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Monday, March 8, 2010

“My aching back, the Buddha, and my children”

My back hurts when I don’t take good care of it. Good back care means regular exercise, some specific stretches prescribed by my physio-therapist, and ice. At least once a day, I am to apply a cold pack to my lower back. It sounds awful, but feels wonderful, after the initial shock. When I remember to do these things, my back hurts a lot less.

When life seems too busy to take proper care of my back, it lets me know. There is a temptation, then, to medicate, to swallow ibuprofen every few hours. This masks the symptoms, but does nothing to change the reality. My back, and the rest of me, is getting older, and painkillers won’t undo the aging process. In fact, the pills make me groggy, and crabby, and are usually not worth the temporary relief they offer.

It is far better for me to be realistic about life, and do the self-care my body deserves. This reminds me of the first of the four noble truths of Buddhism is that “life means suffering”. As explained at:

“To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.”

As a person of faith, I do not look to God to be some kind of spiritual ibuprofen that masks the pains of life. I see God as the source of the strength, and love, and joy, and grace, that make living possible, even in the midst of hardship.

Our spiritual lives are about learning and doing the practices that reflect our faith in God, and which make it possible to live with integrity.

This past week my wife and I worked with one of our kids to help them deal with a tough moment. Our child had made a bad choice, and it was necessary for them to admit to, and apologize for their actions. As we were listening and talking our way through this “life lesson” moment, I recognized within me the deep desire to fix things. I wanted to somehow relieve our child of this burden, of the discomfort, the embarrassment, the “loss of face” that was likely worse in anticipation than it would be in reality.

I found myself saying out loud to my child, and to myself, that there are some things that we cannot go around, or over, or under. There are some things that life requires us to “go through”, even if they are painful.