Embodied Life™ Newsletter Archive

All articles written by Russell Delman

"No Escape: Facing Life's Essential Challenges"

March 16, 2023



Most people reading this newsletter are amongst the socially secure - enough food, stable housing, available health care, etc. Maybe not abundantly wealthy, still more or less secure in the basic needs of life.

Yet we suffer. We have personal trials from our anxieties, our health, fears for loved ones, money worries, etc.


Those of us with open enough hearts deeply feel the suffering of unknown others - people, animals, the earth itself - all those navigating our shared world.


Why does it have to be that way?

How do we explain to innocent children that even if all goes well and they are healthy, with deep love relationships, meaningful work, and relative security that they will have profound trials? Maybe even that suffering is an essential part of their life journey.


Many years ago, I heard a stunning Zen story from a famous Chinese master. Through a Dharma friend, it has re-emerged for me in the last few months as a powerful inquiry and teaching.


Dongshan (807-869 AD) was a formidable Zen teacher. This story is about him:

One time when the Master was washing his bowls, he saw two birds contending over a frog. A monk who also saw this asked, "Why does it come to that?" The Master replied, "It's only for your benefit and you caused it."


(Note some versions only have the first comment "Its only for your benefit". I find both comments very helpful).


How can the need for one "being" to kill another be for my benefit? How did I cause it?

There is so much in each of these responses, potent learning for all, if we let it really work on us. Take it into your heart, mind, and body - what is IT?

I remember Feldenkrais' response when asked a challenging question: "Chew on it yourself. I lost my teeth chewing on these questions".

In this spirit, I will wait to offer my reflections. To really affect your life, I suggest living deeply into this story. Think of the birds, perhaps hungry crows, and the frog, perhaps a sweet, little toad.

Immerse yourself in these questions: How can the suffering of others be for your benefit? How do you cause it? Is it helpful to think you are the cause?

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