The Root of Suffering
What keeps us unhappy and stuck in a limited view of reality is our tendency to seek pleasure and avoid groundlessness, to seek comfort and avoid discomfort. This is how we keep ourselves enclosed in a cocoon. Out there are all the planets and all the galaxies and vast space, but we're stuck here in this cocoon. Moment after moment, we're deciding that we would rather stay in that cocoon than step out into that big space. Life in our cocoon is cozy and secure. We've gotten it all together. It's safe, it's predictable, it's convenient, and it's trustworthy. If we feel ill at ease, we just fill in those gaps.
Our mind is always seeking zones of safety. We're in this zone of safety and that's what we consider life, getting it all together, security -- that's what makes us anxious. We fear being confused and not knowing which way to turn. We want to know what's happening. The mind is always seeking zones of safety, and these zones of safety are continually falling apart. Then we scramble to get another zone of safety, which are always falling apart. That's the essence of samsara -- the cycle of suffering that comes from continuing to seek happiness in all the wrong places.
The Wisdom of No Escape
The central question of a [spiritual] warrior's training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day? For those of us with a hunger to know the truth, painful emotions are like flags going up to say, "You're stuck!" We regard disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, jealousy, and fear as moments that show us where we're holding back, how we're shutting down. Such uncomfortable feelings are messages that tell us to perk up and lean into a situation when we'd rather cave in and back away.
Ordinarily we are swept away by habitual momentum. We don't interrupt our patterns even slightly. With practice, however, we learn to stay with a broken heart, with a nameless fear, with the desire for revenge. Sticking with uncertainty is how we learn to relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears. We can bring ourselves back to the spiritual path countless times every day simply by exercising our willingness to rest in the uncertainty of the present moment -- over and over again.
Disappointment, embarrassment, and all the places where we cannot feel good are a sort of death. We've just lost our ground completely; we are unable to hold it together and feel that we're on top of things. Rather than realizing that it takes death for there to be birth, we just fight against the fear of death.
Reaching our limit is not some kind of punishment. It's actually a sign of health that when we meet the place where we are about to die, we feel fear and trembling. But usually we don't take it as a message that it's time to stop struggling and look directly at what's threatening us. Things like disappointment and anxiety are messages telling us that we're about to go into unknown territory.