top of page

The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

How often do you develop a soft front and a strong back?

Today is October 10 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you develop a soft front and a strong back?” The Buddha (in the 6th-5th centuries BCE, a Hindu prince who renounced his position and wealth to seek enlightenment and founded Buddhism in India) taught about Four Noble Truths.

The first truth is called “Suffering (dukkha)” and teaches how everyone in life is suffering in some way. The second truth is “Origin of suffering (samudāya)” and states all suffering comes from desire (tanhā). The third truth is “Cessation of suffering (nirodha)” and states it is possible to stop suffering and achieve enlightenment. The fourth truth, “Path to the cessation of suffering (magga)” is about the Middle Way, which consists of the steps to achieve enlightenment. Whether they are aware of it or not, many people who navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality understand through experience the Four Noble Truths.

In his post “Suffering Opens the Real Path,” Norman Fischer details a wide spectrum of suffering people experience. “The more we look around us, the more we pay attention to what we’re feeling and what others around us are feeling, the more suffering we see. There is more suffering than we know.” Fischer suggests all of the following create suffering:

Anxiety Not getting what you want

Anger Putting up with things you don’t like

Sickness Old age

Not having enough money Losing your job

Fear Being ashamed

Feeling disrespected is suffering Feeling unloved

Feeling lonely Feeling bewildered

The loss of a loved one The fear of death

Fischer concluded his list be observing “Even without talking about the earthquakes, the wars, the deprivation, the oppression, the illness, and the hunger happening all over our world, suffering is really common. It’s not a special condition. Suffering is a daily experience.”

Today’s reflection challenges you to stop and think about how often you deal with the suffering you will encounter. Three approaches include non-attachment, impermanence, and the soft and open consideration.

Author Rupert Gethin discussed the non-attachment approach in Four Noble Truths and wrote: “As long as there is attachment to things that are unstable, unreliable, changing, and impermanent, there will be suffering – when they change, when they cease to be what we want them to be. If craving is the cause of suffering, then the cessation of suffering will surely follow from 'the complete fading away and ceasing of that very craving' its abandoning, relinquishing, releasing, letting go.” By becoming less attached to that which causes suffering, people can then give themselves an opportunity to navigate the chaos otherwise unavailable.

Fischer emphasized the second approach known as impermanence and noted “everything is impermanent, ungraspable, and not really knowable. On some level, we all understand this. All the things we have, we know we do not really have. All the things we see, we are not entirely seeing. This is the nature of things, yet we think the opposite. We think that we can know and possess our lives, our loves, our identities, and even our possessions. We can’t.” Accepting impermanence allows one to view life differently as opposed to those who hold on to everything and, as stated above, suffer as a result of doing so.

The third approach to dealing with suffering is what the Buddhists call a strong back and soft front, meaning to develop the resiliency to stand tall and confront our challenges with openness and compassion. To quote the Zen Buddhist Joan Halifax who explains in Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet: “In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that is flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that is soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet — strong back and soft front — is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply when we begin the process of being with dying.”

This strong back and soft front approach to dealing with life’s suffering requires a substantial amount of courage, fortitude, and grit. So too does navigating the chaos.

  • Do you walk around brittle and defensive?

  • Do you conceal your lack of confidence?

  • What have you done lately to strengthen your back?

  • How comfortable are you having a front that is soft and open?

  • How often do you allow yourself to be vulnerable?

  • Can you accept the suffering yet find a way forward?

  • How often do you develop a soft front and a strong back?

  • How often do you respond to duhkha with intention and grace?


bottom of page