In the first installment of this series, The Four Noble Truths and Daily Living: Sitting with Suffering, we discussed suffering in some detail. It was suggested that suffering is an intelligent instinct and should be embraced, rather than avoided at all costs. So, having embraced our suffering, what does it have to say?
The Second Noble Truth
The Origins of Suffering.
Seldom do we acknowledge and respect the voice of our true life. Many of us have even forgotten what that silent voice feels like. Instead of consenting to the experience of Being—taking the revelation of our biology through conscious participation as the path—we try to become what we think we should be. Creativity is replaced by monotony, and our lives—sexually, in the kitchen, in conversation, or our spiritual practice—begins to feel scripted and lifeless. We willfully step over the movement of our heart in order to collect all the missing pieces to the puzzle that is our life—the fancy-pants car, the dream job, the perfect partner, the right church, meditation group, guru, or yoga class, the yorkie-poo, and the 2.5 kids. We hunt down this stuff in the field of fads and having caught our prey, we cling to it with all our might.This is traditionally referred to as attachment.
Fear is embryonic attachment.
Who we think we should be is informed by our past. Who we shouldn’t be is inspired by those memories of heartache, embarrassment, disappointment, frustration, and perceived failure: that violent reminder to never speak up for fear of being wrong or the stifling inability to ask her out for fear of being rejected. Our ideas about who we shouldn’t be or our fears are associated with those instances in our past where our innate vulnerability was revealed. Often times, we do not know how to relate with such intense experiences, particularly early in life. So, we come to the conclusion that it should have never happened. This gives rise to fear or paranoia, and this fear saturates our life. We become paranoid. We are always on the lookout, constantly trying to avoid any discomfort. This is the role of expectations.
Who we should be or our expectations are set in motion by fear. Expectation is the expressivity or the affirmative version of fear. We are constantly making suggestions to the environment that detour circumstances that excite our fears. An ego-centric mind is a mind that seeks, through the fulfillment of its expectations, to acquire happiness by avoiding pain. This pattern of consciousness is born out of a profound sense of neediness.
Suffering, in its most basic form, is the fundamental belief in our own insufficiency. We see ourselves as broken or incomplete, because we are self conscious of our innate vulnerability. We know we are naked. But how: “Who told you that you were naked?” We are trapped in a paranoid cycle of self-consciousness that thinks about life, rather than participating directly in the Power of Living. In a self conscious mind, spaciousness or the freedom through which Reality finds expression is seen as a liability, and we spend most of our life trying to compensate for this apparent defect by reducing the present moment down to nothing more than those possibilities we stand to profit from or be destroyed by.
Becoming is the most basic of defense mechanisms. We are trying to protect ourselves by removing the possibility of being hurt with the distraction of profit. Project becoming or the birth and development of ego is a psychological movement, financed by paranoia, which seeks to inoculate our innate vulnerability by creating a lifeless conceptual overlay. To conceal our soft-spot—the body—this overlay is installed using patterns of physical tension. An ego is nothing more than the personification of this fear/expectation assembly.
We Were Born Vulnerable or Un-Sophisticated.
To be vulnerable is to be unprepared or unformed. Before the beginning and after the end there is primal energy. This energy is not one, nor two, but all. Known to us as awareness, this energy manifests in a variety of forms. At this stage, the emphasis is not on the form, but the pureness or the innate capacity to manifest as anything. This infinite potentiality is the truth body or the soul. Images, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile sensations, memories, and feelings–the entire spectrum of experience—emerge from this unformed ocean of awareness, like waves—not distinct or separate from the water in any way, but as a playful manifestation of the water or formlessness. These bursts of energy are the body of luminosity or direct experience. These manifestations, like a flash of lightning in the night sky, come from nowhere, light up the world, and return to nothingness. They are examples of awareness each with their own unique, individual pattern. These patterns are the body of form or individuality. These bodies represent a three dimensional process of evolution. This process of unfolding is our true Life. In short, who or what we truly are—the body—is a verb, rather than a noun.
Embedded in birth is death. Therefore, every living organism is biologically predisposed to vulnerability. At any moment we can be touched, for better or worse. Our hearts can be broken, or we may burst out in laughter. There is nothing we can do about it. We can retaliate, but we cannot save ourselves. We cannot hide, or completely cover our Self. The sharpness of a cool breeze can come across our skin without any warning. We could live another 60 years or expire in the next 60 seconds. We are powerless, and this powerlessness is basic openness. From an experiential point of view, it represents our awakened potential or Buddha-nature. This unprepared, unsophist-icated original mind that is fundamentally open and awake is the body. The body is the space that enables reality to come to fruition. On the other hand, the body is, from a self-conscious point of view, our blind spot—ego’s biggest liability.
What is an ego and where does it come from?
