This is an edited version of an episode of Noah Rasheta's podcast Secular Buddhism:
Endings and Beginnings
I thought it would be appropriate, as we're beginning a new year, to talk about the concept of endings and beginnings from a Buddhist perspective.
Buddhist teachings help us to see that endings and beginnings are the key to understanding that all things exist in an interdependent relationship of cause and effect. The end of one moment gives rise to the beginning of another and the rise of a new moment will inevitably lead to the ending of the old one. This can be the source of great comfort during difficult times. The expression "this too shall pass" comes to mind here but that can also be the source of great discomfort because, if the moment that we're experiencing is pleasant, we don't want it to end. It's funny how that works, but if we learn to use that discomfort skilfully, perhaps it will allow us to enjoy the current moment thoroughly before that moment passes.
For me, learning to see endings and beginnings has actually made me less afraid of pain. If I only see endings I'm missing half of the picture, right? Because you can't have an ending without a beginning. Also, it doesn't matter how much you meditate or practise or whatever it is that you do, or how much faith you have, it's always going to hurt, for example, when you lose the people that you love. A lot of endings are painful to some degree but, to me, the heart of the practice is to no longer be afraid of that pain.
Most of us tend to think that, in order to be at peace, we have to suppress or push away the things that trouble us. And I think this is why we don't like to see, much less think about, endings. But this is what the story of the Buddha teaches us: that fighting the things that we fear or chasing the things that we crave won't bring about the lasting peace that we're after. That's what the Buddha learned. The Buddha tried to starve and eliminate a part of his humanity, the part that was afraid. But in the end that resistance was only another source of his suffering.
We should just recognize that, well, yeah, things are going to happen. We're not going to turn a blind eye to this. We're not going to pretend that it doesn't happen but we're going to try to become less afraid of the pain that occurs when it does happen. And, as in the story of the Buddha, it turns out that the trick all along was to turn inward toward the pain and the discomfort and to become comfortable with it and to become less afraid of the pain that often accompanies endings. And I think that that to me is the greatest part of the whole Buddhist story: that he realized that he was the source of his own suffering.
And this is where I want to talk about the other side of the coin. What about beginnings? There was a time in my life when I really cherished my youth, living at home with my twin brother and doing all of those fun, adventurous things that we did as kids with my parents facilitating and taking us and showing us the world. But that phase had to end in order for a new phase to begin, which was the phase of no longer living at home with my twin brother by my side, and no longer living with my parents at home.
Then that stage brought the beginning of adulthood and the start of my own family and I would have never imagined back then when I was a youth what it would be like to be a dad and to have my own kids. Had someone been able to tell me about this new incredible phase, I would have been a lot less afraid of the pain that I was going to feel when I left my parents and my brother. This isn't to compare and say that this one's better than that one or that one was better than this one. All I'm saying is that I didn't realise how cool this would be, and that I wouldn't have had this had I not lost that.
It's like the Tetris game, and the unknown Tetris pieces. Some will be pleasant and some will be unpleasant but that's the point of the game and we're just going to have to see how it all turns out. One of the misconceptions that I encounter from time to time with people who are trying to get into mindfulness practices is that there's the assumption that, if we practise hard enough, we can figure out how to make life not hurt anymore. But the truth is that it's going to hurt from time to time. That's the nature of life, right? The first noble truth talks about how in life difficulties arise, but perhaps we don't have to be afraid of that pain any more. To me that's the key. That's the difference.
In that moment we experience a bit of freedom, a little bit of liberation from the fear that we've been living with, because we're not afraid of the pain. And that's my wish. That's my hope for myself, for my family and for you as we start a new year. May we come to see that change is inevitable, that all beginnings have endings, and that all endings lead to new beginnings. In this new year and with each new day, may we each start to see the interdependent nature of reality, the interdependent nature of ourselves with everything around us and may we each work diligently to be skilful about how we contribute to the infinite causes and conditions that are giving way, right now in the present moment, to untold beginnings that are in store in the future and that are still yet to be. And, with that, I want to wish you all a happy new year and to thank you, as always, for being a part of this journey with me.
Noah Rasheta is a Buddhist teacher, lay minister and author, as well as the host of the podcast Secular Buddhism. He teaches mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy online and in workshops all around the world. He studies, embodies and teaches the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy, attempting to integrate Buddhist teachings with modern science, humanism and humour. He lives in Kamas, Utah, with his wife and three kids. You can listen to the full episode here.