Q: I enjoyed talking with you on the phone, it was really nice to check in. I’d like to share something that happened after our conversation. I noticed that the sweet feeling of being in love with my life here, that I had after finding out my friend tested negative for the new virus, is turning into waiting for the next shoe to drop.
It has to do with the emphasis that some teachings place on suffering as our motivator and guide towards awakening. I have a pretty harsh superego which adds to this emphasis. So that I sometimes feel like I can’t relax and enjoy my life. I “should” be efforting towards enlightenment and being Present at all costs! I should be exercising my self control. And if I don’t, life will serve me up some suffering to get me motivated. Then I start to wonder what it will do to me next to teach me whatever I am supposed to learn. It actually creates more fear than trust in Life. And my superego gets in the mix with motivating me by scaring me into thinking I have to create this self control 24/7.
A: First, I would suggest that suffering is created by our mind, not by life. It still is painful, but the pain comes from what our mind is telling us. Life is not sending us problems to teach us, but the suffering we create with our mind is meant to show us that our mind created problems are not real or true. i wrote some more about this in these articles on my website:
So our fears, desires, doubts and worries generate suffering to show us that the fears, desires, doubt and worries are not very real or true. Again, life does not bring difficulties into our experience to teach us, but when difficult experiences arise, they are an especially good opportunity to discover that suffering does not come from our experiences. And when we do not resist or deny our experience, then any suffering that was present even in a very difficult experience goes away.
This is an incredibly subtle phenomenon, and so it takes a lot of careful inquiry to see the true nature of suffering, especially when there is a more profound or intense experience of physical or emotional pain. The difference when there is a lot of sensation or emotion is that it is much easier to also suffer. It is harder to suffer when things are pretty calm and easy, but it is still possible to suffer and to suffer a lot when life is actually pretty good.
Because it is possible to suffer over almost anything, it is also possible to suffer over suffering itself! Worrying that you might suffer is in essence suffering over the future possibility of suffering. It is sort of like premature suffering! When it is pointed out like this, it can appear kind of foolish. But when it is our own mind (and especially our own superego) that is generating these worries, they are very convincing. I have compared the thoughts in our mind to an IMAX movie:
The IMAX Movie in your Head (video)
The good news is that we do have something else besides our mind that is able to discriminate how true or not very true our fears and worries are. Our heart shows us how not very true they are by contracting, whereas to the mind they appear very big and important. The contraction in our being is showing us how big and important they really are. If you feel very contracted when you are worried or fearful, that is the right way to feel. The smaller and more contracted you feel, the smaller the truth or reality of what you are thinking/feeling.
The kicker in all of this is that we were taught to respond to contraction/suffering with more contraction/suffering. We try to contract our way out of contraction, or suffer our way out of suffering! It is not our fault as we were taught to do this by all of the people around us who were doing it. And since contraction of our awareness expands our unawareness, it actually does work in a strange way to reduce our awareness of the initial pain or suffering. Unfortunately, it does this by creating some new pain and suffering!
As always, the way out is the way in. If we can just stop and experience the fear, doubt, worry, desire, contraction and suffering just as it is, that can stop the cycle of further contraction/suffering in response to the initial contraction/suffering. It turns out that contraction is just a particular sensation in our being and that it does not harm us in any way. You can go even further and trust your own contractions. They are always showing you exactly how true your fears and worries really are. It can be a surprising discovery to just go ahead and trust your being's response to suffering. That is how it teaches you, by showing you viscerally how untrue your fears really are. When you accept the feeling of suffering/contraction it is no longer experienced as suffering or contraction. Seeing that something is not very true is itself an experience of a bigger truth, and when we shift into a bigger truth, our heart/being opens and expands. And of course, you can also trust your being when it softens and expands, as it is correctly showing you that something is more true.
Again, this is surprising to discover that instead of fearing your suffering, you can learn to trust it (and also trust the absence of suffering when that is happening). It is meant to show you here and now how true something is, and it turns out that suffering, fear, doubt, worry and desire are almost never very true. Trusting in this way is like a new habit you need to learn. And we learn it by going ahead and trusting even when we are contracted. Every time you do this, it creates more momentum to the trusting response that embraces what we call suffering or pain, and discovers that they are actually very compassionate teachers. And even better, to discover that there is no pain or suffering when we trust and meet our pain and suffering fully.
I hope this helps.
P.S. A good clue that something is not very true is when it is any kind of "should," even very spiritually motivated shoulds. The super-ego loves "shoulds" because they are so effective at scaring and contracting us. They just are not very true.