Dhukka: sticky notes from a silent retreat (1/3)

A silence retreat is a unique experience. It is different every time. Since it’s a rather individual journey hard to translate into words or learnings for others, I will share three universal concepts that struck me that could be valuable for you too. Today, I’ll share with you sticky note n° 1 on ‘dhukka’.

The concept of ‘dhukka’ originates from Buddhist texts, also called sutras. Dhukka means suffering, pain or dissatisfaction. Although this translation hardly covers the total concept, as it in fact includes much more than that. Dhukka is part of our lives. We discern three types of dhukka.

  1. Dhukka-dhukka: physical and mental suffering (e.g. birth, illness, stress, …)
  2. Viparinama-dukkha: change, nothing is permanent, everything changes all the time (e.g. the seasons, the world, even people – you are not the person you were 10 years ago. This type of dhukka also includes unquenchable frustration of not getting what we crave for.)
  3. Sankhara-dukkha: self-inflicted pain and suffering (e.g. my own blame, judgment, feelings of shame or guilt).

The first two types of dhukka are inevitable. If you cut your finger, there is no way to undo this. The dhukka of change is also inevitable. You can’t stop the seasons from evolving or prevent people from growing old. The last type of dhukka, however, is not inevitable. And here lies hope. It means that we can ease, or leave out, the pain we inflict on ourselves. Interested?

So, next time I leave for work without my phone, mindfulness can help me to become aware of my body sensations and thought patterns that automatically trail along: e.g. “why did I have to leave in such a hurry? I had ample time, but no. I still needed to empty the dishwasher first. My time management sucks, I suck. Clearly, I’m not worthy of that phone if I let it linger everywhere. Just as well I feel bad about it now. That will teach me.”

Do your recognise this? Thought so. We all do this to ourselves: throwing the self-inflicted pain (the insult) on top of the actual pain (forgetting the phone in the first place). It remined me of the story of the two arrows. The first arrow hitting bull’s eye symbolizes the physical or mental pain. This is inevitable. But the second arrow, you don’t need to shoot. This arrow represents your self-inflicted pain. We all know we can’t change the facts. But we can change our relationship with them. It starts with accepting what is there.

So, from the moment we become aware of this pattern, we can pause. We stop, breathe and choose a different reaction. A reaction that softens or even leaves out the extra pain, easing our suffering and accompanying bad moods. We short circuit the negative stream of thoughts, emotions by noticing what is present in the body. In brief, we don’t have to be crushed or overwhelmed by dhukka. It doesn’t have to be like that. We can still flourish in a world full of dhukka, accepting it, rather than running away from it, or making it bigger.

What we experience next, is freedom. Freedom from the burdens and stress we so often cause ourselves. Not total freedom to do be free from pain in a dhukka-free world. But a sense of liberation from the destructive habits we have that don’t help us any further.

So, next time you encounter this pattern of sankhara-dhukka in life, ask yourself: “How do I want my pain? With or without additives?”


Want to try an 8 week course in mindfulness first? Next course starts on Tue 5 September till Tue 24 October 2017. More info on our homepage or Facebook (in Dutch).