Just a few days ago, I was in a heated Twitter debate about how people who had animal companions but were not vegan were essentially in a master-slave relationship.
While some of my friends argued with me directly, some chose not to reply and instead resorted to subtweets and snarky, shady remarks. Those who did the latter did not contribute anything substantial to the debate, because contesting ideas directly, while it seems superficially uncomfortable, allows people to test ideas and hones our capacity to argue well.
A few days ago, my friend Nancy and I were talking about how we’re all adjusting to this new normal (a term used to exhaustion that it is already grating on my ears), as we carried our groceries back to our condos. Yes, we were lucky–alive and well, not yet driven to the brink of desperation, like those spilling out in the streets and being threatened to be shot down by the police.
But to be alive is not just the goal, I argued. We might as well be living in some weird fictional dystopian place…or North Korea. Being a hermit and being a solitary prisoner may seem similar superficially, but the difference lies in the element of choice.
Suffering, I thought–as I bit on the half-eaten mango that I had stored in the refrigerator yesterday, is inevitable. There was nothing new to this concept: Buddhism’s First Noble Truth discusses the dissatisfaction that arises from changing states–hence, suffering is but a discomfort from a present situation which isn’t exactly what you expect.
But what I was wondering about was whether suffering was diminished the earlier one accepted it.
A few years back, right after I graduated from college, I had to be confined because of depression.
In the facility, our days were regimented. We (the other patients and I) woke up at 6 in the morning, stretched for a bit, ate breakfast, did a morning activity that lasted for an hour or so, had lunch, then took a break. We had another activity in the afternoon, and then a quick snack, then a break before dinner. At 9 pm, they would turn off the lights.
During that period of confinement, I got to meet another patient, who was reading a book on Buddhism, which I ended up reading because I was bored with the routines. I remember being engrossed with the part about anattā, which is the Buddhist concept of non-self.
During my freshman year in high school, my older brother and I had to be sent off to a public high school in Quezon City after my parents incurred a huge debt because of a failed business. The financial loss meant that they could no longer afford to send us to the private school near our home in Las Piñas. My aunt convinced my mom that the high school near her place had better standards than the usual public schools, and so my mom decided that we would live with our aunt and our cousins so we could study there.
As a kid, I felt that it was all a game. I imagined how that year was going to be fun, and how I’d have interesting stories to share to my friends back home once I came back to my old school.
My new classmates saw me and my brother as a curiosity. I remember how they would ask me questions about my old school–why I had to uproot myself from that life in exchange for this strange one. I vaguely remember dodging some of those questions, but what I could recall was how I found it amusing that they would speak to me in English, as if they expected me to be beyond speaking in the vernacular.