The 6 Slippery Steps to End Suffering
(excerpt from Chapter 13: How to Suffer: in 10 easy steps…)
“If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
― Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own
Yes it is easy to suffer. And everyone is doing it. Hence the 10 Easy Steps. It’s easy to suffer, while the opposite – not suffering – is not so easy: happiness is fleeting, joy elusive, and love comes and goes like the seasons. But Suffering is your one steadfast friend. It is always there for you, easy-like, always standing by your side, ready to be there with you, for you, and about you. Look around – do you see a door? You can always shut it on your foot and you will suffer. So easy. Can’t get to a door? There’s always that insult or the memory of that moment in high school where you were embarrassed, humiliated, defeated. Take your mind there. Suffering is just a few neurons away, waiting to deliver the goods.
But maybe you’ve had enough. You’re done. It’s time to break the addictions of pleasure/pain, have/have-not, rich/poor. Time to break the habit of suffering. For those of you ready for the next stage of life, here are The 6 Slippery Steps to End (or at least greatly diminished) Suffering.
But before we dive in, the most important thing to know at this point is: it’s not easy. If it were easy to end suffering don’t you think everyone would do it? I mean, I would!
There must be some reason why everyone has not put suffering behind them. One could say “because it’s hard” or “difficult to achieve” or “the deck is stacked against us.” But I’m going to call it like it is: the process is hard because it’s slippery. It’s slippery because the steps to get out of suffering appear relatively easy to understand and do, and yet they are hard to implement. Like “Stay in the present – don’t think about the past or the future.” The concept is immediately understandable and within your power to implement. But if you don’t do it right, you may completely stop planning for the future. (I’m not hungry now – why go to the store?) You might stop reflecting on past actions that caused catastrophic results and fail to learn from past “mistakes” and again slip into suffering.
I’m calling them slippery because most of these steps are subtle, tricky, paradoxical. For example: what is the difference between non-attachment and not giving a shit? I’m also calling them slippery because the steps cannot be attained by using will power and simply muscling through it. (Try running on a frozen lake – down you go!) Will power is an important element to be sure. But if you’ve chosen to “love your neighbor as yourself,” the will power can just get in the way. Even neighborly love can be a slip and slide as your neighbor beats his wife and you send them loving thoughts instead of calling 911.
The road is slippery. You slip, you fall, you suffer. You suffer trying not to suffer. You get back up, try again. And again. And again.
Each of the ways to avoid or lessen suffering has pitfalls, road blocks and banana peels, which is why everyone is not doing it even though teachers, elders, wisdom holders and the like have been laying out the path for millennia. Few make it all the way home because they’ve slipped off the path somewhere along the line.
So, not easy, often not obvious (except when it is), difficult to remember when you get that phone call in the middle of the night, and it’s usually contrary to what the rest of the world is engaged in, but let’s get out on the ice and learn some balance.
And Here They Are – The 6 Slippery Steps
- Attachment (Desire)
- Medicine (External Substances)
These steps are dual purpose – they help before “Shit Happens” so you simply don’t suffer, or they then help after something happened to lessen the misery. In other words, by practicing them you either don’t suffer, or suffer less.
In a perfect you, all of these steps are part of your life (worldview) and practiced (balanced) to perfection and all the Shit that Happens just rolls off you like water off a duck’s back. Great. Until then, get ready. You’re gonna get thrown in the ocean and then the steps are real life savers.
Of course these six “steps” aren’t really steps. Steps are sequential, one after another, leading to where you want to go. There are steps to baking a cake and steps to the second floor. These slippery steps are more like a mandala, or a misery-go-round. Every situation calls for bringing forward a different step, and that step often morphs into another one, with the order always changing.
Are there more than six steps? Of course. Every system counts them differently. Buddha’s path out of suffering is the eightfold path. But the fact that there are multiple techniques to end suffering shows that there is no one size fits all strategy, and life is learning to navigate what happens when IT – that unexpected, decidedly unpleasant event – happens and take the steps necessary to move on.
Even though they are slippery they are well worth the trouble.