Pain is not the same as suffering. Left to itself, the body discharges pain spontaneously, letting go of it the moment that the underlying cause is healed. Suffering is pain that we hold on to. It comes from the mind’s mysterious instinct to believe that pain is good, or that it cannot be escaped, or that the person deserves it.
Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets:
Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life
In 1536, [John] Calvin published Institutes of the Christian Religion; it… laid out the foundations [that] came to be known as Calvinism,[the first of which states]: Total depravity: all people are born sinful.
from The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor
When it seems that in our life, suffering cannot be avoided, we must somehow make sense of it. Why am I suffering? My mind, my ego, is more than happy to give me an almost unlimited number of reasons why. And if I am constrained to seeing myself as this ego-identity, then suffering will be an unavoidable part of my experience.
What is suffering? The word itself comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to bear.’ Suffering is about enduring, tolerating, bearing the weight of all that it means to be human.
As this ego self, what I am is a mass of sensation and feeling, an agglomeration of history and memory, opinions and ideas, likes and dislikes; and all of the thoughts I have about these constituent parts, the stories I tell myself about why I feel this way, why I am this way, what you did wrong, what I did wrong, what my parents did wrong.
All of which pulls me into speculation–this endless, pointless thinking about the past and the future–which always and only causes suffering. When I leave present moment awareness, I cut myself off from life. I starve myself of the life force. I feel progressively worse and worse, suffering more and more, and coming up with even more ideas of ‘why.’
Identified as the ego and experiencing the suffering it entails, I will be constrained to see the world as black and white. Good and bad, right and wrong. This is what the ego does: it discerns and discriminates. It separates. As the ego, the only way I am able to understand suffering is to see darkness and sin as its cause, both in myself and in the world. This makes for a very uncomfortable walk through life, always having to be on guard against the evil that lurks just under the surface. Of me, of you, of everything.
As meditators, we have the experience twice each day of being something other than all of this. We have the experience of transcending thought, transcending feeling, transcending our physical existence, and of feeling ourselves, at least to some degree, as at-one-with something greater than our individuality.
When we truly begin to know this something greater–let’s call it nature–we can begin to see that we are so much more than the bundle of ego and intellect. And we can begin to have a point of view on the world and the people in it that is a bit more forgiving than those expressed above.
Nature is all that there is. I am at one with this thing that is all there is. Nature is involved only and ever with evolution. The experience of evolution is the experience of bliss. I am nature. I am always and only evolving. My true nature is bliss. Anything else I may be experiencing is simply a mistake on my part and can change in a moment.
Today I will choose to see my world–and myself–as nature, and I will choose to see nature as nature sees itself: as good, whole, pure and perfect.
Tree, Audubon Park, New Orleans, LA
All original material copyright © 2018 Jeff Kober