Suffering brings people to spiritual practice.
We might pick up a book about spirituality because we are curious or looking for a good read, but we don’t commit ourselves to the painstaking work of transformation unless we want to change. And the motivation to change is rooted in suffering.
The word “suffering” sounds generic and impersonal, but the experience of suffering is anything but.
Suffering manifests in our lives. Suffering is our discontentment, fear, anger, jealousy, depression and stress. These feelings arise within the context of our relationships and careers, in which we have some of the most deeply personal experiences of our lives.
I’ve recently noticed the popularity of Astrology and other forms of spiritual bypassing.
On the spiritual path, there are no shortcuts. Suffering arises as a result of causes and conditions, and we must address those causes and conditions if we want to be free of suffering. We can’t wait for the planets to align or for a flattering horoscope. We have to work with our mind.
As modern people, we often feel stuck between our ears. We don’t experience the world as it is. Rather, we think about it. This cuts us off from the vitality of the present moment. We feel disembodied, discontented, lifeless, which gives rise to insecurity.
Kleshas are emotionally charged thoughts. They aren’t innocent thoughts like, “Why are donuts round?” or “I wonder why turtles are green?” They are thoughts that push our buttons like, “I wonder if she likes me?” or “Do I look fat in this dress?”
Kleshas prey on our insecurities: trigger our fears and send our mind into a frenzy. We start thinking about our own thoughts. “I wonder if she likes me,” we think casually. “I’ll give her a call.” No answer. Half-an-hour goes by; we check our phone a half dozen times. No response. Another hour goes by, “Maybe she didn’t notice I called; I’ll call her back.” No answer. “She’s probably with Michael. It’s obvious she likes Michael. That son of a b*tch. Every time I like a girl, he does this. To hell with the both of them!”
The first thought pushes our button, triggering an inbred cycle of thought. The second thought, thinks about the first thought; the third about the second. And we carry on in this way until we are five, ten, twenty thoughts removed from the present moment. Each successive thought pushes the insecurity button again. We are like a caged rat in a scientific experiment, except we aren’t getting cocaine; we’re getting fear and anger—a big ole helpin’ of adrenaline.
So our thoughts begin racing. As our thoughts gain momentum, much like a ceiling fan, they no longer look like individual blades spinning in space. They look like a solid disk. We begin to mistake the story between our ears for reality. We start hallucinating. And to make matters worse, we make decisions based on this hallucination.
We pick up our phone and shoot her a text message saying, “I don’t deserve this. You should at least call me back or tell me you’re not interested.” Then we see her response: “WTF?! What are you talking about? I’m visiting my mom this weekend and can’t talk right now. Psycho much?” Suddenly our thought bubble is popped and we are plunged from our dream world back into reality. We feel lathered in embarrassment, which pushes our buttons, cuing up the same insecure thought process.
It is a vicious cycle.
A similar process occurs when we go to sleep. We dream up all kinds of fantastic scenarios. We go on magical quests, great adventures or have nightmares about being attacked by lions or crocodiles. However, when we wake up in the morning, we know they were just dreams. In our dream, the lion is a mirage or a hallucination. Interestingly enough, in dreams, so are we. The body running from the lion is not our “real body.” Just like the lion, it was a mental construct. And so is the act of running. Subject, object, and verb—the whole scenario—are a hallucination.
So it is with daydreaming or the stressful narrative where many of us feel stuck.
This does not mean that nothing is real. There is a dream-like image that we hold over our experience. This is what we think about the world. It is our commentary on reality. Often times, we mistake what we think about the world for the world itself. And when we do, we cut ourselves off from the basic awareness of the body and migrate up into the head where we live as a false-self. Any life organized around a false-self is bound to be insecure. The ego is our primary button.
When we observe our mind, we see that the immediacy of our true life is veiled by a dream-like overlay. This conceptual veneer is comprised of various thoughts. The mind thinks about its own thoughts until that conceptual cloud becomes so dense that the light of basic awareness no longer breaks through.
A meditation practice enables us to break through this cloud by slowing down our thoughts.
We bring our awareness to the breath, which is anchored in the present moment. When we notice our mind drifting off, we return to the present moment by reconnecting with the experience of the breath. We use the breath to break the cycle of thinking about our own thoughts. As a result, the mind settles. Thought no longer looks like a solid disk. We see the gap between each propeller. The light of basic awareness shines through that gap.
This is called a spiritual experience. And such experiences are transformative. If we do this every day, we can actually unlearn this habit of consciousness.
Everyone wants to be happy. No one wants to suffer.
But suffering is inextricably connected to the inner-workings of our mind. Freedom from suffering is contingent upon our willingness to work with our habits of thought and behavior. There is no short-cut or secret that will alleviate our suffering.
A good horoscope reading will not save us from discontentment, fear, anger, jealousy, depression or stress. Suffering has nothing to do with the alignment of the planets. It has to do with the alignment of our mind. A meditation practice places the mind at ease.
Author: Benjamin Riggs
Image: flickr/Stephen Brace
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock