May 5, 2011

Sukha Dukha or, How Good Is Your Axle Hole?

A friend/fellow teacher and I were talking after class the other day about repeated patterns of behavior…specifically negative repeated patterns of behavior…specifically negative mental repeated patterns of behavior, and I shared with her one of my favorite analogies on the subject:

A friend of mine, the maker-upper of said analogy, once told me that she thought of her mind as being full of different roads–like little thought-roads–and that down one of these roads there was a giant pothole.  And every time she drove down that one road in her head, she got stuck in that same pothole.  She knew it was there.  She knew she always got stuck in it, and yet…over and over again she found herself going that same old way.  Maybe this time that pothole’s been paved over! Maybe this time I’ll be able to swerve to the side and avoid it! But no matter what she told herself, no matter how long it had been since she’d last been down that road, no matter what…she always got stuck.  And what she finally figured out, she told me, was that she just had to learn to take a different road.
(Sigh.  I love that analogy, so much.  I have potholes in my head, too!!)

And later that same night, as I was preparing for the class that I would be teaching that evening, I started to think again about the pothole conundrum.  And I started to wonder, not just about why it’s so hard to break patterns, but  I thought about my own life, and about how much good I have, particularly at this moment–my relationship with my soon-to-be future-husband which is, without question, one of the greatest gifts of my life, my upcoming wedding, my friends, my family, my yoga, my health (I could go on and on)–and how even with all that I can still find myself, in certain moments, putting my entire focus on the ONE (or maybe two or three) things that don’t meet with my approval.  And I just drive and drive and drive over them, digging that pesky pothole ever deeper.

And what came to me, in the midst of all my wondering were two things: Sukha and Dukha.

Sukha and Dukha, other than being two of the coolest Sanskrit words evah, and by far the funnest to say together (sukhadukha!) mean respectively, the sweetness (the sukha) and the not-so-sweetness (the dukha) of life.

Sukha and Dukha are like Sanskrit blood-brothers.  You rarely hear one mentioned without the other.  And that’s because, you just can’t have the sweet without the not-so-sweet.  How would you even know what the sweet was, if there wasn’t a little bitter to back it up and prove that, yes indeed, this thing here, this is a saweeeeeet thing?

And I started thinking about those mind-roads–and how that pothole-d road is definitely the Dukha, that pesky bumpy trail–and it occurred to me, upon some consideration, that the problem is not that the Dukha exists, the problem isn’t that I HAVE a road with a pothole in it…the problem is that I think that I’m NOT supposed to have a road with a pothole in it.  I think it’s all supposed to be Sukha. Sans pothole.  And if I think it’s all supposed to be Sukha, then that means that the mere presence of Dukha is a problem.  And if the mere presence of Dukha is a problem, then I’m going to want to do everything in my power to rid roads of potholes.  I’m not even going to worry about those sweet Sukha-full, pothole-free roads…those roads are fine, I can get to them later.  What I’m going to be worried about, keeping myself up nights about, is when that damn Dukha is finally going to get filled in, paved over and disappeared from my mental freeway.

And hence, the problem.

Because that way of thinking is wrong, people.  It is just plain wrong.  Life is not only Sukha, and it’s not meant to be only Sukha.  It’s not even as fun to say, all by itself! It’s Sukha/Dukha.  It’s both.  Because if there were no Dukha…if it didnt’ feel AWFUL to be stuck in that pothole…how would I ever know not to drive down that road?  I might just be stuck there forever, enjoying the view and waiting for my totally-at-a-stand-still-and-I-don’t-even-know-it-because-I-can’t-feel-the-Dukha-in-my-life, life to come to an end!!

Also, and as a totally nerdy side-note, Sukha, this word which means the sweetness of life, originally meant “good axle hole”.  Meaning, back in the ol’ horse and cart days, that if you had Sukha, you had a well-built cart that could provide you with a nice smooth ride.  And Dukha, the not-so-sweetness of life, it meant “bad axle hole”.  Meaning, if you had some Dukha going on, that your cart was going to be bumping all over the place.

Hmmm.  Perhaps very much like what it would feel like to drive down a roooooad covered in potholes?

So, yes, of course, we don’t want to be getting stuck in mental potholes all the time, yes, of course, it’s probably a good idea to find another road.  But how much easier might it be, to choose a different route, if we didn’t see the bumpy road as so much of a problem?  Instead of thinking of that pothole as a defect in an otherwise perfect system of through-ways, a blemish that must be investigated and eradicated, maybe we could just accept it for what it is, the very necessary and very complementary Dukha for our Sukha.

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