Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Suffering Soccotash

There's much made of suffering.

The Buddhists say that 'Life is Suffering'.

Whooooo.  Life is suffering.  That's some pretty he-ye-vi shit.

And they say that the cause of suffering is attachment.  Attachment to an outcome, or to a wish that things could be or should have been different; or that they be different than what they are,  for ME.

Fair enough - wanting what isn't happening, or regretting what didn't happen, seems an unhappy state of affairs.

But all too often, suffering is treated as though it's a condition or a state... something that continues.  People are said 'to suffer':   'I am Suffering'  'Suffering from',   'He/She is a slave to their suffering'.

If you look at what suffering is though - it always turns out to be a thought.

I'm not denying or denigrating people's experience of life - their pain, or circumstances - just that we seem to fixate on suffering as being some distinct condition.  There can be circumstances, physical sensations,  and then this whole other condition which is identified as suffering.  How long does suffering last, though?  And what EXACTLY is it?  What do we really mean when we say 'suffer'.  The same set of circumstances can sometimes feel like suffering, sometimes feel neutral and sometimes feel enjoyable, depending on the context.

For instance: A headache.

Scenario 1: You've just woken up and you have a headache.  You're laying there with nothing to focus on but the pain in the head.  The thought emerges "why have I got this headache, how long will it go on for, how am I going to get through the day feeling like this....." etc. etc.  The focus on how awful it is and will be.

Scenario 2: You're out with friends, having a laugh, drinking, chatting and a headache comes on.  But you're having a great time, everyone's in a good mood and the banter is great, so you barely notice that the headache is there.  It gets subsumed in the swirl of everything else that's going on.

Scenario 3:  You've been very ill with a severe infection.  High temperature, feverish, shaking, sick.  After a couple of days the infection clears and you wake up and you don't feel sick and feverish anymore, all that's left is a headache.  And you feel relief that the illness is over and that the headache is all that's left of the illness as it fades away, and in comparison that feels great.

So, it depends on the context - the only thing that really changes is the thought about it.  Furthermore, there's no control over what thought emerges;  for instance in Scenario 2, the headache occurs and the thought could just as easily say:  'oh, why me, not now, I won't be able to have such a good time'.

So suffering is entirely one thought and entirely random.   Does the thought actually make the headache anything other than a headache?  And what is the thought itself? The thought is as much an experience as the sensation of the headache.  It's all alive.  A thought that says 'this is awful' ' is just as much life as a thought that says 'this is great'.

If suffering is only one thought, where does that leave Sufferers? If someone who believes themself to be suffering is told 'it's just a thought' then this pulls the rug out from under their enjoyment.  Yes.  Enjoyment.   People do really love to suffer.  It confirms they're alive and living.  It's got juiciness and high drama and intensity.  They don't feel alive unless they're suffering.  They're just as much adrenalin junkies as extreme sports enthusiasts - it's almost like trying to live on the edge the whole time - to really feel that extreme of living.  And to have it taken away by seeing that it's just a thought.... well, there's no fun in that.

Suffering is only a thought that says 'I am suffering' and furthermore the 'I' in that suffering thought is only a thought itself!  So the whole premise of  suffering being attachment is moot - since there isn't any attachment and nothing that suffering could be attached to.  If you see that suffering is just a thought and you see that the 'I' is just a thought then there's no place for suffering.  Just the enjoyment of it.  Ha!

So.....   Life is Suffering?  How about Suffering is Life?



  1. One has no choice when it comes to physical pain,as through injury or illness.Even severe depression is physical in nature and that can by very dibilitating.But the suffering aspect(mental identification) is when we attribute the pain happening to a "me" or "self". What happens to suffering when it is seen that there is no one to whom it applies too?
    Pain seems worse when it is Believed to be happening to a "me".
    This I know from my direct experience dealing with alot of health issues.Health issues are still there,but no suffering.Enjoyed this post.
    Cheers - Suki

  2. Thanks, Suki. Thanks for your comment.

    Re: Physical pain - yes, you can't deny it - but it gets magnified mentally when it's ascribed to a me. Particularly when that identification is just one thought. Doesn't lessen the physical pain, but it takes away that overlay of 'me suffering.

    Hope your health issues resolve.


  3. Agreed, the thought of suffering often through this filter is where its felt by this "identity".

    I've been pulling one of my best friends through a break up and alot of things that I've observed is exactly this, mainly to do with "I'm being punished for feeling miserable and she isn't suffering." When someones so gripped by this, clarity is only the back drop. It can be a daily struggle if it can't be seen through.

    I'm probably going to point him here, because this may help him, and it may be what he needs to see at least for the short term until he's willing to commit to seeing the truth.

    Good articles as usual, to boost that viv ego! *wink wink*

  4. *struts like a puffed-up peacock*

    Hope your friend gets clear - except that, suffering is soooo addictive. Also there's this notion that we SHOULD suffer when something 'bad' happens. That somehow if we're not building a drama out of it then we're not normal. Suffering proves that we're FEELING.