My Meditation on Dukkha (…a special kind of “dissatisfaction”)


I am about to turn 43.  Looking at that age written down, it looks like an old age.  It’s not elderly, but it’s old.  I always wanted to be 40.  It’s the age where you’re still young enough to do things, most people have their health, but very few consider you a “kid.”  You get respect at 40, while the degeneration process of the body and mind has not quite kicked in.  40 was my goal age.

The problem is that you don’t just get to stop at 40.  Honestly, the 3 years since I turned 40 have flown by like an instant.  The tick-tick-tick of time keeps moving.  In many ways, my life is about like I expected it to be now.  In other ways, it is completely off.  I thought there would be satisfaction in being in my 40’s.  Instead, there is a background of disappointment.  The millions that weren’t made (or at least 10’s of thousands) despite the hard work, the places I haven’t visited, the children who are leaving to live their own lives….I want them to be little again.  Where did the time go?  In short, just like happens to many of us who keep saying “if only i were XXX, then I’ll be happy” or “if only had, XXX then I will slow down,” and then we finally get there, I am on to the next bit of grasping for more.  We never really get there when we grasp for more…DukkhaDukkha is that dissatisfaction that you will always feel when you grasp at this reality, when you expect fulfillment from things of this world.  You can never gain permanent satisfaction in this reality.

This background of dissatisfaction, I’ve felt this way before.  It is the type of feeling that rushes in and makes me ask, “Is this all there is?”  I started getting these feelings in my mid-20s; I think it was when the testosterone of teenage life wore off.  In my 20’s, I had alcohol that confused the matter…lots of alcohol.  All the while, I searched for truth.  I found the teachings of the Buddha, and read about DukkhaBuddhism recommended a drug-free existence.  When I was 31, I decided that I could see things more clearly without alcohol.  So, I stopped drinking it.

Without alcohol, I could see more clearly.

Without alcohol, I could see more clearly.

It was at that point that understanding came much faster.  My motivation was much better, and my energy returned.  I could see things clearer.  Success in life began to accelerate; and I kept learning.

But that feeling kept returning, more powerful each time.  As I tried to anchor myself in this world, it became less rational.  Empty.  There is no meaning in this perceived reality.  It is emptiness.

As I age, it can be gut-wrenching.  The dissatisfaction!  Dukkha.  I think as I age, the impermanence of existence is more obvious.  I used to play the “I wonder what I’ll be doing in ten years” game.  I don’t like to play that game anymore…53 is not an age I am in a rush to attain, nor do I wish for my children to each be 10 years older, and certainly not my parents.  I can accept it, but I can wait for it…patiently.  No hurry to speed through 10 years.

Dukkha indeed.   Grasping at this life as if it were going to last forever.   All that I see around me will be gone one day.  All that I feel, all that I’ve worked for will be gone.  All that I intend to work for in the next 10, 20, 30 years will eventually be gone.  In 30 years I will be 73…if I make it to that age.

One of my goals...aging gracefully.

One of my goals…aging gracefully. ( –

When I slow down, breathe, and enjoy my existence now.  When I read, write, reflect and feel, when I am present in the moment, the dissatisfaction fades.  Writing, for me, is my meditation, and it is one of those times I feel most alive.  It is my craft and it completes me.  I think we all have one or more of those things we do that bring us back to the present moment.

When we are present in the moment, we are not grasping, and we find the end of dissatisfaction, and if we are sages we can escape Dukkha.




Dukkha – Sanskrit term from Buddhism meaning “suffering,” but more precisely “dissatisfaction,” “anxiety,” or “unsatisfactoriness.”  It can be the physical pain sickness, injury, death, or grief, but it can also be the result of trying to grasp and hold things that are always and permanently changing.  This type of dissatisfaction can also be a result of trying to hold onto a vision of how things should be according to our own judgment.  It is the core of the First Noble Truth of Buddhism.

Sadness Another example of unsatisfactoriness might be that feeling after you win a big race or the lottery.  Not right after, but after maybe a few days or a few months.  You might still feel unfulfilled.  It’s that “now what” feeling after you get/accomplish something that you thought would make you happy.

Some Equanimity by the Numbers


Here are some thoughts and random numbers I will throw around.  Hopefully this will give you some perspective on your reality.  I recently read that it is estimated that there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy (that’s 200,000,000,000).  Each cell in the human body contains 20 trillion (20,000,000,000,000) atoms.  Moreover, you are composed of about 100 trillion cells.  So if you do the math, which you might be a little intimidated by, you end up with 2 x 1027 atoms that compose your body (That’s 2 followed by 27 zeros).

It's a big universe!

It’s a big universe!

Impressive numbers, no?  What if you could travel 2 x 1027 miles in space?  Where would that get you?  Well, 1 light-year is 5.9 × 1012 miles, and a reasonable estimate is that our universe is probably bigger than 40 billion light-years..  This means that the edge of the universe is 7.7 x 1025 miles away.  If you wanted to travel as many miles as there are atoms in your body, you just might reach the edge of the universe…maybe further, if there is anything beyond it.

Of course if you could travel at the speed of light (which you couldn’t) it would take you 40 billion years, so you’d probably run out of time.  By comparison, if 40 billion years were considered one year, your life span of 70 years would be 0.05 seconds of that year.

So just how small are atoms?  Click on the atom below to find out:


Click on the atom and see just how small it is.

I hope this gives you some perspective!

Oh, and somebody check my math…thanks.

