A link from the past returned to me tonight and got me to thinking (and you know what that means). The link is to a fairly popularized treatment of the ancient Pali word “dukkha“.
As the link demonstrates, the word shares an ineffable quality as is found in words like the Portuguese “saudade” and the Welsh “hiraeth“; I suspect the relationship between these last two is stronger with the Pali concept than not, particularly in that each carries a connotation of discontent and eternal disenchantment with the world and experience “as it is”.
This state of discontent is directly traceable to the concept of “dukkha”, even as the Portuguese and Welsh words have decidedly nationalistic and cultural context.
So many people have tried to boxed these concepts in a single word that I doubt I can do it better (or more devotedly). But it occurs to me that each of these words have, at the foundation, a sense of that feeling of pain over the impermanence of it all. Each of them, in their own way, connote “looking backward” or perhaps more accurately “looking for what is not”.
I think the thing that makes this concept so hard to define concisely is that definitions rely upon criteria by which to validate “what is” and, as we know from science, you can not demonstrate a negative; so, a word or words intended to define the absence of [X] could not possibly encompass the fullness of the sense for very similar reasons, could it?
Of course, for those who (like me) play with words, the above is like a gauntlet thrown in the face. Pride? Arrogance? Need? (Does it matter, really?)
I think my best example of encompassing all three is a memory of a certain friendship long since undone. I find it is a squared thing; wistfulness for what was and is no more, wishfulness for what cannot be due to how it unfolded, regret for being unable to change that past so it might have unfolded differently, and the melancholy of fully believing, feeling, and thinking that such a golden, perfect opportunity for deep relation will not be known again in this life.
Of course, realistically, “what was” was, at best, tumultuous; “what cannot be” is merely the torment of imagination; the regret is a waste of time and energy, and the melancholy is a curious blend of self-flagellation and atonement… I hold to it all simply because it is all that remains, even if “all that remains” is something that remains only in my mind. Also, to ensure against repeating the mistakes of the past; in this, it helps, albeit at the expense of a continuous, weighty tug upon mind and heart.
I re-read what just flew off my fingers and think to myself, “If that isn’t an utterly apt definition of dukkha, saudade, and hiraeth, well, I suppose “they” are all correct and it really is undefinable.
But… it’s all I’ve got, so it will have to do.
Dukkha, like the rain
Falls into each of our lives
It is just moisture