The Wisdom of No Escape

Synopsis – When we embark on a spiritual journey we often do this out of a sense of basic dissatisfaction with our lives and thus we search for some relief from our misery. Ironically it is just this struggle to seek pleasure and to avoid pain that is the cause of our suffering. Contrary to our ordinary impulse to escape from our pain, the Buddhists have an opposite approach, which is to relax into our awareness of the present moment. It’s only by this method of non-struggle that we may find peace in our lives.  

This talk is based loosely on the Buddha’s tenet of the Four Noble Truths


Have you ever had the experience of surfing through 500 channels of your cable TV, iphone, Netflix, ipod, Facebook, ipad, Youtube, smartphone, radio and there is still nothing worth watching? Nothing you do alleviates this desolate “can’t quite put your finger on it” problem.

Indeed from the Buddhist point of view, life is by its nature suffering. Not in the sense that we are tortured by life (although at time it may feel that way), but more in the sense that we don’t feel whole and complete just as we are and that we need to yearn and strive for things and experience outside of ourselves to fulfill our existence.

Cause of suffering

This feeling of unrest or dissatisfaction stems from the notion that there is you, as an individual person, and then there is everything else, which is the external world, from which you must reach out and get some satisfaction. To the Buddhist perspective, the notion of a unique and separate self is shaky at best. Some Buddhists would even argue that the unique self, the ego, is basically a fiction. But it is this shaky tenuousness that bubbles up whenever we have a break between our usual worldly distractions. Without distraction there is open space which causes a sense of fear and anxiety in us. Our effort to seek escape from this feeling is basically a manifestation of our attempt to mask this existential shakiness.

Cessation of suffering

Our common sense solution to this anxiety is to escape from it by finding more and more entertainment. Our forms of escape can be obvious such as going to a movie or it can be subtle, such as incessant chatter to other people or within our mind. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t really work. Whether it’s through entertainment, food, alcohol, sex, or the multitude of ways we choose to distract ourselves, the experience is only temporary and in the end, we still have that desolate, empty feeling.

On the other hand, the Buddhists have an opposite approach to this feeling of anxiety, which is to welcome it rather than struggling against it. The struggle against fear and anxiety within ourselves is basically an aggression towards ourselves. We can be kinder to ourselves by being open and curious as to why we are fearful and anxious. It is only in this way of being open that we allow our mind to settle. Then we can see that most of our fears are ones of our own making. It is only in this way of allowing things to be as they are that we can finally begin to relax.

The Practice of meditation

“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”
― Pema Chödrön

The art of allowing things to be as they are certainly takes some practice. Another name for allowing things to be as they are is meditation. Meditation as a practice involves sitting comfortably in a quiet place, free from distraction, where we allow our mind to settle. Thoughts may come and go but we allow them to come and go without judgment. Thoughts may arise which are strange, profound, ridiculous, inspirational, boring and the whole gamut of mental activities.  But we can just label them “thinking” and we’re ready for the next thought.  Meditation won’t get us to a point where we can walk on water or see the clear light of Buddha.  But with practice, we find peace in our lives, which is probably miraculous enough!

Featured photo courtesy of Versageek.

by Kai Yee