When I’m teaching lovingkindness meditation, I often talk about our
need to accept that this human life is difficult.
Because life isn't easy. I don't mean to say that life is hard in the
sense of it always being painful. Clearly there are times when we're
happy, when things are going well, when we feel that our life is headed
in the right direction and are confident that even greater
fulfillment is just ahead of us, and so on.
What I mean by saying that human life is difficult is, first, that
challenging things keep happening to us—things like illness, financial
instability, political angst, uncertainty about the economy, the
pressure of getting places on time, loneliness, or conflicts with
family and colleagues, and so on. And second, even when we have times
in our life where things seem to be going well, it doesn't last. In
fact, often the things we're so excited and happy about later turn out
to be things that also cause us suffering.
For example, you start a brand new relationship and you're in love and
it's exciting and fulfilling. And then you find yourself butting heads
with your partner, and you hurt each others' feelings.
Or the new job that you're thrilled about turns out to contain stresses
you hadn't imagined. Has that ever happened?
Or the house you're so pleased to have bought inevitably unexpectedly
ends up requiring maintenance. Or perhaps the property’s value
plummets. Or perhaps your circumstances change and you find it a
struggle to meet the mortgage. Maybe you've been lucky, or maybe you've
Happiness has a way of evaporating, just as we’re getting used to it.
And just as we think that unhappiness has decided to leave us alone, it
has a way of sneaking up on us and sucker-punching us in the gut.
On a deep level, none of really understand the causes of happiness and
unhappiness. If we truly understood the dynamics of these things, we'd
be happy all the time and would never be miserable. We'd be
enlightened. But pre-enlightenment, we're all stumbling in the dark,
and sometimes colliding painfully with life as we do so. We’re all
fallible, all trying to do our best with the resources available to us,
and often getting it wrong.
This being human is not easy. We're doing a difficult thing in living a
It's good to accept all this, because life is so much harder when we
think it should be easy. When we think life should be straightforward,
and that we convince ourselves that we have it all sorted out, our
unhappiness becomes a sign that we've "failed." And that
makes being in pain even more painful.
But we haven't failed when we're unhappy; we're just being human.
Suffering is an inevitable part of human existence. When we’re unhappy,
we’re simply experiencing the tender truth of what it is to live a
So when you're unhappy, don't beat yourself up about it. Don't fight
it. Accept that this is how things are right now. Often when you do
that, you'll very quickly—sometimes instantly—start to feel better. By
accepting our suffering, we start to move through it.
And as you look around you, realize that everyone else is doing this
difficult thing of being human too. They're all struggling. We're all
struggling. We all want happiness and find happiness elusive. We all
want to avoid suffering and yet keep stumbling into it, over and over.
Many of the things that bother you about other people are their
attempts to deal with this difficult existential situation, in which we
desire happiness, and don't experience as much of it as we want, and
desire to be free from suffering, and yet keep becoming trapped in it.
Their moods, their clinging, their anger—all of these are the results
of human beings struggling to find happiness, and having trouble doing
If we can recognize that this human life is not easy—if we can empathize
with that very basic existential fact and calmly accept our own
vulnerability and fallibility—then perhaps we can be just a little
kinder to ourselves and others. And that would help make this human
life just a little easier to navigate.
New articles on
important thing you need to know about life, according to Buddhism
Arguably the central
teaching of Buddhism, without which the others make no sense, is that
While “things change”
may seem like a commonplace observation, made by dozens (at least) of
philosophers and religious teachers over the last few millennia, the
Buddha wasn’t content simply to pay lip-service to the concept of
It used to be that if
you wanted to learn to meditate you had to take the risk of entering an
exotic, incense-scented meditation center, wondering if you were
stepping into the domain of some weird cult.
Yet although meditation
is approaching mainstream acceptance, many people still have the image
of meditation as something unusual, and perhaps even difficult. They
expect something religious or mysterious.