Let’s imagine there is universal energy all around that in its natural unaltered state is spacious, loving and supportive of life and a sense of joyousness.
Then lets imagine that, through our lack of attention and habitual patterns, it is possible to compress this energy so that we experience it as something dark, dense and gooey like tar.
In this compressed state the energy drags us down. We get stuck in it as we struggle against it, like Brer Rabbit in his meeting with the tar baby. This is suffering, what Buddhists call dukkha.
How did we create the sticky tar of our suffering? That certainly wasn’t our intention. Or was it? It’s hard to know what our true intentions are without really paying attention to our experience. When we really are paying attention we might see that we hold some pretty dukkha-prone intentions.
Like the idea that we have to be perfect. Perfection as an intention is laden with dukkha. The tar is very thick when we get caught up in comparing ourselves to some ideal that is unattainable, not just by us, but by anyone.
Another dukkha-prone intention is our desire to receive approval from others. This intention throws us completely off-balance as we try to imagine what someone else wants from us, then from that flawed imagining, trying to modify ourselves to suit.
Another would be the intention to achieve great wealth, fame or success, in whatever form that takes for us. Goal setting where the goal post is a bigger presence in our lives than what is happening in this moment creates dukkha — a sticky place of disappointment, guilt over unskillful actions done in pursuit of our goal, and perpetual fantasizing.
Or the intention to prove something to the world or to someone who once told us we could not achieve something. Perhaps that person is long gone but we still are stuck in the dukkha of reactivity.
There are many more unexamined intentions that could be marketed as Deluxe Dukkha Delivery Systems because they are so effective at transporting us directly into deep sticky dense suffering.
Remember the story of Brer Rabbit, when Brer Fox tried to catch him by creating an alluring trap in the form of a tar baby? This tar baby was just some sticks covered in pitch and studded with gewgaws, all gussied up to appeal to Brer Rabbit’s sociable nature. And sure enough when Brer Rabbit came upon the tar baby, he tried to make civil conversation with her, and the tar baby didn’t say anything, which Brer Rabbit thought was very rude indeed. But he was captivated by this alluring creature, so he tried a different line. Still no response. Well, clearly this gal was stuck up and needed a little lesson. With one paw and then the other, Brer Rabbit found himself all entangled with the tar baby. The more he reacted, using first one foot and then the other, the more entangled he got, until he was truly stuck.
And this is how we are in our lives with our dukkha. Perhaps there’s a person in our lives who brings out a lot of reactivity in us, and becomes our tar baby. We react, then we struggle to get free of all the dukkha that comes up around our reaction. But it doesn’t have to be a person, this tar baby. It’s any situation, cause or condition to which we automatically respond with a set pattern of thoughts, emotions and behaviors that drag us deep into the tar of our dukkha.
How did Brer Rabbit get free of the tar baby? He tricked old Brer Fox. Because Brer Fox was not quite so clever a fellow as Brer Rabbit. After all, Brer Fox had Brer Rabbit, he had him good! And he planned to cook him up and eat him.
But Brer Rabbit begged and begged him. “Please Brer Fox, you can boil me in oil, hang me or drown me, but please don’t throw me in that there briar patch.”
Brer Fox had some dukkha issues too. Even though he had his meal in hand, his desire to make Brer Rabbit suffer was greater than his hunger. So he pulled the rabbit off the tar baby and flung him into the briar patch. Once there, Brer Rabbit laughed and called out, ‘Born ‘n’ bred in a briar-patch, Brer Fox– born ‘n’ bred in a briar-patch!’ as he used some handy briars to pick off the remaining pitch from his fur and went on his merry way.
Born and bred in the briar patch. Brer Rabbit freed himself from his tar baby dukkha dilemma by returning to his source, the place where he felt most comfortable in all the world.
So what is our briar patch? It’s the place in ourselves where we feel most at home. Where we don’t have to defend ourselves or struggle. It’s ourselves fully relaxed in this moment, accepting ourselves as we are and this situation as it is in this moment, even if it is painful or challenging. This is the place where we are grounded, where the energy is spacious, joyous and supportive. It is a place of conscious awareness, of clear seeing and deep pure intention.
This is the place we come to know through sitting in meditation, through walking in nature in silence, through noticing moments of simple contentment in our lives – watching a small child at play, sitting at a dinner table with dear friends and good conversation – being fully present for the experience.
For most of us these moments are fleeting. We enjoy them but then can’t help but wish they would stay longer, or that we would make ourselves available to them more often, and suddenly we’ve created a little tar baby to tangle with.
At these times maybe we can remember Brer Rabbit and get ourselves back to our briar patch – back to noticing the rising and falling of our breath, the sensations in our body, and the light in our surroundings. Because we were born if not bred for this. We’re breeding ourselves for it now!