There is dukkha. I’m chasing my dog around the house trying to get him not to eat his barf—which is remerging from his stomach every five minutes. A piercing shriek from the fire alarm breaks my train of thought. “Dang! I was so busy on puke patrol that I forgot the rice!” As I rush back into the kitchen through a fog of smoke, Hank retches again and starts eating it. I look down at him and realize I had stepped in his diarrhea mess outside and had unknowingly tracked it throughout the kitchen, and when I glance back up the rice is literally on fire. I turn the stove off, rip the fire alarm off the wall, and call the emergency vet.
There is dukkha. They tell me Hank, who earlier in the day completed the master feat of eating ten pounds of dog food in under five minutes, could have bloat and could die. I should bring him in immediately. In a perfect moment of cliché, I slide down the counter to the floor, which is coated in a film of unidentifiable brown sludge, and start crying. I can’t afford the ER vet visit. I just made a mandatory donation to the Mecklenburg police for a speeding ticket, and had paid for two unexpected visits to the urgent care over the weekend for an infection and strep throat. I called my parents crying so hard that I couldn’t even get the words out. I think my dad thought I’d been in a car accident. Finally in between sobs and gasps, I managed to muster, “I’m done. I hate 2016…I want to go back to 2015. I can’t do a whole year of this, I don’t want it.”
There is dukkha. One of my teachers used to tell the story of the fish in the ocean. It roughly goes like this: one day two young fish happened to swim past an elder. The wise fish says, “Hey there, water’s great today, isn’t it?” The youngsters swim on for a few moments, until one turns to the other and says, “What water?” The moral of the story is we cannot always see the water we are swimming in. As bad thing after bad thing continued to happen from literally day one of the New Year, I kept reinforcing the negativity by saying, “this year is the worst.” We can’t always see the ways in which public opinion, pop culture, chaos, or even worse, the voice inside our head, is shaping our present experience. I was swimming a cesspool of self-proclaimed negativity and darkness.
There is dukkha. This Buddhist tenet roughly translates to there is suffering. But even suffering bows down before the law of impermanence. Just like the radiant splendor of the sunset graces the velvety darkness with her last glimmers of light, so too that same Light remerge hours later to remind us of dawn’s impending arrival. We go into the darkness with the promise of morning. It’s the eternal dance between Light and dark, independent and interdependent forces. I’ve had lots of nights this year. The one where I was up retching from strep throat, and Hank was licking the tears from my eyes. And the one where it was his turn to be sick. When morning came, he had successfully passed all of his gluttony and was back to his goofy self.
There is dukkha. As my life spiraled in chaos, I found myself searching for the next ball to drop, and waiting for my intention to manifest so I could continue playing the victim. When we find ourselves swimming in the waters of negativity, hatred, and darkness, we have a choice. We can keep floundering in the mud. Or we can dive deep into the waters of our heart and rinse off. We can lean into the darkness until we find the light. When we dive into the waters of Grace, we are purified, cleansed and renewed, having reconnected with the unifying ocean within. But the only way to the Light is through the dark.
Many consider it a virtue to be able to go with the flow, but I feel it’s a worthier endeavor to go against it. Or at least to pause and consider just exactly what current you’re riding. MLK day is a good time to remember just how easy it is for an entire nation to fall into the flow of darkness, hatred and fear…how easy it was, and still is, for an entire society to perpetuate cycles of racism and to turn off the flow of compassion and unconditional love from the heart. Sadly, messages of hatred continue to be the default setting for most media outlets. That’s on a macro scale, and doesn’t even touch on the ways in which we draw in negativity and perpetuate self-hatred on an individual basis, as we crawl through the trenches of day-to-day life.
After becoming aware of murkiness in the water we’re swimming in, we can take a hint from the wisdom of the salmon. When preparing to reproduce or rebirth, the salmon swims upstream to its place of origin. So too, we must be willing to press up against the currents to get home. We must embrace the opportunity to confront negative group thought and push back home, an eternal river of unconditional love, compassion, and tenderness.
I find myself pausing in the night now and asking, “What current am I flowing in? Am I riding on the waves of Faith or fear? Am I simply going with the flow because that’s what everyone else is doing? Or is it time to push up stream and head home?”