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Excerpted from Being Black by Angel Kyodo Williams. Copyright 2000 by Angel Kyodo Williams. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"The only thing we have to do is to see that the skills are present in ourselves and then sharpen them up with practice."

  Angel Kyodo WilliamsBeing Black, Part 3

The second and more important reason that we never find a quick fix is because we don't need it. There is nothing to fix. We already have the skills we need to accomplish everything we truly want, to access everything we really need. The only thing we have to do is to see that the skills are present in ourselves and then sharpen them up with practice so we can use them effortlessly.

The closest thing we can get to a cheat-sheet might be some guidelines and pointers that help us look in the right direction. So a map, with a key, would be very helpful. In fact, such a map is available for us already.

Some 2,500 years ago, a warrior-prince who felt the same sense of unease left his comfortable, wealthy life, his palace and his clan behind him. He set out on a journey searching for the essential truth about life. He wanted to know why old age, sickness, and death existed; why life seemed plagued with misery. After a lot of effort, this prince who would become known as the Buddha, meaning "the awakened one" or "one that has been enlightened," saw clearly the truth about life. From that point on, he made it his life's work to create a map that others could use.

He broke his directions down to Four Simple Truths that go something like this:

1. Life is uncomfortable.

At first, this simple truth seems so simple that there is no revelation in it at all. And really, that is exactly the case. As a part of our ongoing life experience, we are prone to discomfort.

There are the mundane, everyday discomforts: This apartment is too hot. Outside is too cold. The train is too crowded. My parents make me crazy. My kids are too grown. My lover is cheating. I hate my job, I hate my boss, I hate doing dishes, and will somebody please turn that hip-hop off. There is a constant stream of small distractions that plague us like flies buzzing in our ears.

Physical pain is part of this discomfort as well. The aches and pains of our own bodies come from many different sources. When we are not careful, we cut ourselves with a knife or the edge of a piece of paper. We lift something that is too heavy and our backs suffer. We overdo it at the gym and end up sore the next day. As we get older, parts of our body that were unprovoked begin to nag at us. Our knees get stiff and we can't get up as fast as we used to. Older still, our bodies begin to seem no longer our own. We cannot walk as fast or run as far. Stairs suddenly seem twice as long. As with any complex machinery, especially if we have not taken good care of our bodies, or have just outright abused them, they will begin to fail us.

There are also the discomforts of illness and disease. We may suffer from stress and get ulcers. We may abuse alcohol or drugs that damage our bodies inside and out. Our lungs may become blackened from excess cigarettes, cigars, or marijuana. And while the rest of the country is becoming more educated about AIDS, black people and black women in particular have the fastest growing number of cases. We lose our minds to Alzheimer's and our bodies to cancers. Suffering and discomfort seem to be everywhere and without end.

If that isn't enough, our lives are punctuated by crises that cause us pain. We lose the job we thought we hated but now, unemployed, our dilemma is greater than before. The predicament of a cousin in jail or a sister fleeing an abusive partner brings home to us how profoundly we can all be affected by family turmoil. As so many of us know firsthand, heartbreak can feel just like it sounds, bringing with it large doses of pain that are not always easy to let go of. Finally, there are the deaths of our loved ones, bringing with them grief and sadness that seem too much to bear.

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