“River Flows In You”, Yiruma, from the album “Yiruma Piano Collection” , (2001)
Looking out from my library windows over the windswept chilly world around me after a night of violent storm and a lot of rain. Trees down, roofs stripped of shingles, walls bare of siding, across a wide swath of our fair land.
Today I am ruminating about “suffering” and the source of same. It seems that suffering would be significantly reduced if only we focused more on improving ourselves instead of focusing on correcting the perceived faults of those around us.
Focusing on ourselves and our own faults we would not be so disturbed by the resistance of others to our opinions and desires. But, often something inside or something outside draws us along and we secretly seek ourselves in everything we do. And yet we are mostly oblivious to that.
We continue peacefully along when everything unfolds and is done according to OUR will and as WE judge, but if things turn out against OUR will, we move quickly, almost reflexively, to dissension, strife and unhappiness.
Differences of opinion and thought are the most common source of all dissension, strife, unhappiness and, frankly, suffering, arising out of disputes between family and friends and groups of otherwise sincere and well meaning folks.
Old habits of thought are difficult to put aside and much suffering arises from our clinging to old narratives, and old modes of reacting to perceived wrongs. No one is willing to go further than they see or are happy with. Any dissenting voice gives rise to “suffering”.
But, If one relies only on one’s own reason, thought, and work one seems unlikely to achieve peace, falling rather into self-justification and recrimination. Enlightenment and happiness appear further away than ever.
It seems, simply, that if one cannot put aside the “self”, then, inevitably, much suffering will be one’s lot in life. The fatal trap is “self”.
The death of “self” is freedom and the gate to peace, but Oh what a monster is “Self” and so difficult to slay, rather like performing surgery on oneself without benefit of anesthetic.
It proves insidiously difficult to tell the dragon of Self: “You Shall Not Pass!”
The commonest reaction to this suffering of dissent seems to be to get upset, excited and angry or annoyed and to fight against the suffering and the dissent, to assert the rightness of one’s own position and necessarily the wrongness of the positions of others. In other words, we focus on the suffering and struggle against it in any way we can.
The effect is that the dissent and the suffering dominates our every waking moment and that, added to self pity, increases our suffering hundreds of times. Fighting against the suffering makes it a LOT worse. What really makes suffering difficult to bear is our own exceeding impatience, our refusal to accept it. This irritation with dissent increases our suffering tremendously and robs us of our peace, and our energy, and of our ability to focus on and to get on with life.
Over a year ago I posted about embracing suffering as a way of overcoming suffering in the same way one can embrace fear as a way of overcoming the fear. I find, after a year of trying, that the techniques I learned for overcoming fear don’t work quite as well when applied to suffering.
It seems that it is relatively easy to identify the locus of fear, the germinating grain from which the fear arises within oneself and thus come to grips with fear as an aspect of self, and self control.
Suffering, however seems another beast entirely, less reflexively identifiable as originating within the self and more easily experienced as originating from without, the fault of something or someone outside our self, and therefore outside our self control.
I begin to believe that a more “granular” approach is required to “deal” with suffering, that in fact it is not the fact of suffering one has to deal with but rather how the self reacts to that suffering that is problematic.
This journey doesn’t get easier as one goes along. It is not that it gets harder exactly but rather that things always seem to be more complicated than one first assumed when first confronting the windmills.