Saturday, 27 November 2010 21:58
Written by Nirmala
Someone emailed me describing their long lasting struggle to come to
terms with their suffering. They finally asked, "I want to let go. But how when
all the how's are useless?!!"
Here is my reply:
Suffering is simply the effort to change, fix or keep our experience. And
this is suffering since it creates a gap between what is and what we are paying
attention to. Our attention, or really our love, is flowing to an idea in our
mind about what should be happening instead of what is happening. And this gap
can be very uncomfortable. In fact it is the source of all of our discomfort and
pain. Sensation by itself is not painful. It is only when we think about or tell
a story about how we want to change, fix or keep the sensation that it becomes
However, there is a great momentum to our thinking and story-telling so there
is a great momentum to our suffering. It is the mother of all habits. And so
even though it is so painful, the tendency to strive to change, fix or keep our
experience can continue to arise in both obvious and subtle ways. This is simply
the nature of habits, they tend to continue.
Now here is a dilemma: anything we do to change our suffering is just more
suffering. It is one more attempt to change or fix our experience. The antidote
to suffering is not more suffering. The antidote to suffering is to see the
underlying truth of suffering. In this way the end of suffering is quite similar
to the realization of our true nature. They are both simply a matter of seeing
what is true more clearly and completely. They are never the result of something
we do, they are simply the result of something we recognize.
Recognizing something is not something we really do. It is more like
something that happens within us. When you look at a photo in the newspaper and
suddenly recognize your friend in the picture, it is not something you do. You
don't decide to recognize the person in the picture and then go about making
that happen. The recognition just happens within you. It is a potential you
already have since you already know what your friend looks like, and that
knowledge is simply triggered by the photograph.
So what is it we need to recognize about suffering? The thing we need to
recognize about suffering is that there is no such thing! Suffering is just an
idea or thought, and there is not really anything happening that this thought
refers to. Suffering ends when we see that there is not any "thing" called
suffering and there never has been.
All of our effort to change, fix or keep our experience has been an imaginary
effort to change, fix or keep our experience. It has all been something we
imagined doing. This is because it is always too late to actually change, fix or
keep our experience. By the time we decide to change or fix our experience, it
has already happened. And by the time we decide to keep our experience, it has
already changed. So the only thing we can really do is think about how we would
change, fix or keep our experience. We never really get around to changing the
experience we are already having.
But wait a minute, what about all of the things you do that do appear to
change, fix or keep your experience? Here is the thing: when we actually get up
and do something to change what is happening, that becomes our experience. And
so in that moment there really is no suffering in the doing. It is just what is
happening. In fact, often when we actually get busy doing something our
imaginary suffering subsides since we are not usually imagining trying to not do
something when we are busy doing it.
So it turns out that there is no reason to stop doing anything you already
are doing to improve or manage your life. The doing itself is not the problem.
The problem is imagining that what you are doing is going to make things better.
The problem is imagining that your doing is going to change, fix or keep your
experience. Experience always is changing whether you are doing something or
Suffering does not come from our experience, and so a change in our
experience never affects our suffering except temporarily. It only relieves our
suffering until we imagine doing something else. The trick is in seeing this so
clearly that it no longer matters whether you are doing or not doing. This place
where it does not matter if you are doing something or not is free of suffering,
since what is happening is simply....what is happening, and that always includes
anything you are doing or not doing. And ultimately, it has never mattered to
our experience of suffering what we do or what we do not do. That is all just
the natural movement of life and Being.
Here is where it gets very strange: even our suffering has always just been
the natural movement of life and Being. Imagination is just what minds do. When
you see the true nature of suffering - that it is just imagination - then there
is no reason to even change that. The deepest healing is when we see that there
is nothing here that needs healing. Suffering is like that. There is nothing
wrong with suffering because it has never been real. It only exists within our
imagination, and there is nothing wrong with imagination.
And paradoxically, when it is profoundly recognized that there is no problem
with suffering, the tendency to suffer can subside. This happens when we realize
that suffering does not matter in the same way that we realize that a small
cloud moving across the sky does not matter. Again it is not something we really
do, it is simply a recognition of what is so. And yet we can know this truth in
a way that is not purely intellectual, but in a way that has sunk into our very
bones. You can know that suffering does not matter in the same way that you know
that a hot flame can burn your hand. You do not have to think about it, you just
know and pull your hand back.
When we know with this same degree of fundamental conviction that what we do
does not matter, and what we imagine does not matter, and how we suffer does not
matter, then there is a natural tendency for the habit of suffering to fall away
by itself. When we deeply recognize the nature of something, we naturally
respond to it in the most appropriate way.
There is a story about a family who always cut the ends off of a ham before
cooking it. One day the daughter asked her mother why they did that. The mother
said, I don't know, we just always did it that way. So they went and asked the
grandmother, and she also said she did not know why but that was always the way
they did it. Finally they asked the great grandmother and she explained that the
oven she used for most of her life was very small and so to be able to fit the
large hams that they got from the butcher in those days into her oven, she had
to cut off the ends. After that no one in the family ever cut off the end of a
ham before cooking it. Once you see that suffering does not matter, the habit
can naturally fall away.
Suffering is like a mirage in the desert. When we actually get up close to
it, we see that it does not really exist in the way we imagined. There is
nothing we need to change about it or fix. And yet in seeing this, the tendency
to spend a lot of time imagining ways to change, fix or keep our experience can
simply fall away. It is not as interesting when you see it is purely
imagination. After all, what good is an imaginary car? And what harm is an
imaginary tiger? Imagination has such a limited reality, that there can simply
be less interest in it after a while. Again, this is not something you do, it is
just something that happens within you when you recognize the nature of your
What about right now? What is your imagination doing or not doing? How real
is your suffering? Can you actually find it except in your mind? This mother of
all habits is just a habit of thought. It can't really harm you.