Friday, May 13, 2011
The Path of Pain and Suffering
Pain: Our Greatest Teacher
When I write about pain, I'm usually being very specific towards the mind. Typically, pain and suffering are what the mind does to entrap itself and to play out bad scenarios over and over again. This can be playing out a difficult moment in life--like when you lost a loved one, a job, or a relationship. This can also be incessant worry about the future. It becomes an on-going recording that tells us constantly that we're not safe and either will never be safe or only if we do such and such. Subsequently, we become reactive to our lives. We always look for what feels safe or what is a way out of pain. It becomes a big avoidance tendency in a lot of people, which manifests in lots of ways from closed hearts to drug use to working all the time. Although, some people use suffering as an inspiration and go right at it, but then, these people end up feeling like they're constantly fighting for their lives all the time.
Pain, as our greatest teacher, tells us when something is wrong. If you're getting sick a lot, your body is telling you that something is wrong. If you're emotionally upset a lot, your heart is telling you something is wrong. It's interesting what happens to you when you begin to look at your pain in life as an ally. Some people go so far as to take a traumatic event and turn it into a catalyst for their life's purpose or work. I'm thinking of Ishmael Beah's book A Long Way Gone as I write this. He was a child soldier in Africa--impressed into war, wired up on all kinds of drugs, and sent out to commit murder and atrocity. His story is about how he has healed from it, and it is a message of hope that other child-soldiers can be healed. Truly, what he's become through using the pain in his life is incredible.
When Pain Is No Longer Necessary
But the greater part of pain for most people in Western Society lives between the ears. It's in the constant chatter of the mind trying to control our lives with dictates of do this or do that, this is right or this is wrong. We suffer endlessly from these recorded messages that by and large have nothing to do with the present moment. But the philosophy of "No pain, no gain" is widespread in our culture. So we've also been deeply trained to accept that suffering is not only okay, but it's the way to get our fulfillment.
Those of you who read my blog regularly can already see the problems here. One is seeking fulfillment outside of yourself, and of course, the other is that you have to hurt to get what you want. Both of those are false. Yet even as people come to the spiritual path because of deep pain or lack of fulfillment in the material world, they take with them this idea that they have to suffer or earn their way on the spiritual path. Some people think they need to meditate for countless hours, journal endlessly, or practice a spiritual practice for years to achieve something. What in the world do you think you're going to achieve? The truth of your life is that you have everything you could ever need right here in this moment. Breathe. Breathe in this moment. You won't need anything else.
Spiritual Awakening and Your Next Step in Life
One of the things that I didn't fully realize and that I offer to you is that when you wake up, you're ready for the next step. You don't have to suffer or burn out old karma to do the purpose that you're here to do. When you awaken, you're already ready. Just let go of that need to earn anything or be awarded anything. No one can give you your purpose or tell you who you are. You already know all that. Now, I do think a lot of different tools like meditation are very helpful, but not in the space of self-work. They're important in the space of self-care, helping you to stay connected. Because, despite all of our best efforts, we can all get a little disconnected from time to time even after we wake up. So, we learn to stop and breathe again. Come back to this moment. Even as you're reading this, stop and breathe. Come back to this moment.
Suffering Never Cured Suffering
Just as the Martin Luther King, JR quote states that "hate cannot drive out hate," suffering cannot lead you to awakening. Long arduous vision quests or endless meditation retreats that make your knees ache aren't taking you anyway. If anything, they may be taking you away from the truth. But I'm not telling you to not do those things. To me they serve a sacred purpose of making you suffer until such time as you let go. And then you won't need them anymore.
I quoted on my Facebook page Zen master Daikaku who said that a meditation practice is unnecessary “if you know the fundamental reality." After that, meditate if you like to. It's more about preference, and as I said, we all get disconnected once and awhile; we get caught up again by the dream and illusion constantly spinning around us. That's okay, but meditation won't get you anything. In all honesty, it wasn't getting you anything before.
People and Their Pain
As Eckhart Tolle says, no one will take away your pain. You can have it as long as you want. I've seen plenty of people in my life holding on to pain and not reaching out for help even when they know it's right in front of them. That's okay. Their pain will continue to teach them about suffering. Their suffering won't cure their pain or stop it. If you have to go down the wrong road just to be sure that it's still the wrong road (dating the same type of jerk hoping for a different outcome to the relationship), then that road is more than open to you. This is the point when someone's ego runs in with a higher truth and says, but "there are no wrong roads, right?" Absolutely. But you have to be careful with what you're saying because that makes the Holocaust okay. I am always dramatic with these statements because higher truth encompasses everything.
I also believe that everyone knows their own truth, so you know when you're dating the wrong type of guy or gal again. You do. And no one else can know this for you. I certainly don't. I don't personally know even a fraction of the people who read this blog. How could I? But you know when you're doing something that isn't in your truth. You know when you're making yourself suffer, and as I said the greatest tool anyone has on this path is to just let go. When you do that, the suffering can go away. There will still be hard moments, difficult times, and days when your teeth ache from grief. But they will pass. You can let those difficulties pass, and when you do, you will be free of suffering and a whole new world will unfold before your eyes.