He sat in the shade of a tree and waited. The road up to this point curved imperceptibly through the vast swath of memories, experiences, gains and losses, hugging tightly along mountain vistas and in the deep darkness of humid valleys. He decided to stay put until he found the answer, some solution to the problem of suffering, of dissatisfaction. The sun faded beneath the horizon and he meditated.
I was teaching Buddhism the other day and as I tried to explain the concept of dukkha, I found myself sliding down a slope of analogy. A few days before I had driven home from visiting an old friend and found myself in a kind of sadness at leaving his company. Similar feelings abound in almost any departure of mine from anyone I hold dear. I told the students that had Buddha been in the car, he might have reminded me of the impermanence of all things, including the good and life-giving things. I had to catch myself and pull back.
Gautama is, of course, not the only one to come to such conclusions. I can think of Stobaeus and Heraclitus in their own places coming to similar insights; I can think of Boethius being thwacked by Lady Philosophy to similar ends. The reason we encounter unhappiness isn't because some temporal good or relationship has been taken away, but because we ascribe to that temporality some definite, lasting meaning for which it is not equipped.
The tragedy of my history of friendships runs thus: I either fling myself into them with such reckless abandon that they are destroyed or I keep myself at such a distance as to be basically unaffected. Rarely do they take any form, via media.
I am, of course, getting too old for this. I am too old for this.
The instinct is to sit at the base of a tree and wait. It is to walk away from those encounters that are as vaulting as they are devastating, to find some middle way spoken of by the ancient ones. Perhaps. But one thing seems certain: I cannot go on living in the frame of being as a hapless twenty-something. I sit, then, at the base of a tree and wait. Bring on insight, old age, whatever. Mine, o thou lord of life, send my roots rain.