Posted On 20 Mar 2011
We humans are the greatest sufferers.
(We may even be the only beings who suffer!)
The good news is that all suffering is self-created. If so, it is optional, unnecessary.
The bad news is that mastering a practice is required to end suffering. In other words, we actually have to do something to alleviate suffering.
Please do not confuse suffering with pain. By “pain” I mean physical events that hurt such as breaking an arm or having shingles. Like pleasure, pain is part of life. It is unavoidable. We can take steps to minimize it (such as habitually eating and exercising well), but there is no such thing as a pain-free human life.
It is only when we make pain into a problem that it becomes suffering. It is only when we identify ourselves with pain that we become sufferers. Therefore, when pain cannot either be weakened or eliminated, it is wise simply to accept it. Say “yes” to it. Embrace it. Welcome it. Become one with it.
If, instead, we say “no” to unavoidable pain, we personalize it. Instead of allowing it to be as it is, we resist or fight it. We transform ourselves into sufferers. We identify with suffering.
Whenever we do that, we make suffering part of our story. This is what Eckhart Tolle calls our “egoic sense of self” or “the story of me.” We think ourselves into sufferers.
Life itself does not do this to us; instead, we do it to ourselves. Life happens; it unfolds incessantly without our having to do anything. It is we who interpret what happens, who create our own surrealities. It is by doing this that we create suffering.
Sages, those who are wise, live in reality. The rest of us live in our own surrealities.
To live as sufferers we invent a fictional narrative with ourselves as the protagonists battling suffering. Please notice two important, related features of our individualized stories.
First, they require incessant energy. Why? Since they are unreal (artificial, unnatural, merely fictional), they constantly need to be sustained. This always provides us with something to do. At least we are not nothing: we are sufferers!
Second, they are incomplete. Although their content comes from the past, they always point towards the future. They always, we fervently hope, will have a happy ending. We spend much of our time trying frantically to rush towards that (imagined) happy ending.
Of course, since the future is unreal, so is any future happy ending!
Instead of living in the present moment, we distract ourselves from it by thinking about some imagined future (or simply going over past parts of our stories lest we lose even that). There is hope for the future! Hope is vital for sustaining us in the present moment.
Unfortunately for our stories, the end of the future is death. Our egos will become nothing anyway! So how could my ego/I have a happy ending?
We are sufferers because we both desire the future (because it may have a happy ending that will give meaning to all our suffering) and we fear the future (because death will rob us of everything). We are conflicted. This is the human condition. This is why we are unhappy.
Is there a way out?
Yes. It is to realize that the egoic sense of self or the story of me is delusional. Alleviating suffering requires letting go of it.
Will you stop being among the multitude of human sufferers?
It’s your choice. I wish you well.