Understanding anxiety in the modern world as Dukkha

I noticed a pattern of thought a few years ago whereby my mind would constantly try to have the big “aha” breakthrough that would then secure my worldly independence. I searched and scrambled to find the one big invention so that I’d be set for life — or come up with a concept so fresh and marvelous that I could share it with others and be ensured a future of well being and abundance. Lottery tickets. Thoughts of becoming this or that; starting a company; changing careers; even winning a settlement or being given a lucky break so that my struggles would be over! I’d literally examine every experience and item that arose in experience looking for some kind of twist – some kind of clever insight – some kind of magic ticket that might somehow land me on easy street. I started to see that this was underlying so many of my thoughts. It was a hidden obsession.

I’m sure lots of us experience this type of mental formation. I’d bet that most aren’t aware of it as a pattern. It took me a long time to see it. The mind trying to get ahead of the struggle – to solve the problem of constantly working to survive, to provide, to make it. Jobs aren’t guaranteed. Relationships aren’t guaranteed. Life itself isn’t guaranteed. Whatever we do.. we’re still at risk. However much we manage to make it seems like we’re just getting by — and never saving enough for our kid’s college, our retirement, our future!! So we continue to struggle. The mind continues to spin out on idea after idea about how we can finally solve this never-ending quest for relief.

Isn’t this all just a perfect definition of Dukkha? Didn’t the Buddha have something to say about Dukkha? What was that all about, anyway? 25 years studying the Dharma and here I am spinning out about life and work and money and having enough and making enough and saving enough and knowing that it’s all based on fear. I’m swimming in Dukkha!

At least I’ve come to see it for what it is. Now what?

The four noble truths start with Dukkha: There is Dukkha. Dukkha should be understood. Dukkha has been understood. Those are the insights of the first noble truth.

A friend at Sangha last night said to me regarding Dukkha: “It’s not a mistake..”. It’s not a mistake that this is the way it is. It’s not a mistake that all conditioned things have this unreliable, dissatisfying quality to them. It shouldn’t “be some other way”. This is life. This is Dukkha.

As much as my finally figuring out that the mental flips and twists I go through trying to “solve” the unreliability of life is itself more Dukkha… at least I feel like I’m making a tiny bit of progress on insight #2: Dukkha should be understood.

The more I learn, the more I see that I have a lot of work to do.