying attention calmly, in all situations, we begin to see clearly the truth of life experience. We realise that pain and joy are both inevitable and that they are also both temporary.”
~ Sylvia Boorstein, Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There
After I sent this quote out to readers of my Daily Bell the other morning, I read it again, slowly, and stopped in my tracks. That second sentence, I realised, is revolutionary. That pain and joy are inevitable and temporary is an old idea from Buddhist psychology – but sometimes an old idea comes to life when you read how someone else says it.
Why am I calling this statement revolutionary? First, I want to translate “pain” and “joy” into “dissatisfaction” and “satisfaction” because those words work better for me. As I considered Sylvia Boorstein’s statement, I realised I often have a little thread of anxiety in my awareness about whether today’s events will be satisfying or dissatisfying. That little thread of anxiety can lead me by the nose. It can, paradoxically, make the day less satisfying as I worry about whether the day will, in fact, be satisfying.
But if I accept that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are both inevitable in the day and, moreover, that they are temporary, then I can let go of that particular thread of anxiety. That’s a welcome benefit.
Adopting and remembering her statement might also bring about subtle changes in what I do. For instance, I need to send somebody a bill for some work I did, and getting paid will be satisfying. But I also have to hunt down and make sense of lots of pesky little receipts to back up the bill and that (to me) is a dissatisfying way to spend time. I’ve been putting off sending the bill because, I suspect, of the dissatisfying part. But once I accept that both dissatisfaction and satisfaction are part of the deal, I am more likely to quit procrastinating and get on with what I need to do.
I can practice this in really small ways. Waiting for a one-page document to be printed, I noticed I was anxiously staring at the printer, wondering if it would come out the right way or the wrong way or not at all. I reminded myself that whatever way it came out, I would fix it: my anxiety was irrelevant, really. Then it came out the wrong way and as I watched the page coming out I spotted dissatisfaction but reminded myself that this was temporary. When I sent it through again, everything worked fine – I felt satisfaction and reminded myself that this was temporary too. For that reason, I also reminded myself to appreciate that little feeling of satisfaction while it lasted.
However, the key point for me is to remember that it’s no big deal — in fact, no deal at all — that I will experience both satisfaction and dissatisfaction today and that both are temporary anyway.
That’s liberation. And if I learn to appreciate the satisfaction, the joy, while it is there, I can improve my quality of life greatly without changing a single material thing in my world. That, to me, is a revolution in how I relate to my everyday life.
The next thing I need to do is to find a way to remember the teaching – expressed so well by Sylvia Boorstein – during my day. There’s a little coloured wheel that spins around on my computer when it’s taking a long time to do something – that will be my reminder. If you have a PC you could use that revolving egg timer that makes you grind your teeth every now and then. And it doesn’t have to be anything to do with computers – just pick something that happens often in your day and perhaps that annoys you a little.
And remember to remember that it’s all inevitable and it’s all temporary.