A SHORT NOTE ON SUFFERING
We try to escape from suffering, without asking ourselves what the word ‘suffering’ really means.
For example: Extreme fear – is it suffering? Well, when you’re about to jump out of a plane for a skydive, extreme fear may arise – but it’s part of the excitement, it’s part of the experience, it’s just there. The fear is there – and then you jump. Where is the suffering? There can be fear, even extreme fear, and no suffering, can’t there?
The following week, you’re sitting at home, sitting on your sofa – and extreme fear arises. It’s the same fear, but in a different context. It feels like it shouldn’t be there. It lingers. You try and get rid of it but it won’t go away. You try and distract yourself from it, but it remains. You really don’t want it to be there – it’s uncomfortable! So you call up a friend and say ‘I’m suffering with fear’. You ask for help. You want a way out. It feels like the fear is happening ‘to’ you. It feels like some strange, alien force that has ‘overtaken’ you.
What has happened? It’s clear that something has identified with fear. Something has taken ownership of fear. Something says “this is my fear – I am afraid.” And then something has begun to seek the absence of fear. The fear has become a problem. The fear has turned into a problem – and a problem needs a solution. This is the very definition of seeking. To seek a solution to something that we only assume is a problem.
But the fear is the same fear as the fear during the skydive. The fear hasn’t changed – the story has changed, that’s all. Ownership has happened – which is identification. A story has wrapped itself around fear. A story of somebody who is afraid, and somebody who one day will no longer be afraid. Time has come into the picture.
“How do I find freedom from suffering?” is the wrong question.
A better question: “what is suffering?” – and “who suffers?” – and perhaps these questions are really the same question.
In other words, what don’t you want to feel?
What don’t you want to experience?
If fear appears, is there an attempt to escape it? That attempt, perhaps we could call ‘suffering’.
But there can be fear, and no suffering. There can be pain, and no suffering. There can be sadness, and no suffering.
It’s not really about “getting rid of suffering” and moving into some transcendent place – that’s the spiritual search which ultimately leads to denial, detachment and despair – although you might have some pleasant experiences along the way. But all experiences pass…
It’s about seeing suffering for what it is.
Then there is no need – or even any desire – to get rid of suffering. Why would you get rid of something that doesn’t exist?
What is wrong with pain? What is wrong with sadness? What is wrong with fear?
What is wrong with feeling exactly what you feel?
What is wrong with life as it is?
Forget the attempt to escape suffering. Suffer fully – and suffering evaporates. Why? Because there is nobody there separate from what you call ‘suffering’. There never was. It’s a paradox when you talk about it – and yet when you discover this secret it’s the most obvious thing of all, and there is no paradox, there is just life appearing, in its fullness.
The Advaita concept “THERE IS NOBODY HERE WHO SUFFERS! THERE IS NO SUFFERING!” doesn’t even begin to capture the richness of human experience and the possible beauty in suffering. Although in an ultimate sense it might be true, nobody lives in ‘an ultimate sense’ – and if they think they do, I wonder what sort of denial is going on. When suffering is understood and therefore loved, there is no need to deny it in this way – all human experience is embraced in this seeing… and that’s really the end of seeking, now, now and now. The end of seeking, right at the heart of this human experience. No need for any talk of the ‘impersonal’ – the appearance of the personal contains all the grace that’s needed. All Advaita/Nondual concepts dissolve into the clarity of life itself. That’s true freedom, I feel.
You don’t need to suffer one ounce more or less than you already do. Within present suffering there is the spaciousness you crave – always. But only if you are willing to look life in the face.
Life holds nothing back. Why do we hold back from life?