I heard something this week that caught my attention, “Our thoughts are the seeds of suffering.” In this situation, I am not referring to suffering caused by physical pain but rather the suffering caused by our own lamenting. The thoughts, feelings, likes and beliefs we hold about situations and people create happiness and suffering. We tend to focus more upon suffering because it is unpleasant and uncomfortable to us. In this week’s blog I thought I would share my learnings and contemplations on the origins of suffering.
For most of us, when we wake after a night of sleep, thoughts begin to surface. These thoughts may be about the day, our nightly dreams or plans. The moment a thought enters our being we are creating a self-identify separate from all and everything. At the same time we create a sense of self, we simultaneously create an-other. We see ourselves as separate from all and everything. There is duality in our consciousness. This is where suffering begins. It is this fundamental separation from which we are by our true nature, which is the source of suffering. The human experience is filled with dualistic experiences (separateness from all and everything). Waking in the morning is like experiencing a birth. Our consciousness comes back into being after a night a rest. We are reborn, thoughts forms and we see ourselves as distinct. Our dualistic thinking creates separateness and suffering.
Within milliseconds of thought, feelings begin to surface. With the first thoughts of the day, we begin to experience feelings. These feelings flood into our being. You may experience joy, sadness or fear. Feelings are strong forces that influence the intensity of the thoughts we have about people, places and things. As with thoughts, they surface like passing clouds. Some we enjoy and wish they would stay longer, others we dread and wish they would pass quickly. What we don’t remember is the feelings come and go. As Suzuki Roshi wrote in his Zen poem “…no feeling is final”. Our experience shows us that one moment we are feeling sad and next moment we are laughing. Our feelings create suffering for us in that we either want the feeling to last (e.g. joy, happiness, and love) and suffer when it passes. Or there are certain feelings that create suffering in us directly in that we don’t want to feel them, such as sadness, loss and anxiety.
The feelings that we have lead to attachments through our likes and dislikes. When we like something or someone, we are sad and suffer when they are gone. We do everything we can to hold onto those things that bring us joy. Our clinging creates attachment to people and things that make it even harder to let go. In the craving or longing for someone, we create our own suffering. Conversely, our dislikes of people, places or things cause us to push these things away. We reject them instantly and in so doing create intense feelings, which causes us to suffer. In the rejection or avoidance of whatever is happening, we are resistant to it. We create a hurdle for ourselves that we have to overcome. The obstacle is in our mind, but we believe it to be real and true. We cannot see beyond our dislike and, in so, doing create suffering.
Arising out of our habitual patterns of like and dislike, we craft concepts and beliefs about how things should be. In our attachments and strong feelings we create a view of how the world should be, including our relationships, careers, lifestyle and life. When our world mirrors back to us how we think things should be; we are happy and joyful. Yet, when our world mirrors back to us something other than our belief about how it should be; we suffer. Our attachment to a particular belief or value creates periods in our life when we agonize with what is. We have created a conscious view of the world that is basic upon our limited perceptions. Our ego has been formed in such a way that seeing the world other than how we view it is painful and disagreeable. If things are not how we see them then they must be wrong.
From the initial sparks of a single thought, we are storing energetic memories in our body. Each of these states have a certain frequency of vibration. For a moment think of the word lover. A single word can conjure up energetic experiences. When we focus upon the word we store a vibration within our physical body. The word lover leads to a feeling, a like or dislike and a belief about how things should be. When you experience your lover there is a physical memory or energy your body remembers. As another example, think of a situation in which you experienced anger. In an instant the thought of why you are angry has surfaced. You experience feelings around the anger with choices of like and dislike followed by a belief. Your physical body remembers and stores this as a vibrational energy. Whenever you experience anger, instantly all of the stored memories come flooding back. Every thought, feeling and belief has been stored physically and creates suffering when you lose a moment of joy or experience a situation of something you dislike.
Meditation begins to break down our beliefs, likes and dislikes, feelings and thoughts. It begins to release the energy stored from each of these stages. Through meditation, we begin to challenge the beliefs that we hold. We see our beliefs as limitations that we have placed upon ourselves and we slowly release them, especially as they no longer serve us. We are able to observe our likes and dislikes without judgement. We become less attached to things being one way or another. When feelings surface we are able to look at them as clouds passing and do not become invested in them. Meditation helps us to see the thoughts that surface and simply watch them rather than beginning a creation process leading to further suffering. Meditation has been described as peeling back the layers of an onion to come to the core of our own being. Meditation also released the energy we have stored in our bodies as a result of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. When we meditate we slow down. Anything that we have stored within our physical bodies is vibrating at a higher frequency cannot stay within a decelerated environment, it must be released physically, mentally or emotionally. This is why meditators experience physical releases (e.g. twitching, pain or jolts), mental processing (e.g. obsessive thinking) and emotional discharge (e.g. spontaneous laughing or crying). Meditation allows us to begin to accept things as they are. We let go of the beliefs that hold us back. Feelings arise but do not sway one’s focus. Thoughts are observed without preference. We create life not as it should be but become the witness to life as it is.
I would encourage you to observe this truth for yourself this week. Notice how a thought leads to feelings, preferences and beliefs. When moments of stress surface, look at the underlying beliefs, feelings and thoughts you hold to be true. In moments of suffering, know this too will pass and the origins of your suffering have their roots in the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that you have created in your world. Every moment is an opportunity to learn something new about yourself, both perceived positive things and negative situations. Use these moments as occasions to see the world in a new way. Drop the thoughts that hold you back and create your suffering.
My gratitude to all the teachers who have come before, who have journeyed the path of awakening and shared their experiences. It is there teachings that have so influenced and guided me.