I just finished a memoir about a woman who is a breast cancer survivor. And though a good read, i do not want to recommend it publically, because it can be pretty profane and irreverent at times. She’s an incredible comparison writer and very funny as she tells her story of struggling with a cancer diagnosis as a young mom and the pains of having to grow up. Both of which, to be fair, can make you feel ‘profane and irreverent’ at times.
What i want to share is a conversation she has with a German woman while hiking the Annapurna trial in Nepal in her late 20’s. The author was raised with a Catholic background though does not practice any religion as an adult. The German woman, named Sabine often went to Kathmandu to study Buddhism. But on this trip was hiking with her three-year-old son, Peter, through the Himalayas.
‘eavesdropping’ in on this conversation astounded me and made me really sad. I cannot imagine living this way again. Though i am not a buddhist and never have been, her philosophy for life sounded very familiar. It reminded me of me, before i met jesus and experienced life in a community of hope and love.
listen with me….p. 124
“I don’t actually know much about Buddhism,” I admitted, smiling at Peter. “I just know there are four truths,right?”
The first one, Sabine said, was that suffering was inevitable for all of us since, ultimately, any happiness you might feel will not hold against the certain onset of age, illness, or death. The second truth was that suffering was caused by craving pleasure and avoiding what is unpleasant.
“Yeah, I see that,” I said. “So, what do you do? Not crave pleasure or pleasant things?”
“Well, sort of. That’s the third truth: suffering will only end when you eliminate your desires. In other words, when you break your attachments.”
After eight years living off a United Way salary, I assured her, my attachments were minimal. Sabine smiled, in a sweetly condescending way, and said, “Not just material attachments. All attachments–attachments to ideas, to goals, to jobs, to people”
“People?” “Yes, even people,” she said.
I was proud of my attachments to people–my parents, my friends, even my brothers. I say attach, wrap around, braid yourself into. What’s the point of a life without attachments? We are attachments. “I don’t get that. Like, take my dad. Am I not supposed to be attached to my dad?”
“Attachment turns the wheel of suffering. You can’t hope to avoid suffering if you refuse to give up your attachments.”
“Oh.” Then I’ll suffer, I thought. Then I choose suffering.
The fourth truth about the Eightfold Path was more than I could fit in my head and the sun was getting higher. I was ready to walk again. I liked Sabine–her voice, her deep dimples, the way she talked to her son. But she was lying if she thought she wasn’t attached to that boy of hers, who made her eyes flicker every time he leaned into her. ”
You don’t have to be a practicing Buddhist to want to try to avoid suffering. You don’t have to be Buddhist to feel like having ‘attachments’ are only going to bring you pain, heartbreak, and disappointment. I guess when you think about it, it just seems like a logical conclusion to shut off your desires in order to avoid pain. The problem in doing so is that it also keeps you from a life of joy, happiness, and connection.
Sometimes there are things experienced that are so painful that it seems worth it to give up the good in order to never experience the bad again. I think of having to grieve the loss of a child or the loss of a childhood. Things like enduring cancer, a sudden death of a loved one, natural disasters, violence, and abuse. But it is an illusion. Because living a life shut of from others and things that make you feel alive is a greater hell than having to experience grief. Don’t get me wrong…grieving is horrible. But avoiding it robs us of our humanity. Our design. It makes us hard, numb, robotic, and an unable to be compassionate. It makes it so we don’t even know what we desire or enjoy.
Things i would miss if i let go of my ‘attachments’…..
john 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” NLT