I believe suffering is a choice we make for ourselves. Like most of our choices, it is an unconscious one. Suffering is present when I refuse to accept what is. I find myself suffering when my mind is entertaining an unconscious stream of downward spiraling thoughts. Thoughts of what the future holds or what I should have or not have done in the past will almost certainly lead me to suffering.
Too often we humans have the habit of refusing to accept what is. This might be as global as pollution or as personal as loosing my job. I’m not suggesting that I need to be joyous about an unpleasant turn of events like loosing my job. However, I can guarantee, that if I attempt to ignore what is I will experience suffering. The tendency of the mind to ask, “Why is this happening?” will only mire me in a mental exercise that inevitably doesn’t change the fact that I lost my job. I may feel sorry for myself, play the victim. My mind embellishes this feeling by building a story, creating a drama around the loss. I might take the job loss personally and follow the tendency of the mind to want to blame someone for my circumstance. Again, this will not change the fact that I lost my job. When I can accept what is, that is the fact that I lost my job I can then become empowered. I step out of suffering and become proactive. I can decide what I am going to do about the situation. I may choose to take a different perspective and see this loss as an opportunity to do something, maybe even attack that list of “some day I’m going to . . .” Ananda Giri of Oneness University has said, “Suffering is not in the fact, but in the perception of the fact.” When I accept what is, I can then change my perception and step out of suffering into self empowerment.
It occurs to me that we have two essences as humans: joyful and fearful. Our natural state is joy, we see that in children. However, our joy seems to be short-lived because our brains get in the way. Our egos would have us fret and think the worst in any situation. Our egos take us to the past or the future conjuring up all kinds of bad scenarios. Before we know it, we’re suffering.
Do you find yourself in thoughts of the past? Typically when we find ourselves thinking of the past it brings with it feelings of regret and guilt. Most of us have the unconscious habit of dragging our past into our present. We carry the past with us everywhere. Our past experiences influence every decision we make now. We do this unconsciously. We are not aware that by taking and thinking about past pain, we are bringing it to life in this moment. While it may be desirable to bring your past experiences forward so as not to repeat the same mistakes, it’s imperative that you not limit future experiences by automatically making assumptions based on your past experiences. When we do this, we prejudice the current experience. We categorize the new based on the past and pass judgment deciding we will or won’t like this current person, place or thing. This habit has caused needless suffering in family relationships. Basing a now decision on the past very much limits what we can and will experience. We set up an expectation and are disappointed when things don’t unfold the way we expect.
We rely on past experience because it gives us a degree of security. As humans, we have a real reticence about approaching a new experience with the innocence of a child. We have this false belief that we can protect ourselves from all painful experiences. By not repeating unpleasant experiences and avoiding anything new or unknown, we spend a lot of energy trying to avoid impending pain. We don’t want to suffer. It’s as if we have theorems for life. If I do this thus, and just so, then this will happen, always. As we age, if we follow this strategy, our world increasingly shrinks.
“Guilt is the cognitive dissonance we feel when our actions contradict our attitude. Attitudes are a tendency to behave in a particular way. I avoid eating fattening foods (attitude), but today I ordered a hot fudge sundae (action). No one, no thing outside of us, can make us feel guilty. Feeling guilty is a choice - and a rather foolish one, as guilt never serves us. Think about something that causes you to feel guilty. Examine your attitude. Challenge where it came from. Could you be flexible? Now, look at your action. Does the world stop when you perform this action? By changing either your attitude or your action, you can eliminate the guilt. I find that I can be very conscious of what I eat. Each time there is a temptation to eat something that doesn’t support my attitude of a healthy diet, I make a conscious choice. Sometimes I pass on the item. Other times, I eat the junk food. If I choose to eat junk, I give myself permission to enjoy it without guilt.
Another area of guilt is the “shoulds” in our life. There are certain expectations from family and friends about our behavior and participation. It might be a tradition of going over to the folks’ house for Sunday dinner, or perhaps attending bridal showers. We have the sense that we should go. It is expected. However, the truth is we’d rather not go. If we go, it is with resentment, and often our manner indicates that. If we stay home, we feel guilty that we didn’t go. We find ourselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place. I suggest that you choose what you really want to do. If you don’t wish to attend, verbalize that to the person who invited you. If you chose to go and you really didn’t want to, you chose for suffering.
Lingering in thoughts of the future provides a worn path for The Ego to take me to suffering. Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now writes, “Ego is the unobserved mind that runs your life when you are not present witnessing consciousness, the watcher.” Whenever I find myself in a funk, I know my ego is active. I might start off with an innocent thought like “I wonder what my son is doing today?” If I’m not careful, my mind will have me going to worry. Before I know it, I find myself immersed in the drama of all the things that could happen to him. I’m suffering. Trying to predict the future is sketchy even with a great crystal ball. When I’m feeling anxious about the future, I know my ego is in charge. Being conscious of The Ego’s tendency to take me to the future, I can head it off and bring myself back to the present moment. In the present moment I know all is well.
Take for example the loss of job I referred to earlier. “I’ve lost my job!” I can see my ego now rubbing its imaginary hands together in gleeful anticipation of the drama it can make out of this turn of events. The fact is I’ve lost my job. My ego will take me to thoughts like: What am I going to do? How will I pay my rent? What about my car payment? I’ll be evicted. I won’t even be able to live in my car because it will be repossessed. The litany of woes of the mind goes on and on. I’m gripped with fear because of thoughts. They're not even real! I’m suffering.
The loss of a job doesn’t necessarily mean suffering. It is possible to have a happy outcome. The loss just might be the catalyst I needed to get out of a job that was uninspiring and into the career I’ve always wanted. Being pro-active I see I am free to pursue the career I’ve been putting off with the excuse I can’t leave the security of my current job.
When we look back on our suffering and our tragedies, we are able to observe them from a different vantage point. If we are honest, we can find the gift that the painful experience brings us. We can trust there is something happening that is a gift from the Universe to you. Many of us will only learn through our suffering. As we begin to wake up, become more conscious, we take a different perspective on life’s situations and experience more joy because we are able to let go of the worry, the guilt – our suffering. We become able to see that everything is a gift. It’s just that some are wrapped more attractively than others.
Renee Duane is the founder of Encouraging Words. She is a motivational speaker, workshop facilitator and author of "Choosing for Bliss, Reclaiming Your Inherent Joy." Renee has been an educator, head negotiator, healer and writer. Her message is one for expanding consciousness by bringing to awareness the unconscious habits we have that sabotage our health and happiness. Renee Duane donates time to the Tampa Bay community as a Oneness Blessing Giver. You may contact her at: www.encouraging-words.net