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Teach Me to Care and Not to ...

David Schouela

In his poem, Ash Wednesday, TS Eliot writes, "Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still...

These words are like a paradox. How can we care and at the same time not care? We have goals and desires and we want things to be a certain way. What Eliot is suggesting in this poem is that we can have desires and at the same time not be imprisoned by them. Life is going to march on regardless of how we want things to be. Sometimes we will get what we want and sometimes we won't. It's just the way life is. However, when we hold on rigidly to the objects of our desire, we suffer.

This is the central teaching of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths. In the Second Noble Truth, the Buddha instructs us "to abandon attachment to getting what we desire."

Last week, my wife and I found our dream home, ending a 2 year house hunting search. The house has everything that we have been looking for - beautiful views, sunny, light filled and spacious. We are very excited. At this point, we have an accepted offer subject to a final inspection. Sometimes I catch myself having these obsessive thoughts: "This house is too good to be true. The inspector will find something wrong with the house. This will lead us to cancel the offer. I will be so disappointed." I can feel the grip of desire in my mind. I recognize the unhealthy attachment caused by thinking this way. The challenge for me is to allow myself to be excited about the house (after all it is a beautiful house and it has everything I want in a home) and at the same time be willing to abandon attachment to getting the object of my desire (should the inspection prove to be unsatisfactory).

In his book, " Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering ", author Phillip Moffitt beautifully interweaves the poetry of T.S. Eliot with the 12 insights of the Buddha contained within the Four Noble Truths. Moffitt wisely instructs, "letting go of attachment isn't about rejecting your wants in the sense of getting rid of the trash or throwing cold water on a fire. A more accurate image is allowing your tea to cool rather than drinking it from an overly hot cup and burning your lips and mouth. Think of it as releasing the energetic hold your desires have on your mind. Release arises spontaneously from mindful observation and reflection."


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