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?” Those who navigate the chaos generally understand that suffering is part of the human experience.

Now, some people are more aware of their own suffering than that of others. Conversely, there are individuals that ignore their own suffering and place at the forefront the pain of others.


Either way, most people that navigate the chaos understand how suffering is part of the human experience. Therefore, they often figure out a way to manage the suffering experienced daily.

In his post “Suffering Open 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

Irritation

Anger

Putting up with things you don’t like

Knowing that you’re going to have to die, and you really don’t want to

Sickness

Old age

Not having enough money

Losing your job

Having a bad marriage

Fear

Knowing you could lose what you think you have

Being ashamed

Feeling disrespected is suffering

Feeling unloved

Feeling loved, but not loved enough

Feeling lonely

Feeling bewildered

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

Those who navigate the chaos, who act and find a way to make things happen, and who translate their dreams into reality all suffer. Everyone suffers. There is simply no escaping from the suffering. So, 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 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 the fact that everything, everyone, and every aspect of our life is temporary 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. Let us unpack Halifax’s quote for a moment and ask additional questions.

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?