Monday, September 26, 2011


For the last leg of our trip, we had used accumulated miles to buy business class tickets. It makes a huge difference--not only in the leg room, but also in the food, the entertainment options, the quality of service from check-in to baggage claim. I dread to think how much it would have cost had we actually sprung for the privilege in cash, but the miles were sitting there and needed to be used.

Awakening this morning in the familiar environment of our own house, our own bed, (and our own dog, George, on the bed with us!) I found myself thinking about how much air travel has to teach us about dukkha--that suffering referred to in the Buddha's First Noble Truth. To be sitting in a marginally comfortable seat for five tedious hours, 35,000 miles above the earth, traveling at 500 miles per hour, with two hundred other suffering human beings--some of them, to our rear, suffering very much more than business selves!--has to be at least one of life's less than comfortable experiences.

This realization gave me the opportunity to reflect upon some of the strategies I use to distract myself from discomfort, namely, in this case: food and drink, entertainment, and of course crossword puzzles. I use these not only when traveling by air. I use them at home, too. For the month before leaving on this particular trip, I had taken the trouble to be circumspect about the food and drink; I had been watchful of my tendency to over-indulge in food, for comfort's sake rather than actual need; and I had mostly avoided the wine that I love so much--and a glass or two of which usually prove an excellent palliative. Traveling for these couple of weeks, I had rapidly fallen back into old habits, to preserve that admittedly artificial level of comfort in the stress of travel. My addiction to the screen with flickering images and stories remained for the most part unfed; and crosswords were few and hard to find.

My addictions are harmless enough, I suppose. I have no wish to beat myself up about them too severely. The point is, though, that I do use them as palliatives. They do not cure the pain of dukkha--the suffering we all share as human beings--but they disguise it. So it serves me to recognize and acknowledge how they function. The release from suffering that the Buddha holds out as a possibility will not happen so long as the distractions, no matter how harmless, remain comfortingly hidden from view. "Here endeth," as I recall my father saying the altar, after reading the appropriate passage from the Book of Common Prayer, "the lesson for the day."


mandt said...

Welcome back Peter---we had a delightful trip! :)

Robin said...

hmmm.. pain will always be there, palliative care help one realized this fact and try to make it as less suffering as possible.

I have known of people (like my cancer patients) with pain but not suffering..

It is all in the practice.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, mandt. Glad to have you along!