12/29/2016 09:38 am ET Updated Dec 29, 2017

Learning to Suffer Well

Buddhism is very down to earth and easy to understand for someone who isn't trying to keep reality at arm's length. The Buddha's genius was in stating the obvious and articulating it. Buddhist wisdom pops up in unexpected places. As a nightcap, I like to watch old sit coms. One of my favorites. is Frazier, a show about a neurotic, meddling radio psychiatrist and Niles, his equally neurotic psychiatrist brother. Improbably, their father, Martin is a retired working class cop, possessed of a sense of reality his sons lack.

In one episode, his sons hear him reminisce about his time in the mounted police and buy Martin his horse partner for his birthday. Martin loves it. As he's grooming his old friend, he notices that both he and the horse have gotten old. Frazier notices that he is sad and tries make him feel better with a therapeutic fix. Martin stops him and tells him their is nothing to analyze. "People get old," he says. "I'll be OK." In this short interchange Martin teaches Frazier about suffering, impermanence, and the impersonal nature of it.

The implacable simplicity of this is hard to get. Frazier and Niles are in an industry devoted to analyzing suffering out of existence with talk or dulling it through drugs. Martin has intuitively employed RAIN, recognition, acceptance, investigation, and non-identification. He not happy about growing old but he doesn't personalize it and make it a problem.

One of our nieces shared her simple observation of how her children and their conflicts- "Get anxious and hit your sibling." From this dynamic we can see how a self is created around anxiety, conflict and grievance that lead us to the tragic dimension of life. Shakespeare is so alive today because he saw it so clearly. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace from day to day and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death....Life is but a walking shadow a poor player struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. T'is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." This is the Buddha's truth- suffering, impermanence, and emptiness. Had Macbeth come to that a few acts earlier, he wouldn't be in the fix he's in and we wouldn't have a great play. We might not have human history either.

The best thing we can do as humans is learn to suffer well. Tragedy teaches us what not to do- take yourself so seriously that you self destruct. Comedy teaches us what to do- don't take yourself so seriously. Learn to laugh. to hold it in awareness instead of sinking in despair or taking it out on someone else. Suffer well. Don't skapegoat yourself or someone else. Help other people suffer well too. "We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our little lives are rounded with a sleep."