Most of us have fallen. We may have slipped and fallen or lost our balance and fallen. Sometimes we fall on purpose like off a diving board or onto a comfy bed. Usually we fall alone, sometimes we fall with friends as we might when we ride a roller coaster or skydive together. I don’t skydive. I don’t roller coaster anymore. It has been suggested that not getting on a roller coaster may have more to do with control issues than with age. I don’t think so.
When we fall suddenly, unexpectedly we may not have time to consider the moment. If the fall is deliberate it might be thought of as a jump rather than a fall. When we choose to leave a higher position then travel to a lower position I think the time in between is spent falling. Whether we experience terror or joy will depend on the circumstances that caused us to be falling.
For many of us falling is a constant concern. We may have temporary limitations or long term conditions that impair mobility but most of us will not think very much about falling today. We hop off curbs. Climb trees and ladders. Stand on top of the Hondo.
Dukkha, the first of the Four Noble Truths, is like falling. There many conditions and characteristics that can describe the experience of dukkha. The literal translation of dukkha is “ill made axle hole”. When you ride a vehicle with poorly made wheels what you might experience is dukkha. When we think of the experience of bad wheels we might think of a bumpy or wobbley ride. Poorly made wheels, however, can be experienced in other ways as well. The ride might be perfectly smooth but the grinding or screeching of the poorly made wheels might cause discomfort. The sound might be unpleasant and could cause anxiety. Our ride on poorly made wheels may be uncomfortable but not necessarily unpleasant. We might prefer to ride in a junky car than walk to the grocery store. Our experience of dukkha like our experience of falling can be characterized in different ways. It’s not just suffering, which is only the extreme end of the spectrum, it is also the long, steady grind of misperceptions and unfulfilled expectations that can wear away at our well being. The dharma addresses the cause of our discomfort.
Unlike dukkha, falls are relatively short. Unless you’re in orbit like Scott Kelly who will be on the International Space Station and falling for 342 days. In orbit you are actually falling. For Kelly, the preparations for falling, conditions during falling and how the fall will end have been extensive. If every fall we had could have as much preparation as Kelly’s our experience of falling might be quite different. If we could prepare for our fall off the curb we could brace our ankle and put a mattress down to soften our landing. It may not reduce our anxiety but the injury may be lessened.
Preparing for a possible fall does not remove the possibility of falling or perhaps more importantly the consequences of the fall. This is where the example of falling separates from dukkha. The central concern of Buddhism is the resolution of dukkha no matter how small or profound the experience of dukkha might be. The means to resolve our experience of dukkha is to cultivate the mind that is free from prejudice. The mind that sees and experiences things just as they are. Prejudice causes us to separate the world into what I like or not like. Whether values or people or politics separating the world into preferences allows the opportunity for dukkha to emerge.
The practices of Buddhism cultivates the mind that sees things as they are. Amida assures all beings of the resolution of dukkha. If we can cultivate the mind free of prejudice nothing more is necessary. If we continue to experience dukkha Amida’s assurance can begin to allow us to acknowledge our prejudices.