Lets talk about what’s present, here, for everyone. To be human means to feel pain. Being born brings physical pain, as does dying. Losing a loved one brings a whirlwind of emotional pain and often a feeling of physical pain in the heart space. Illness or a damaged body brings pain. This is what it is to be human. Most pain passes, but not all. Some of us have bodies with conditions which bring frequent or recurring pains.
Pain we can all recognise. So what is suffering? And in what way is it different to pain? Suffering is unnecessary pain. It is unnecessary pain which we create ourselves and inflict on ourselves. Unnecessary pain which arises from a misunderstanding we have. What do I mean by this? Let's start by considering our thoughts.
It has liberated me in realising that our thoughts are not ours, are not personal, and are best completely ignored and left alone. We have inside us, all the time, a deep and direct knowing which guides us in what to do, say, move, and so on. Sometimes the direction that this direct knowing gives us is very clear and easy to follow. Other times, many times in fact, it can’t be heard, seem or felt because of the cloud of thoughts that we pay attention to instead and which cloud out our direct knowing. These thoughts, these fumes, are like a waste by-product from simply being alive. It includes all of our thoughts, in whatever way we recognise them. They aren’t ours. They aren’t personal, and can be completely ignored as unnecessary.
We are trained into focusing on thoughts rather than our direct knowing, and in doing so we create all of our suffering. This suffering is different to the pain I described before. It derives from an unconscious primary action we take in every moment which is to separate ourselves from the people or things we experience, and either be attracted to them (food when we are hungry, a warm jumper when we are cold) or to want to avoid them (dangerous people or places). So far all sensible, as this basic process is what has kept us alive for millions of years. It is our basic survival instinct. Where this goes wrong is our thoughts overlay themselves onto this basic survival process. We experience this as desire. This desire is seen as the experience of someone or something you need to have, or need to remove, in order to be OK. For example, I will be OK when I fit in with my friends. Until that happens I am not OK and I am experiencing suffering when I notice this. My thoughts of not fitting in, of not being OK, cause my body to constrict as anxiety, for example, which feels unpleasant. A constricted body feeds more of the ‘I’m not OK’ thoughts, which again feeds the constricted body. In reality, we are, in most circumstances, in a particular moment in time, completely OK. We are breathing, warm, fed, clothed and, absent the thoughts running through us and the associated constricted body, really quite alright.
So, the action to take is first of all, to notice that this is what is happening. Notice how this pattern occurs uniquely in you, and acknowledge that this is OK. It is something that humans do which creates suffering and which is unnecessary. More accurately, see this habit as akin to an evolutionary development in humanity which has gone a little astray, and see that we are learning now to recognise this for what it is, which is quite a spectacular new evolutionary move we are making together.
In seeing, and loving, this pattern, we can begin to create space between the unconscious attraction or aversion, and the thoughts and thought-based actions that follow. We can being to sit in the sensations that arise in us reflectively, more and more often. This begins to release the power that thought can carry and in doing so begins to self-liberate us from our self inflicted suffering, albeit perhaps for only a moment.
This is the practice. To notice the attraction or aversion and the subsequent thought-based construction, and to leave it alone. The thoughts quieten and then the deep knowing you have inside starts to become easier to hear. And this then becomes the direction for your life.