Recently, my husband and I took an R&R long weekend at a cabin in the countryside about an hour from home. I was sitting on the screened porch one morning, sipping tea and listening to the birds. A pasture area lay off beyond the trees. The air smelled fresh after the rain the night before. It was all very lovely.
And then I noticed my back begin to twinge. The twinge became a burn, and then a shooting pain, all in the matter of about a minute. It’s a typical pattern for when the pain crosses the threshold beyond what I can ignore.
I couldn’t stop the thought, “I hate my back.” That’s another typical thought when my pain level spikes. It comes unbidden. For many years, the thought has caused me great suffering and served as a tipping point for anger, resentment, and depression.
The night before, I had been reading the book How to Wake Up by Toni Bernhard, specifically a section about tahna, which she describes as Want/Don’t Want. In other words, wanting what we don’t have and not wanting things we do have. Tahna is the cause of suffering, or more specifically dukkha, which means a whole lot more than the English word suffering. Some other words it encompasses would be stress and dissatisfaction.
I could write another blog post about how much frustration arises in me when I hear people dismiss Buddhism because they think the concept “life is suffering” is so negative, but instead of giving that frustration free rein, I’m going to refer you to this article for more information on the difficulties of translating the word dukkha.
Anyway, back to me thinking I hate my back. I want my back not to hurt. Well, duh, of course I do. That’s not a problem. But actively hating a part of me is. Actively wishing for things to be different is a problem. Actively spinning the illusion that if only my back didn’t hurt, then my life would be great, is a problem.
That morning, I stopped myself from spiraling. My back has been hurting a lot lately. I actually had trouble walking on my own over the past weekend, so I’ve been getting lots of practice and stopping myself from spiraling. I’m more peaceful for the practice. And when I struggle not to get hooked by tahna, I remember this quote from Byron Katie: