“Suffering exists.” — Siddhartha Gautama lived circa 500 BCE in the plain of the Ganges, India.
Siddartha Gautama, known as the Budha, the one who is awakened from suffering, emphasised the existence of suffering and brought it into the light of human consciousness. His observation that suffering exists is the Buddhist’s bedrock of the religion built around his teachings.
Life & suffering — an all-inclusive trip.
No matter which tribe, family, nationality, skin colour, or body you were born into, suffering is part of the deal. No matter how much money or possessions you hold, suffering doesn’t skip the rich or the poor. Suffering is a process of maturity, self-learning, and realising our humanity’s being aspect.
Many faces to suffering
Suffering doesn’t have to be a significant loss or a deep depression. It can be a slight irritation or a disturbing thought that can affect our mood and health without being aware. All humans face the losses of loved ones at some point in life, and it can be very challenging for many people, especially when it comes too early or as a surprise. Enormous suffering can lead to a big awakening, but I intend to write on the everyday Sisyphus’s unaware states of suffering in this article. The daily suffering leads us to complain about life and become restless and unhappy.
The moment we are aware that we are suffering and admit it to ourselves is when we start our path towards conscious living with less suffering.
Out of comfort zone
Life tends to push us out of our comfort zone into challenging situations, but challenging doesn’t have to lead to suffering. On the contrary, many people who faced considerable challenges in life found their strength and realised their deeper selves.
My grandfather lost his family in Natzy-Germany, except his young sister and left for a newborn country in the middle east at 16. Such a significant loss can lead to deep suffering at such a young age, but I never saw a glimpse of it in him. He was my symbol of optimism and brightness. On the other hand, I know people who have everything that life can offer but still complain and suffer until the end of their lives.
All life forms face challenges, from the little plant in the garden to the most significant African elephant. The difference between us and other species is that we humans have developed a mind that points mainly at what is missing, emphasises negative commentaries, and transforms challenges into suffering.
The roots of suffering:
It’s hard to realise that we are all made of the same molecules and atoms, and therefore we are all connected on a deeper dimension. But the fact that we experience life in many forms of separation rather than unity brings fear, loneliness and suffering.
We experience separation from objects and other life forms on physical, mental and emotional levels. We are born into a body separate from other bodies, especially our mom. Nobody can tell exactly how we feel or what we see or think.
But the most subtle and profound level of suffering comes from the illusion of separation from the source, our deeper selves, and our souls. And many people are unaware that this is the deeper cause of their life’s unfulfillment and suffering.
The more I am identified with my beautiful, muscular body, the more likely I will suffer when it gets old or wick. The more I am identified with my thoughts. The more likely I will be at the mercy of my unconscious mind, which will affect my mental-emotional state and general well-being.
The more I identify with my name, job title, possessions, social status, religion or nationality, the more I will likely suffer when any of this is changed or gone. The stronger the identification, the stronger the ego, the stronger the ego, the bigger the suffering.
Resisting what is, trying to change or control situations, and navigating reality to your mind’s ideas or plans leads to suffering. It’s like having a constant war against life, attacking problems, concerns, people and ourselves daily. Control is opposing evolution, said Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in one of his talks in the early 70th. When we try to control life, we are out of its natural flow and in the grip of suffering.
Where awareness begins suffering subsides.
When we are aware that we are suffering, we can also be aware that we resist the present moment. When we stop resisting what is, a significant relief arises, and suffering is most likely reduced or even ends. When we allow ourselves to accept every moment we breathe, the war against life stops. When the fight against life stops, suffering can finally end, and peace arrives.
Peace is the death penalty for the ego.
If we have an overview of the last hundred years, the people who created the most devastating wars in the world are ego and power-driven. When awareness brings peace to any situation, the ego will fight for his life against it. When the ego fight, awareness witnesses quietly and still. When I notice the war the ego creates inside me when situations are challenging in my life, I can choose to bring my attention to the ego-driven nature of my egoic mind or to connect to the still point of my awareness.
Yes, for challenges, no for suffering.
I love challenges because they connect me to my deeper self. They are my best teachers of trust, surrender and gratitude. Challenges don’t have to be climbing Everest. It is enough to try to take your three kids to a park without losing ‘it’ or losing your awareness.
Theatre, my old love, dresses challenges in costumes, names, characters, dramatic or comic situations and puts a spotlight on them. The aesthetic distance between the viewer and the stage allows the observer to raise awareness of the possibilities of action and expand its’ emotional capacity.
In comedy, the leading character will suffer in such a way that will bring the audience to considerable laughter. In a drama, the main character will act in such a way that will inspire the audience with overcoming challenges. A good dramatic actor will play the action, while a good comic actor will play the action but emphasise the emotion. The emotions in a comedy are an expression of unawareness, profound unconsciousness, or stupidity, leading to the immense suffering of the main character and the great laughter of the audience.
It’s easy to notice suffering and unawareness in others, especially when emphasised on stage. It can bring us to tears of laughter to see the ridicule of others. But regarding our suffering, we can suffer for years in a not satisfying job or unconscious relationships and get used to the state of suffering in our routine, not realising that we, like a comic character in a play, are also suffering, not being aware of it. When we are aware that we are suffering, we can choose to surrender to the situation or act as the dramatic actor to change it or remove ourselves from it.
Recognising that we are suffering is the first step toward relief and a gateway to a life free of suffering. Once we acknowledge that we are suffering, it somehow loses its power on us. Eckhart Tolle names it conscious suffering, suffering with awareness. When I am aware that I am suffering, I try to open my eyes and see the situation. I try to separate the stories of my mind from the reality that is unfolding. Then I take a moment of pause that gives me more space from the situation. The more intense the case, the more I would try to intensify my presence awareness. The more room I have within, the more capacity I have. I can find creativity and an open heart even in challenges.
Surrendering — a key to ending suffering.
Six months ago, my five-year-old son started to call me every night and demanded that I will spend the rest of the night in his bed. At first, I thought it was just another phase that would be gone soon, but this turned out to be a long tiring one. After waking up every night several times, I realised that I better stay in his bed till the morning. I got through all stages of suffering, from denial to frustration and anger, and didn’t know what to do. Trying to change the reality didn’t work, and every talk or action regarding it just made this phase longer and more annoying.
At some point, I accepted it. I realised that it is not natural to sleep alone at this age. No animal puts pappies in a separate bed or room. And because our bed has been busy with the twin girls for the last year and a half, coming to our bed is not an option. He is afraid, and I am his best address of comfort and safety — the moment I accepted the situation, the suffering reduced. I still feel tired and sometimes frustrated, but it is not with such a strong identification. I even started to enjoy waking up with him in the morning, our relationship improved, and we are more connected and bonded than before.
Now, I am waiting that he will let me go and sleep the whole night through. Till then, I will try to allow myself to consciously find joy in the suffering and accept it till it changes.