Don’t Marry Your Dukkha
“I’m such a big shot in the universe that I’m going to make your three biggest wishes come true” he says to Bill, then he opens the door of the birdcage (the first wish). Bill flies to the window. Kilgore opens the window for the second wish, but Bill becomes so frightened that he flies back into his cage. Kilgore closes the door and praises Bill for choosing a very smart third wish: to have something left to wish for.
I see this happen from time to time in meditation. Meditation is all about finding freedom from suffering. Whether it is in temporary blissful states, like jhanas, or in the lasting relief that comes with awakening, ending suffering is what it is about. But it is easy to hold on to suffering, to become the sufferer, to cling to the anger, the restlessness, or the desperation that it gives you. To become, and remain, the troubled artist, dark night mystic, or the person fighting the good fight.
I call this “marrying your Dukkha.” It happens in ways that most of us never notice until we are, like Bill, confronted with the real possibility of freedom and have the impulse to run back in our cage. This usually happens when the meditator begins to exit the dukkha insights. As she realizes that there is no longer a struggle with dukkha, that it can come and go without being a problem, there is sometimes the urge to stop and fall back into the dark night.
Awakening means giving up who you believe you are. This is how it is for everybody, and that isn’t easy. But it is even harder when you believe you are the very suffering you are working to overcome. It takes a lot to take that leap, especially when it means giving up everything you know. This is the “faith” part of the practice. Trust the process of awakening and know that if you give up something that feels both painful and safe, there is freedom to be had.