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The Cause of My Suffering

‘There is the cause of suffering, which is the attachment to desire.'

Some weeks back, I pulled a muscle when unloading a delivery of boxes of books onto the shelves in my garage. I picked up a box less carefully than I might have done. It toppled out of my hands, onto the pallet and from there onto the floor. As it fell I made a grab for it, overreaching myself and twisting a muscle in my lower back. The delivery driver who was helping me jumped out of the way as the box tumbled to the floor, then calmly picked it up and handed it back to me with a smile. Though I did not ask, it would not surprise me to learn that he was a practitioner of mindfulness. I apologised, a little embarrassed, and carried on loading the boxes onto the shelves - rather more carefully than I had done previously.


After the driver left, I looked at all the filled shelves with satisfaction. There is something about seeing the regularity of all the boxes lined up tidily that I find appealing. Beauty, as the phrase has it, is in the eye of the beholder. I enjoyed the moment to the extent that I was later tempted to go back and look at the boxes again. But the moment of unloading, that I did not enjoy so much.


I had planned the delivery carefully, arranging for a text to be sent to me in advance, so that I could look out for the lorry at the right time, since I often miss the doorbell. I had moved my car well out of the way so as to avoid any mishaps as the driver pulled the pallet truck up the drive. I had cleared the garage of anything that might impede or endanger the passage of the truck into an easy unloading position. But when the moment of unloading arrived, I wanted to get it over and done with as soon as possible, so I worked too quickly.


The boxes were not too heavy. I have a long since received training in moving and handling technique, so I knew how to do the job safely. But I did not want to do it. The work was effort I did not want to expend. I anticipated that the moment after completion would be more enjoyable than the moment of the work itself. So I shifted my attention away from the moment of work and onto my representation of that future, more enjoyable, moment. However, that future moment was not real. The only reality at the moment of unloading was the unloading itself. My attachment to desire took me out of that moment and into my fantasy of the future. My lack of attention to the moment resulted in an accident, albeit a minor one.


All of that, of course, happened in an instant without conscious thought. But the learning for me here lies in accepting all moments as they are, not trying to make them into something I would prefer them to be. Appropriate concentration would have avoided a harmful consequence – one  in this case I lived with for just a short while, as I spent the following 24 hours with backache. It passed, as do all moments. I accepted it as it was. Instead of trying to avoid the pain, I looked into the pain. I located it in my body. I considered clearly and closely the nature of it. I examined what I mean by pain, why I find the sensation of it unpleasant. I considered all those thoughts and emotions that I usually use to surround and insulate myself from pain or unpleasantness: the self-criticism and judgement for my thoughtlessness, the regret that I was not more careful, the hope that the pain will pass quickly.All of it amounts to representation of the past or future, or an alternative but fictitious present that I think would find more palatable. Then I returned to the present, accepted the moment and thanked it for the learning it brought. And I reminded myself that there is no suffering in the pain itself.


‘There is the cause of suffering,’ says the second of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, ‘Which is the attachment to desire.’


I allow myself to meditate on that - one of the most radical statements on suffering ever made. Is it literally true? I am not certain in a moment of pain. But what I do know is that I suffer less when I release my attachment to desire.


May you be happy. May you and all beings, me included, be free from suffering.

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