In order to create a safe and predictable world, we migrate out of the life of the body into the stale, pre-meditated world of thought. An ego is, physically speaking, a pattern of tension used to anesthetize or mute the body, so as not to interrupt the ego delusion. Psychologically speaking, the ego is a loop or a narrative, inside of a narrative, ad infinitum. This psycho-somatic complex, commonly referred to as the ego, is the aggregation of repressive patterns of behavior and inbred networks of thought.
In the beginning, the unity of experience is split into ‘that’ and ‘this.’ This initial split is created and maintained with physical tension, and is traditionally referred to as ignorance or original sin. Essentially, ‘that’ represents experience (body), and ‘this’ is the implied witness or self (thought). At first, the self is too vague to maintain itself. This is masterfully described in the story of the Garden of Eden when both Adam and Eve felt shame with their bodies. This shame initiates a process of self-confirmation (the acquisition of fig leaves) where step one is validated by step two, and two by three, so on and so on.
The second stage in the development of ego is relationship or interaction. Relationship, in this context, is a source of constant entertainment. Through relationship, self-conscious thought begins to project itself outward, onto “other.” It is a type of echo. If “I am experiencing that,” then I must be. So, the sense of self is reassured. However, reassured the self maybe, it is still overwhelmed with insecurity as it has no shape or definition.
Speed and time are relative concepts; they are relative to the point from which they are observed. The ego is such a point, an observer. Now that we have introduced an observer the speed of life seems overwhelming. When observed from the static vantage point of ego, our living situation appears to be a million different things happening to me.
The whole experience of life has become muddled and incomprehensible. So, in order to manage this speed, ego developed a system of self-centered perception that determines the value or worth of every interaction by determining whether the situation resonates more with our fears or expectations, and then responds accordingly by seducing those desirable elements and rejecting the frightening ones. This is stage three, impulse/perception. It is an extremely fast, well lubricated machine that utilizes preconceived ideas and knee-jerk reactions to manage its environment.
At this point the ego is well established, but still lacks any definition or direction. It is the fourth stage that seeks to assign personality to this otherwise shadowy figure. This identity-lessness is the hole in our soul that we are forever trying to fill, and it is through the medium of conceptualization that we try to fill it. Using co-dependent relationship, we try to milk concepts of their perceived value. In order to better understand this point, let’s explore it further by way of an example, the concept “boyfriend.”
Like any other concept, “boyfriend” is collection of expectations. These expectations could be anything. We may expect such a person to take us on dates, or say loving things to us, to open the door or give us our space. On the other hand, we may demand that such a person remain relatively detached or distant. This is all determined by our ideas about how things should and should not be. Regardless of the expectations subscribed to, the fact remains that recipient of the title “boyfriend” will either meet these expectations or the relationship will turn up sour, because he is not fulfilling his job description.
The interesting thing about this stage in ego’s development is that by defining other, ego’s role is also determined. Finally, the ego has acquired some kind of identity. By labeling other as “boyfriend,” ego assumes the role of “girlfriend.” It has assigned itself a role to play by conceptualizing other. As anyone who has ever been in a co-dependent relationship can attest, the ego has also burdened itself with the up-keep of a relationship, which it depends upon for its very identity. This leads to clingy-ness and paranoia, just as identifying with ones job may lead to obsession and power trips.
Steps one through three establish ego as a static observer, apart from or other than the body. Stage four gives shape or definition to that observer. These four stages are just that, stages. They are linear—with a beginning and end point. They are like a bunch of sticks with nothing to tie them together. There is no sense of continuity. Stage five sets these patterns of consciousness and tension to a loop. It is the aggregation of the first four stages, and constitutes the “big brother” feeling between our ears that is often associated with an ego-centric mind.
So, are we born into Sin, or is suffering a conditioned phenomena?
The installation of ego’s alternative reality is dependent upon the suppression of Reality. Literally, we are trapped in our head, and cannot think our way out. Understanding the origins of suffering outlines the path. Spirituality is not a natural phenomenon. It is man made. We made it when we invented suffering. Spirituality is the path that gives rise to suffering taken in reverse order. The practice of meditation is a vehicle that enables us to reconnect with the vitality of the body.
The gulf that separates the conscious mind from the unconscious life of the body is the source of suffering. It is the void or the insatiable hole in our soul that we have been trying to fill with the sense of social significance, entertainment, and validation milked out of co-dependent relationships with friends, family, work, and/or lovers for as long as we can remember.
We are biologically predisposed to pain. The expectation of avoiding pain, anesthetizes the immediacy of direct experience, which leaves us feeling lifeless and empty. This pervasive sense of discontentment, coupled with the habit of thought that intellectualizes experience, establishes suffering as a defining characteristic of human life. But suffering is a contrived experience. Therefore, suffering is workable. We will explore this possibility in the next article in this series, The Possibility of Freedom.
This is part one of a four part series. If you would like to be notified when the next three chapters are published, please click here.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta