Duhkha is commonly translated as "suffering", "unhappiness", "pain", "unsatisfactoriness" or "stress". It refers to the fundamental unsatisfactoriness and painfulness of mundane life. It is the first of the Four Noble Truths and it is one of the three marks of existence in Buddhism. (Wikipedia)
I bring it up here because I think understanding what goes wrong in relationships is all grounded in this most fundamental and pervasive truth.
I think Duhkha has come in Western culture to mean suffering but I like unsatisfactoriness as a better translation...it is this edginess that seeps into all we do where things are not quite right. This pervasive undercurrent of “this is ok...but it could be better if ____.”
No matter what is going on there is this feeling that the high could be higher, the love greater, the food tastier, the sex hotter, the friendship more reciprocal, the garden more bountiful, the house grander, the commitment more to our liking. It is the corrosive thread of Duhkha that is the killjoy to abiding happiness, peace and contentment.
Within the Buddhist sutras, duhkha is divided in three categories:
Duhkha-duhkha, the duhkha of painful experiences. This includes the physical and mental sufferings of birth, aging, illness, dying; distress from what is not desirable.
We would prefer to get something other than what we got...
Viparinama-duhkha, the duhkha of pleasant or happy experiences changing to unpleasant when the causes and conditions that produced the pleasant experiences cease.
We would prefer the good feeling to last forever...
Sankhara-duhkha, the duhkha of conditioned experience. This includes "a basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all existence, all forms of life, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance." On this level, the term indicates a lack of satisfaction, a sense that things never measure up to our expectations or standards. (Wikipedia)
We would prefer that things work out better by...
I am sure we can all relate to this...we feel it. All the time. Even when we don’t want to. We try to avoid it by shopping, dating, screwing, eating, committing to causes, yoga, meditation, exercise, drinking, drugs...you name it and we have attempted to use it to try to avoid this unsettling, yet real feeling that there is just something missing and if we can only just get this thing that is missing, life will be ok.
Of course, that is a total set up because life is never going to be ok...and stay that way. Duhkha is always going to be there...no matter what we buy, or don’t, fuck, or don’t, ingest, or don’t, do, or don’t. We cannot escape Duhkha. Ever.
And it is this fact that kills more loving unions than any other. This idea that because one day you feel unhappy or sad or disconnected or alone that it is somehow your partner’s fault. And your job now is to get your partner to change and align their will with yours so that you can feel better about yourself, the relationship and your partner. But guess what? Duhkha will never go away. It will always be there even if you have the best marriage in the world, Duhkha will arrive at some point and if you allow it, will totally rough your smooth.
So what is a human being to do?
Accept that Duhkha is here to stay and there is no time in the future where you are going to be satisfied and ok. Nope. Not ever. There is no time when you are going to be rendered invincible to the power of Duhkha. There is always going to be a time when everything you have ever wanted is right there and then good old Duhkha comes along and whispers in your ear, “yes, this is great but wouldn’t it be better if...” And there you are with everything you have ever wanted and totally fucked because Duhkha just ruined it all.
For me, I have to see that there is no place I am ever going to get to that I arrive and am shielded from the lasting, and impactful power of Duhkha. So I might as well make a place for it in my life and see it when it shows up and ruins everything. Then, do you know what I do? I laugh. I laugh as hard as I can because I know that everything is always falling apart and coming together. I laugh because I know that I have a mind that is always going to try to make things concrete and permanent when that is impossible. Can’t happen and I am going to suffer more trying to make it so.
Duhkha is there to teach me something besides feeling like life is unfair and I am never going to get what I want...Duhkha is there to show me there is another way. If I can’t avoid it and its pesky repercussions, what exactly am I going to do with it?
For me, I am going to allow my restless, never satisfied nature to just show up and soften me. Allow it to open my heart and mind to seeing that I have just gotten whatever it was that I thought I wanted and found it hollow...again. When you recognize this enough, especially in the span of a day, there really is nothing else to do but chuckle. There I went again believing that I could wrest satisfaction if I just managed well. WRONG! Never going to happen.
So I get up everyday and I say to the universe the following:
Hi there. I am going to get it wrong a lot today so be gentle with me. I am going to expect miracles with little, to no effort on my part. I am going to seek to be the hero in all that happens in my life and the lives of others and I am going to suffer for that belief also. In short, I am going to behave badly and take a lot of credit that is not really mine to take. Help me see it all as evidence that I am alive, breathing in and out and I have been given this most precious life. May I use it well and not for my own selfish ends. May I use it to be kind, to help others and to try to wake up to all the dysfunctional ways that I try to make impermanent things last, to avoid feeling badly ever. May I truly seek to show up and do my best and to be awake enough to see when I fall short of that most basic goal. Help me to help others do the same.
Duhkha is a great teacher...so good and painful and hard and shit that I don’t want to know sometimes...but it teaches me that there is a place when all is ok and well. That place is right now, and now, and now. Now is the only place where Duhkha loses its power and influence for me. Because when I am present, I am incapable of being anywhere else. And when here, I am ok. Just for this fleeting moment. And that cannot be compared to anything else which makes the now impervious to Duhkha.
My sincere wish for you today is to be present and allow the Duhkha to come and then go and not get too caught up in it all. The breath is always here to teach us how to just settle in and be here...now.