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According the First Noble Truth, the first step in discovering truth and relieving our own and anyone else’s suffering is to acknowledge the pain and suffering that are present in our lives. Sometimes people assume that Buddhism is a pessimistic sort of tradition because of this teaching. In fact, however, recognizing that pain is simply part of being alive can be a relief. It is not a sign that we have done something wrong, stupid, or shameful. Yet I often catch myself and hear others making just that assumption—that pain and suffering are signs of some personal defect.

If I tell one friend that I have a cold, for instance, she is likely to say, “Well, how did that happen? Were you out without your hat in the cold?” Even more distressing is the view we all have heard at one time or another, which blames sufferers of serious diseases for having them: “Oh, yes, cancer is a sign of unexpressed grief.” Of course, as modern medical research is increasingly showing us, the mind and the body are deeply interconnected, and our attitudes, emotions, and behaviors do affect our health. Yet, even if we were able to do “everything right,” if we live long enough, we will not escape old age, sickness, and death.

— The Courage to be Present by Karen Kissel Wegela, page 14

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