Suffering Choices

I was thinking about suffering today in terms of choices we might make. So much suffering arises out of a desire, a craving, either for a thing or a situation we want. Or a desire to not have the thing, to not have the situation.

There’s a million articles on the internet and at least a few hundred thousand books on the topic, so when I thought about whether to even write a post about this, I hesitated. I had the desire to not write something redundant, to not write something all those other writers have already expressed. I have a shelf full of such books, focusing on this topic. Yet here I am, writing this post anyway because that desire wasn’t getting me anywhere. From such a small thing as doubt over writing a post and desiring to have a positive response, I chose to suffer a little bit.

This is pretty ordinary. We do it every day in so many little ways. We tend to think more about the big choices rather than the little ones. So I figured, why not express my thoughts about the little choices and how they can mean choosing suffering, and then let go of any expected outcome to posting this thing here.

I struggle, for example, with the little desire to have a little sweet food after lunch, or when I feel a bit stressed. And while I know that logically this can fit into a normal day, there are two little issues: a little sugar, for me, leads to more cravings; and, obviously, feeling a little stressed is not the best motivation to have a little treat.

So the moment that, after lunch as I was driving back to the office and the thought of a little treat (say, a little bag of M and Ms?) arose, the craving caused me to suffer a bit of internal conflict. So – AHA! – there’s the craving, and there’s the suffering.

As a Zen Buddhist, this is a place I can practice, right there in that moment. I thought about what I could do, and then the thought arose that if I went ahead and had the treat, I would 100% be choosing a different kind of suffering. Like I said, I know I could “fit” it into the day, but given the impact of that little treat, I would have suffered even more by finding some justification to go ahead. Perhaps later in the day I’d be even hungrier than normal. Perhaps it’d affect my sleep, as it often does.

We don’t have to hold on to our suffering. We have the tools to work on letting go, to practice a way that actually makes a difference. Yet in that precise moment, where I felt like I was making a choice between suffering not indulging the craving and suffering the outcome of indulging the craving, I chose the first one as a starting place.

Once that choice was made, THEN I felt like I could actually start the work of letting that suffering go. It’ll come back. It’s a familiar companion of mine.

Have I made sense here?

Reminds a bit of that now famous quote about making a choice between two different hard choices. “Choose your hard.” It’s like that. Nothing original, but that’s okay. I read recently that there’s value in not trying to be original, because sometimes taking a well-practiced path that works is the best path to take. The road more traveled doesn’t need to be demonized.

Look at the little choices, the little cravings, the little sufferings. You know them well. They’re yours. I have my own, and sometimes they’re chocolate colored and have Ms stamped on them.

And sometimes it’s just wanting something I’ve written to matter, even a post.

By J. Parrish Lewis

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

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