On Tragedy, Death and Evil…a Stoic’s View


“Never say of anything, ‘I have lost it’; but, ‘I have returned it.’ Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. Is your estate taken away? Well, and is not that likewise? ‘But he who took it away is a bad man.’ What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don’t view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel.” –Epictetus

One cannot help but read the headlines and hear of tragic events all around us.  Most recently, in the U.S. State of Connecticut, a very unstable young man of 20 chose to randomly shoot anyone he could in an elementary school.  He cared not that his victims were young and innocent, or who they were.  In the end, 20 young children and 8 adults were killed in a matter of minutes, including the shooter.  28 sentient beings have been “returned.”  For 20 of them, their time here was a short one.

Unfortunately, what happened in Connecticut is not unique.  While I would be hesitant to say that mass murder is a common occurrence, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that its existence parallels that of all of humanity’s time on earth.  It is difficult to understand for the large majority of peace-loving and life-respecting individuals, why such things happen.  Some mass-murderers are evil, others are delusional.  Still others, like Genghis Khan below (AD 1162-1227), even think they are justified by some purpose, but for the victims the result is the same.

Ghengis Kahn:  figures estimate he killed up to 40 million. Public Domain photo:

Genghis Khan: figures estimate he killed up to 40 million. (Public Domain photo:

Because such things do happen, and probably always will, I must acknowledge this:  It can happen.  It can happen to you, your children, or your spouse.  It can happen today.  It may happen 15 seconds from now.

Which brings me to one (although there could be many others) very important point about what we can learn from such an event:  The existence of all is temporary.  The existence of your children, your parents, friends, spouse, and you.  All temporary!  Acknowledging this should not be depressing.  Rather, it should motivate you to cherish every moment with them.  Appreciate them now, not when they are gone.

But to drive home this point, I will share an observation I had about what I saw on social media yesterday about the Connecticut shootings.  Over and over, I read things like, “I am going to hug my little ones a little tighter tonight,” “my child had a drill about this very thing at school, it made me cry,” or “With everything that happened today, we are having a family night. It’s all I could think about as the day progressed. I just want my kids close.”  Furthermore, I personally couldn’t help but picture my own grief had I lost my child in such a tragedy.  I think we all tend to do this.  We project a tragedy into our own life.  This is not a bad thing; it is how we empathize with others.  Should we really need a reminder, though?

You do not expect that this will be the last time you see your child.

You do not expect that this will be the last time you see your child.

Our goal then, is to understand that those we love in our lives are not ours.  Even our own lives, in the end, are not ours.  Every moment we spend is on loan, and the lease will expire at some point.  We don’t know when, where or how, but it will end for all.  This existence is borrowed.  The sage of virtue knows this at all times…few of us are sages, but that is what we strive for.  When I acknowledge the impermanence of all, then I relish every moment with those I love, and indeed I carefully examine how I spend my own time.

So, hug your loved ones a little tighter EVERY night, and try not to be reminded only when tragedy jolts you into awareness.  That is the philosopher’s goal.

I am a Failure! What Now?


“0h Crito, if it thus pleases the gods, thus let it be. Anytus and Melitus may kill me indeed, but hurt me they cannot.” –Plato’s Crito

For my job, I am required to pass an evaluation.  I recently took one of these evaluations, and although I passed, I did not leave the lasting good impression that I had hoped to leave with my new boss.  As the new guy, this was my chance to break through, to develop a trust from my employer that would be one I could build upon.  That did not happen.  Instead, as one thing led to another I ended up performing badly enough during one portion that I now am “in a hole” that I must dig out of.  It left my evaluator, who just happens to be my boss, with a lack of confidence in my ability.  For all intents and purposes, I failed.

If at first you don't succeed...(photo by Ben Earwicker)

If at first you don’t succeed…(photo by Ben Earwicker)

So what can I, as a Heroic Stoic make of this?  Here are some thoughts.

1. Control

“What does not kill me, makes me stronger.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Much of what happened on this particular evaluation was out my control:  the situation I was put in, my own fatigue, my lack of situational awareness of how difficult the particular task was, my inexperience on the job, my own talent at performing the job, not to mention the boss’s opinion on the seriousness of the errors I committed.  These are not excuses, this is a simple acknowledgment that there are certain things that I cannot control, when I face a failure.  These are things that test me, that make me better.  They improve my skills.  Clearly, if I have failed then I have reached some kind of limit…at least I know where it is now, and what to do next.

2. Picking Myself Up

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”–Dale Carnegie

(Photo by Cheryl Empey)

(Photo by Cheryl Empey)

This failure has afforded me the opportunity to reevaluate my own attitude and what I can do better in the future.  For example, in this case I have committed to be better at the tasks I did not do well.  I will commit to never make those errors again.  They may be my weaknesses, so I am set on bringing them up to par.  Often, failures can close doors and force you to go in a different direction…it may lead to a change in focus in your life.  A failure may make you realize that you are not cut out for a particular task, and a new door will open.  It this is you, be on the lookout for it.

3. Worry (That is, Worrying About Fate)

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” –Marcus Aurelius

I could worry about how this will affect my future.  How will this affect my work environment?  Will the boss be looking for my mistakes now?  Will it affect any raises I get?  What happens if I make another mistake?  Could I lose my job?  All these things are possible, but they will largely be controlled by fate.  There is no reason to worry about these things.  What to be concerned about are the things I can control.  I need to do the best job I possibly can.  Will I make mistakes? Sure.  Will I have to prove myself? Most definitely.  All I can do is the best I can do…it is the only way to be virtuous.

4. Pride

“I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.”   George Burns

It is better to have tried at something I am committed to, than to not have tried at all.  Along the way, there will be failures for things that are worth it.  Failures don’t mean the end, and failures while doing something you love are worth it.  It is my pride in my craft that will motivate me to be better…to be excellent!

Failing at something he loves?

Failing at something he loves?

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” –Michael Jordan