It has recently occurred to me that much of the suffering we experience is caused by expectations and attachments, the stories and layers we add on top of our experiences rather than the experience itself. Thich Nhat Hanh says 'pain is inevitable but suffering is optional' and he uses the story of the 2 arrows to demonstrate this. If we are hit by an arrow it causes pain but if we are hit in the same place by a second arrow it causes immense suffering, and magnifies the pain many times beyond the original experience.
The 'pain' we experience is an outcome of being human, of living a life and we should not shy away from this pain as it has much to teach us, but the suffering that is added on top is of our own making and that is why he says it is optional, we can choose whether or not to add to the pain with additional suffering. If we can examine our expectations and attachments we can free ourselves from much unnecessary suffering that we give ourselves.
I feel there is much to look at here and there may well be several poems or reflections coming out of this; here is the first one.
Can't get to sleep in this heat,
can't get any rest with twitchy, restless legs
and a mind willing sleep to come.
I get up, I move around,
trying not to wake others.
I aim to distract myself with a film
as if I can trick myself into
but sleep will not come.
It is slippery and evasive
and more importantly, not here.
I breathe deeply
and try to convince myself I don't need the sleep.
Back in bed
I can barely lie still
as the fight between wanting to sleep
and wakefulness continues.
And in the morning,
grumpy and fuzzy,
I am thankful I don't have to be anywhere,
don't have a job to concentrate on,
don't have people who need looking after,
they can take care of themselves.
And finally the insight comes,
expectations and attachments
are what kept me awake.
I lay there in the darkness
demanding for sleep to come,
as if the sheer force of will
can accomplish it.
I was attached to the idea of being asleep
like those around me who had so easily succumbed.
My longing for sleep created a battle
that pushed sleep further out of reach.
Somehow, in the early hours of the morning
I must have let go
but I don't recall the letting go.
That moment of acceptance
when sleep came upon me
happened without my knowing,
without my doing anything.
Expectations and attachements kept me awake
and in knowing this I can accept
sleep will not come because I demand it,
because I look for it.
Sleep will slip into place when it is ready,
and sometimes that may be
slithering through the back door,
silent and unnoticed
while I stand,
expectant and jittery, at the front door,
eyes searching, ears listening out
for an eagerly awaited guest that will not come.
© 12 July 2013