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The Real Cause of Suffering

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A friend wrote me an email sharing how after a period grooving along in a place of gratitude and acceptance, he experienced an extremely painful and debilitating cerebral hemorrage that has left him unable to do almost all activities even after six months of rehab. He shared that he lives in fear everyday of the hemorrage reoccurring, and asked if I had any wisdom to share. Here is what I wrote in reply:

I am so sorry to hear about your health problems. They can be one of the most challenging experiences that we as humans face.

I will suggest that the real cause of all of our suffering is simply the gap between what is happening and what we think should be happening, what we are afraid might happen, or more simply, what we are paying attention to. I wrote a bit more about this here:

The most important question is: Are we paying attention to our direct experience here and now, or are we paying attention to the desires, hopes, dreams, worries, doubts and fears running through our thoughts?

However, it is "easier" to suffer when we are having a very intense experience whether that intensity comes from extreme sensations from illness or injury, or from extreme experiences of loss or limitation, or both. When the experience is extreme, then the slightest gap between the experience and what we are paying attention to can cause extreme suffering. In contrast, during more ordinary experiences the gap needs to be larger for the suffering to increase. In these ordinary moments your attention can wander a fair amount before the suffering becomes noticeable. And it will have to wander a long ways into a mental story about how things could or should be different before the suffering becomes intense.

This explains why some people who have everything they could ever want are still suffering. They are just so lost in their stories about what should or shouldn't be happening that they can be suffering horribly even in the midst of external plenty and relatively good health.

But it also points to the possibility of not suffering at all when there is great difficulty, limitation, loss and/or pain. The key is to give 1000% of your attention to the experience just as it is. If there is extreme pain, then notice everything you can about the actual sensations in your body in this very instant. And then notice how it has changed or shifted in the very next instant. Any time you can do this, you will find the suffering quickly dissipates, even if the sensations do not. (continue reading)

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Thought and Direct Experience Are Different, But Not Separate

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Q: I think I have found a way to get myself into the Now (present moment).  Let me know if you think I'm on the right track. The only props I use are a table and my finger. Here's what I do:

I put my finger on a table and think the following thought 10 times(in a row) while I watch  my finger touch the table.  "My finger is touching the table" I then remove my finger for a minute before repeating. The 2nd time I repeat the same process but go into consciously knowing that after the 10th repetition of the thought "my finger is touching the table" that I will drop the thought and just experience the feeling of finger/table touching (no thought just feeling).

I feel like this allows me to discern between the thought of touching the table and the actual feeling/experience of finger and table touching.   It helps me clarify one as a thought and one as experiencing.  I feel like this practice helps me experience conscious being and experience conscious thought while understanding the differences.  It also helps me see who is experiencing the differences.

Let me know if you think I'm on the right track. Your advice is much appreciated.

A: That sounds like a very effective way to build a clear sense of discrimination between direct experience and the virtual reality created by the mind. I used to hold up a physical object in satsang, like a water bottle. Then I would hold up my other hand with nothing in it and suggest that I was holding a pineapple. After comparing the two, I would ask people which category their problems were in: "Are they like the water bottle or like the pineapple?" Distinguishing thoughts from the rest of reality can be very freeing as most of our so-called problems are just thoughts, as are all of our identifications.

I would also invite you to get even more curious about who or what is present in both experiences. Thoughts are real experiences...of thought! Eventually, you can discover that while experiences of thought and direct experience of reality are very different, they are not actually separate. It is like the fingers of your hand. They are all different, but they are not separate. The place where thoughts and experiences are connected is in spacious awareness itself, which contains all of reality. And that spacious awareness or aware space is what you truly are.

Sun and Seafans


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Enjoying It All, Even the Deepest Fears

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Q: Your newsletter/blog post "Egos Are Like Fruit Flies" prompts a question. I was raised in an environment of lovely, giving people who also thought that everyone outside of their sect would go to hell.  In the theory of Spiral Dynamics, consciousness goes through necessary stages, from basic survival, to "my tribe, my god", to "let's all get along", to "all stages are an expression of one", etc.  This implies multiple lifetimes to move all the way through.  In your experience at age 20, death didn't really change much but was just a continuation, after which I assume we'd come back and continue somewhat close to where we left off.  Meanwhile, near death experiencers (NDE) report the blinders being taken off and having access to vastly greater wisdom, all their questions being answered, etc.  On one hand, if the NDE is an accurate picture, how and why would one come back and take on a bigoted or narrow view of the world?  On the other hand, if it's more like what you describe, what a bleak picture: learning our lessons with such painful slowness, taking on an ego again which can only be seen through by means of suffering; and on a mundane level having to learn to wear diapers, walk, and go through adolescence again!  The teaching, "death is just merging back into where you came from" is supposed to remove our fear of death, but in my view it completely misses the point.  The greater fear is of having to start all this over again.

A: Thank for your very good questions. There are lots of "maps" of what happens after death. In the Tibetan tradition, it is assumed that everyone is shown the totality of Truth at the moment of death, similar to your description of the NDE. The only question is, Can you stay with that totality? If not, then you are shown a lesser truth, and then a lesser truth, and if you cannot contain any of the bigger truths, then you go back and reincarnate. It is kind of like a final exam at the end of the lifetime, and if you do not pass, then you have to reincarnate.

The nondual teachings tend to point to the possibility of experiencing the biggest truths before you die, but in some respects the same principle still applies. After a full awakening or even just a glimpse of a very complete perspective, the question becomes, Can you stay with or integrate that degree of reality?

In either case, our worldly life is the schoolhouse and an opportunity to practice for the big exam whenever it might come. This human life is itself an incredibly intense experience and of course is not really separate from the ultimate reality. The way you master the "lessons" of life is to accept and even embrace them totally. If you get in the habit of loving every little experience that comes along, then the big glimpses are just one more opportunity to open and allow everything. If you cannot accept and embrace what is happening, then in that moment you are in a place of suffering and the "lesson" is delayed and has to be repeated. (continue reading)

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Nothing Personal leads you to the experience of your true nature and helps you explore its depth. Through exposition, questions and dialogues, it brings you to a place of realization of the Truth: you are the spacious Awareness in which everything appears.

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