Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
What is suffering? Why do we suffer? What are the causes of suffering?
These questions have perplexed layman and philosopher alike for centuries.
The faithful Christian would say that suffering exists in the world because evil exists in the hearts of men. Those who cause suffering are indeed suffering the most. Moreover, suffering can bring us into a closer relationship with God. Hedonists would say that suffering is simply the opposite of pleasure and that, one should seek to avoid it by seeking pleasure. The Stoic would suggest that one should be indifferent to both pain and pleasure by seeking reason and logic.
Does suffering build character? Does it break character? I suppose that depends on the character. A pessimist would argue that the fundamental nature of the world is pain; and that it’s entirely dependent upon the individual’s relationship to that pain as to whether it will inspire growth.
I know that the suffering brought on by hunger, and thirst or intractable pain are of a wholly different variety – they pertain to the body’s fundamental needs and are thus, physical, in nature. Philosophy can’t ease that suffering unless one is purposefully engaged in them i.e. fasting or self mortification. In those cases, only the practitioner can determine if it is of any benefit.
Emotional/Mental Suffering; however, is of a completely different ilk and it can arise from a variety of causes each of which can be distilled down into one source: Desire
Desire is a many headed beast: we desire for our loved ones, love and relationship, sex, fast cars, toys, beautiful homes, and wealth. We desire for connection i.e. friends. We desire pleasure in all its forms, and sometimes we desire violence (it’s ok to admit you’ve had violent thoughts.)
Desire is the root of all suffering. – The Buddha, Second Noble Truth
So then, how do we avoid suffering?
Here’s the practical answer:
- We must accept that we do not have those things which we desire.
- We must stop resisting the absence of them in our lives.
- We must joyfully accept and appreciate that which we do have.
- We must let go of our desire or work toward fulfilling them.
These are our options and any 70 year old will tell you the truth of it. But sometimes it seems so difficult. Why is that?
It’s because we become attached to those things and in our attachment to them we become identified with them. As we become identified with them we move further and further away from the core of who we truly are. Absence of self I.E. desire for what exists outside of ourselves causes us emotional/mental suffering.
So, how do we change that?
Mindfulness is an excellent start.
When desire arises, we tend to chase it down rabbit holes. I discussed these rabbit holes in a previous posting about Fear, which strangely enough, is also a form of desire/attachment.
We daydream about what our lives would be like if these desires were present in our lives and then we “suffer” because they’re absent.
Mindfulness teaches us to become wholly and immediately present in the NOW and through that presence we can focus on sincere gratitude for all that we do have.
Mindfulness quiets the mind so that the rabbits are no longer appealing to us which, in turn, helps prevent us from chasing tomorrow’s rabbits too.
Mindfulness gives you the space to let go of all the emotions associated with your perceived lack of whatever it is you desire. This invites peace and, ironically, peace is what allows us to attract the things that we do want.
Mindfulness also shows us that everything we need is already within us.
When we get caught up in the game we forget that we never had to play it in the first place. Mindfulness shows us what life can be like without the game.
Om Baby Om,
[Low-Kah Sah-Mah-Stah Soo-Key-No Bha-Van-Too]
May all beings everywhere be released from suffering and may my own life contribute to the happiness and freedom of all beings everywhere.