There is a difference between pain and suffering.
All suffering is just the denial of reality. Our minds create an image of what we think life should be like and when our perceptions don’t match reality, we suffer.
We do this because our ego fears the unknown of the present moment; it feels much safer creating a fantasy reality.
This type of imagination is fear-based, not present-moment based, like a child’s. When children imagine, they are lost in the present, inspired by each moment and seeing it for its deeper beauty. Suffering could also be defined as the intense misuse of imagination—when we see realty worse than it is, rather than as it is, or better than it is.
So what do we do to overcome suffering when it occurs? The answer—like any good answer—is simple and sweet; become present. When we’re lost in the illusion of suffering it can be difficult to get present.
Here are a few mantras that Thich Nhat Hanh advises us to consider when we find ourselves or loved ones suffering:
1. “Darling, I am here for you.”
When we love someone, the best thing we can offer is our presence. How can we love if we are not there? When a beloved is suffering, we notice that somewhere in us we are also suffering. This is because the other is a mirror. By seeing ourselves in another, we too become more present. In our true presence we are no longer preoccupied with the past or future where suffering occurs. In this way we become a mirror for them and welcome them to join us in the beauty of the present.
2. “Darling, I know you are there.”
The one suffering is not us; it is our ego, our identities. Underneath all suffering is our true self simply witnessing it, unaffected. Seeing this silent observer, still beautiful, still whole, we use our mindfulness to help our beloved bloom like a flower. By being truly “there” with another, we acknowledge another for who they truly are.
3. “Darling, I know you’re suffering.”
Before we do something to help another, by simply becoming present with them they are greatly helped. So often, our suffering is just a cry for love. By acknowledging another’s suffering, in essence, we are letting them know they are much more than merely suffering. That’s not to say action won’t need to be taken, but by first acknowledging another’s suffering, we give them the greatest relief of all: nourishing love.
4. “Darling, I am suffering, can you help me?”
In the toughest cases—when we ourselves suffer—we, too, can find relief with compassion. If we can bring ourselves to be helped, we will notice the ego completely falls away. All suffering is born from the ego. It’s easy to blame reality, society and even others for our suffering and believe they are the cause. However, our perceptions are the cause. It’s too easy to isolate ourselves, punish ourselves and the other, when what brings relief is compassion for ourselves. We help ourselves by becoming our own nurturing lovers and by asking for help.
Suffering simply doesn’t have to be. We can choose to move in the direction of fear, or we can move in the direction of love. In the present, there is only infinite love.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Nicholas Kowalski
Editorial Assistant: Rebecca Lynch / Editor: Renee Picard
Photo: Dyanna at Flickr