Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Enjoy Your Difficulties

"Sometimes it was difficult, but if it was difficult, I laughed at myself. Why is it so difficult?  Why don't you enjoy your difficulties?  That is, I think, the practice."  Suzuki Roshi

"Why don't you enjoy your difficulties?"  Now there is both a tall order and a good question.  A Dharma friend and I were walking and talking about our lives and touched briefly on this question.  We came at it from Dogen's angle of "the way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose," which I believe is not quite so enthusiastic as "enjoying your difficulties."  We talked about how quickly and with subtlety we carve the world up into what we like and don't like, rather than just paddle along in the sea of experiences.  And then we get trapped in our preferences and dislikes, even ones that seem good.  She loves being outdoors in nature, nothing wrong with that but she is aware of how that can create tension and yearning in her life that create suffering.

If I think of laughing at my difficulties, it is hard to imagine.  Mostly I recoil from them, push them away, moan about them.  When I actually approach this idea I imagine it to feel quite freeing and light and detached, to laugh at my difficulties.  I am so intrigued by this idea, that I want to try it.  I want to remember it for the right time when some giant juicy difficulty gets itself in my face.  I want to remember to say to myself, just laugh, Carole.  Lighten up.  It's not that important, it's not that big a deal, this too shall pass.  And burst out into a big belly laugh.

Suzuki Roshi boils it all down to "this is our practice."   This position of enjoying our difficulties integrates all of practice in his mind.  If  we can laugh at our difficulties, we are not caught up in our ego, we have given up our attachment to having things our way.  To get to this place we understand impermanence in our blood and bones.  It could be the result of years of practice or a sudden flash of insight.  It is something that we cannot force with our will or make happen.  We can work toward it, aspire to it and yet we need to be patient.  It strikes me as the ultimate freedom; the explicit expression of "it's not important" that could take in so much about what we worry or fret about.  In my mind a good laugh is full of release and relaxation at a body level as well as an attitude of mind.  It is the ultimate act of looking up.  Like a mad man or a sane person throwing our head back  and having the ultimate laugh at ourselves, thoroughly enjoying our difficulties.


  1. having chanted "Affirming Faith in Mind" (Hsin Hsin Ming) dozens of time while living in a monastery, I recognized the lines "The way is not difficult ..." but had my doubts that it was Dogen's work.
    Turns out that authorship is not certain, but many credit a Chinese Zen (ch'an) master, the 3rd Patriarch, Chien-chih Seng-ts'an. He died ca. 600 years before Dogen was born.
    More more than yo probably want to kn ow, go to
    deep bows and thanks for the opportunity to re-read the lines. Lines 2 and 3 in the first stanzas hold special meaning for me.

  2. Thanks, Peter for referencing this. I will have to go read the full piece.

    Now that is very me to toss out the quote, thinking I remember where it came from! Whoops!