I woke in the early hours of the morning with a theme “Happiness and suffering are contained within a single thought.” One could argue that happiness and suffering are two sides of the same coin. One side is happy and the other is suffering. Yet, there is a third element to this two sided coin which is the combination of both experiences and is greater than the sum of its parts. That third element is the richness of life. Happiness and suffering are simply experiences in life. In contemplating this early morning theme, I thought I would explore this topic a bit further in this week’s blog.
We are probably very clear on what happiness is in our life. We experience happiness when in the presence of the beloved, the physical pleasure of food, the receiving or giving of a gift. Happiness is a feeling we have within us that comes and goes – it is impermanent. It is a feeling we generate from the thoughts we have moment-to-moment. We may try to cling to moments of happiness but we cannot sustain it despite our will as it comes and goes like the clouds.
Suffering may not be as clearly defined. We know when we experience suffering but what is it. The learned definition of suffering is about enduring or labouring under something. Some definitions refer to it as pain. This may be physical pain caused by an injury but more often than not it is more emotional and psychological pain caused by our feelings, which originate in our thoughts. For the most part, suffer too comes and goes like the clouds. We experience suffering in the moment, it may labour for a while and then it softens until it disappears. The intensity of suffering can be greater than happiness because it is unpleasant. We want to avoid suffering. Suffering of a physical nature has both physical and mental pain. For example, when we have broken a leg we experience a physical suffering but we also endure a mental suffering caused by our thoughts around the breakage. This is even truer for a life threatening illness such as cancer.
Happiness and suffering are impermanent. In a single day we can have many happy thoughts and many thoughts that create suffering for us. One moment we are elated and the next we are depressed. There is perhaps some solace in the fact that suffering is impermanent. The intensity of the experience will change at some point. The same can be said however for happiness. The elation of the experience will diminish eventually. One must also be aware that happiness and suffering will resurface as well. The ebb and flow is endless as the journey of life unfolds. It reminds me of a poem by a Zen master, which I believe I have referred to in previous blogs:
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final
How beautifully this poem speaks to life and the impermanence of feelings. Feelings are the outcome of our thoughts. Thinking is endless. The mind’s role is to generate thoughts. From the moment you awake in the morning, thoughts fill your being. Thoughts about the day, your sleep, what’s for breakfast, how many meetings you have, errands you have to run, meals to prepare, things to do. Thinking, thinking, thinking… There is no end to thoughts and it is these thoughts the colour our experience of the world creating feelings of good or bad, happy or sad throughout our day. The mind will never stop thinking. It is both a gift and a challenge. Meditation helps us to train ourselves to be an observer of the mind but the thoughts will always be there, even if only in the background.
We don’t have to believe every thought we have. Not everything that the mind thinks is true. Recall for yourself the thoughts you have had throughout your day. First of all, can you even remember all the thoughts? There has probably been so many that one could question the importance of many or most of the thoughts you have had in the day. There are likely thoughts you have had during the day you would not want to share with others. The mind has no filter. It does not restrict its thinking to loving, positive thoughts. Yet, we do not act upon these thoughts. We choose to ignore them or disregard them in the moment. The same is true of any thought we have. We can choose to embrace it or ignore it. If the thought does not serve our higher good why do we indulge it? Thoughts that we are not good enough, limit us and should be ignored as merely a passing cloud. Observation of oneself, moment-to-moment, is the key to filtering the madness of the mind. Meditation is the technique we use to help generate awareness. Without awareness, our daily experience is like a roller coaster ride between happiness and suffering.
We are also not defined by our thoughts. How we think about ourselves or how we interpret how others see us does not limit us. Our self-deprecating thoughts make us smaller than we are. They only have power if we choose to believe them. Similarly, negative things that others say about us cause internal thoughts and feelings that are not necessarily true. Thinking we are less than the divine being that we are causes us to suffer. Thus, suffering is based in the thoughts and feelings we hold about ourselves. If we are suffering, we need to look at the thoughts and feelings we are holding so tightly. Letting go of those feelings and thoughts that are causing us to suffer is liberating.
What areas of your life fill you with happiness? What areas of life cause you to experience suffering? What are the thoughts and feelings you have around these experiences? Exploring these with awareness is the first step to liberating yourself from the ebb and flow of emotional swings. Actively choosing thoughts that serves you creates greater experiences of harmony and balance. Be mindful of the thoughts you allows into your space in each moment. Consciously choose those thoughts that serve you. You are unique, magnificent and divine just as you are. Celebrate each moment of the life without being attached to impermanent moments of happiness and suffering. There is a deeper level of joy than happiness. It is in the experience of bliss that comes with each moment of conscious awareness.
May you be consciously aware moment-to-moment
May you consciously choose loving thoughts
May you be liberated from suffering