Yarrow (angelweed) wrote,


In Nothing Special, Joko Beck says "As we settle into our sensation of pain, we find it so appalling that we skitter off again." And she gives the usual (and valuable) Buddhist advice not to skitter off, to stay with the pain until it becomes an ally.

But, you know, I skitter off from everything! Ecstasy and pain, hunger and repletion, love and anger, fear and joy: they all pass -- and if they don't, I pass from them. I think skittering is part of the human condition.

The advice about sitting with pain is of great practical usefulness, because it's something that has to be done to break addictive cycles. (My definition of addictive cycle, which I think I got from Jerry Weinberg, is a situation where we keep doing something that offers short-term relief but makes things worse in the long run, as alcohol for the alcoholic relieves the pain of a life ruined by alcohol. Not all of us get caught that badly, but we're all creatures who can imagine the future, so we all experience tension between our short-term and long-term interests.)

And sitting-with is good practice for everything: not just pain but ecstasy, not just hunger but repletion, not just anger but love, not just fear but joy. Still, for me sitting with what's here means sitting with it longer, delaying but not transcending the urge to skitter.

The Sanskrit and Pali word dukkha (that which the Four Noble Truths are truths about) is usually translated as suffering; but skittering is probably just as accurate. (Accurate as an ancient word, not as a Buddhist technical term: the First Noble Truth, as quoted by Wikipedia but with dukkha left untranslated, leaves little doubt as to the meaning in Buddhist practice: "This is the noble truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are dukkha.")

Which is one reason that while I respect many Buddhist teachers enormously, I'm not a Buddhist: I'm pro-skittering. I think that the Universe runs on skittering.

Love comes inexorable,
like death or hope: a club or key
to open every door, a bull,
a rose, a storm across the sea.

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