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The Mother of All Habits

Written by Nirmala on .

Q: I have experienced a long lasting struggle to come to terms with my suffering. I want to let go, but how?

A: Suffering is simply the effort to change, fix, or keep our experience. When we are suffering, our attention, or really our love, is flowing to an idea in our mind about what should be happening instead of what is happening. This is the source of all our discomfort and pain. Sensation by itself is not painful. Only when we think about or tell a story about how we want to change, fix, or keep a sensation does a sensation becomes painful.

However, because there is great momentum to our thinking and storytelling, there is great momentum to our suffering. It is the mother of all habits. So even though suffering 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 to see the underlying truth about suffering. In this way, the end of suffering is similar to the realization of our true nature. They are both a matter of seeing what is true more clearly and completely. They aren’t the result of something we do, but the result of something we recognize.

Recognizing something isn’t something we really do. It’s 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 isn’t 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’s 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? We need to recognize that suffering is only a thought! It is just an experience created by an idea or thought. If the thought falls away, there’s no longer any suffering. Suffering ends when we see that the source of our suffering is simply the thought that things should be different than they are.
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