The Source of Suffering

I had a miserable week in the hospital, and most of it was self-inflicted. The week leading up to going in, I routinely told people that I was going into the hospital for 4 nights. If she was around, Moe in her quiet wisdom would add, “…although it may be longer”.  Moe understood something I did not: that the treatment I was receiving was full of unknowns, most especially the unknowable facts of how my body would react to the chemo they were giving me. I was attached to 4 nights, as if stating it to everyone would somehow make it so.

Attachment is a Buddhist concept; at least that is how I know about it. The origin of suffering is attachment to three kinds of desire: desire for pleasure, desire to become and desire to get rid of. I have mentioned this flaw in my thinking before in my first blog on this site. The idea that “I’ll be happy when…” is all about attachment.

By Thursday night, it was becoming apparent that my kidneys were going to need a few more days of being flushed before I could be sent home. By Friday morning, Saturday was the earliest any of the doctors saw me leaving. By Saturday night, I was starting to try to wrap my head around how I was going to maintain my sanity if I had to send a second week in the hospital. For good measure, my attachment problems included being attached to being out and able to support Moe on Saturday as she emcee’d TEDx Bend.

What practicing Buddhists know that I clearly do not, is that everything is connected; people to people, people to circumstance, circumstance to coincidence, and coincidence to intention. Since everything is connected, the notion of attachment is a fantasy because we are already attached. The goal is non-attachment, but that expression doesn’t really do the concept justice. Non attachment means accepting the connection we already have with everything else, and knowing, for example, that when I was to get out of the hospital depended on a variety of interconnected things that were to variable and interconnected to actually predict.

The result for me was that by Thursday night I started to get depressed because what I had attached to as an outcome was not going to happen.   By Sunday, when I actually did get home, I was defeated, depressed and feeling very sorry for myself. I spent the day feeling like a failure. I failed by not meeting my goal of getting out on Friday. I failed by having a goal and an attachment in the first place, and I failed by being so disconnected from the world for so long. Looking back, of course I felt disconnected, I had unconsciously done everything necessary to feel that way!

I am humbled (again) at my own hubris, and desire to exert some control on the uncontrollable. My uber-white guy goal orientation serves me most of the time, but I have some work to do on knowing when to turn something over to the interconnectedness of everything and when something is actually appropriate as a goal. I believe deep in my bones that we are all connected to everything and that attachment is a source of suffering. But I also have taught myself that will and goals help make the world manageable. I have not learned the balance between the two.

BTW, my kidneys are fine. My treatment schedule has been pushed out a week to give them more time to recover. I have updated the schedule, and I am doing my best to not become attached to it.

12 thoughts on “The Source of Suffering

  1. Well for the goodness sake, Jimmy. Isn’t learning about one’s self a wonderful experience….hmmmmmmm? Life can really be difficult at times, yes? You are not alone babe. We all do this tho I know that doesn’t help. Love you!


  2. My friend, first and foremost you are not a failure!!! You have much going on and your life journey threw you a pretty big curve. Understandably there are many feelings that will emerge with this process. Kudos for your willingness to risk and share your vulnerability with others at this time. Please know how much you are loved and supported.


  3. I love your writing Jim. Your willingness to be vulnerable and to self reflect is inspiring and attractive. Your grace, at least from where I sit, is admirable. I personally think I would indulge in a long pity party if I were in your shoes.
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. I know it is doing good, and I hope the connectedness sends these writings of yours far and wide. Sending loveing and supportive thoughts your way.
    PS, As I’m confident you already heard, Moe did a fabulous job on Saturday!


    • Thank you a ton, Debi. It feels pretty narcissistic sometimes to write these things, and I certainly don’t think I am any more interesting than anyone else, but I do want to be straight-up with whatever I write in case there is value in it for others.


  4. Grateful for and inspired by your reflections on attachment and aversion. They brought to mind a passage from Still Here, a book that Ram Dass completed after a stroke left him significantly impaired. One of his themes is to cultivate mindfulness, focusing on presence in each moment of the here and now.

    “As we learn to come into the present moment, we not only discover that we’re able to free ourselves from the past, but from the future as well. As the Tibetan teaching instructs, we learn not to “invite” the future into our thoughts before its time, or to cause ourselves unnecessary discomfort, for just as the past traps us in memories, the future traps us in anticipation.”



  5. I “desire” to see you feel pleasure in peace. I desire for you to “become” free of cancer and of concern about cancer. I desire for you to be “rid” of thoughts of failure.
    I desire to drink good beer with you on Amanda Glenn in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay while reeling in rock fish and laughing out loud about Kurtzenhauser, The Stork, Weathers, Creneti and Harper.



  6. I desire that you have” pleasure” in peace. I desire that you get “rid” of cancer and of any concern about it. I desire that you get “rid” of any thoughts of failure.

    I desire that you and I drink goof beer in Amanda/Glenn in the middle of the Chesapeake while reeling in rock fish and laughing out loud about Kurtzenhauser, Weathers, Creniti, Harper and The Stork.



  7. FOMO and attachment to a specific version of any given outcome is a pretty normal thing to experience, especially when you have high hopes, dreams and ambition! All good things, even though they can definitely have drawbacks when things don’t pan out the way we wanted. Your kidneys and body have been doing good work with taking your infusions in stride, and it sounds like your care team is doing everything they can to make sure they stay capable to serve you for many many more years. Tolstoy’s What Men Live By has always been one of my favorites – it’s through the grace and connection with others that we fully live, and not always given to us to know our needs or path at the time. One day at a time! Keep your chin up and find the silver linings where you can. ❤


  8. Please Jim…be gentle with yourself – its the one attachment that could serve you right now. Your willingness to share the raw vulnerable moments you are living right now humbles me.


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