Why Do We Suffer? How Can We Not?

26 08 2010

(I have come to believe in the following, from much introspection—emotional-awareness-self-observation. If you disagree with this post, or have another idea, please share your thoughts / feelings! Why? Because)

It is difficult to heal a dis-ease when we do not know what is causing the dis-ease.

I believe the root of all suffering is fear.

Fear is the only reason for anything “wrong” with the world, on individual and societal levels. Lack of compassion, animosity, not sharing, anger, sorrow: fear is the source of all of these.

(for me)
When I am annoyed at a baby crying, it is not the baby that is making my world less than perfect—it is my fear that I will not know peace if the baby keeps crying.
When I am angry that the world is being raped for short-term gain, I am afraid the planet will not survive, or that I will not be able to survive on a polluted planet.
When I am sad that a once intimate love does not want to be as intimate, I am scared I will never again be as happy as I was with them.
When I am stressed, I am worried I will not be accepted or loved by those I care about.
When I feel guilty… guilt and shame are both fear and fear, perhaps fear that I am mistaken, I am wrong, I am not as perfect as I know in my heart to be. (We are not born in sin. We are born in life. The only thing that is wrong is our belief that we are wrong. Surrendering that belief, we are simply life happening. Believing in guilt is consenting to believe that we, the process of life, in fact, ALL OF LIFE, is wrong and mistaken… and that’s as scary as “hell”—eternal damnation for “sinning,” or being “wrong”.)

Hell is a state of fear.

Heaven is a state of trust.

I urge you to question any feelings that make you feel less than whole. We need not approve them!
Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
Be wary of fear, masking itself as another feeling, or an outward projection, blaming some external circumstance.
When you feel any discomfort, any lack of peace, try asking yourself: “What am I afraid of now?”
Naming the specific fear (fear of not being loved, fear of physical pain, fear of silence, etc.) helps alleviate any dis-ease immensely!
To help remove fear’s consistent power over you, stay with the fear, dig deeper to discover when the fear originated, why it exists now, and if the fear is currently reasonable or logical. Also, ask: “Does this fear help my life experience?” If the answer that comes to you is: “No”, try letting the fear go—trust that, despite what you fear, all will be okay. Indeed, trust is a practice, and like any muscle, the more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Remember: a cloud cannot extinguish the sun; in every morning, there is day; spring always follows winter; plants will keep growing and producing food; flowers still smell wonderful; and throughout it all, the present NOW is all-ways a Present. “Birds can fly because they have perfect faith.” – J.M. Barrie.
Most importantly, and also very easy, accept your fear, because by accepting a problem, it is no longer a problem, just some thing to live with. The fear will run its course naturally, and our awareness of fear very effortlessly and naturally dissolves it.

Perhaps a bit more difficult, I also urge you to accept what is inspiring a negative feeling (i.e. crying baby, time constraint, genocide). Treating some thing as an equal part of life, rather than a blemish, a “wrong part of life”, we can determine a meaningful course of action. By accepting a problem, it is no longer a problem, just some thing to live with.

By dissolving our fears, forgiving them, drinking to their health and then letting them go, I believe we can experience heaven on earth: inner peace extending itself out.

At the root of every murky feeling, every uneasy tension, every enraged anger, every slight annoyance, every aggravated grievance, every nervous doubt, every emotion that makes you think less of, yourself or another, that encourages a distrust in life, that slumps yours shoulders or hides your head, curls your lip into a frown or a snarl, the source of anything that does not inspire peace: is fear.

Love In This World Today

I am Love.
I would like a challenge.

Birth me in a world of abundance, at a time when compassion is all but forgot;
when fear, like a worm, has nested itself in the hearts and minds of the angelic, but forgetful, inhabitants of this green Earth, and disguised itself through layers of bureaucracy, monotonous conventions, stagnating entertainment, superficial and fleeting hope, perverted passion, and a sleepwalking sense of normalcy, so massively accepted, so wide-spread—this worm infected, it is not even questioned.

Fear transforms the excitement of life to a drawn-out decay.

Birth me in this world, at this time, and

I will re-awaken;

I will connect hearts;

I will enliven life!

And I will forget fear.

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8 responses

26 08 2010
Joey

My question: then what is causing the fear?

Also, It seems incomplete (or in discordian fashion, like just one window on the world) to say that fear is the root of all suffering. I think that this is one useful way to look at it, but sometimes it is just as useful to look at aversion or attachment or the ego as the root. I find it easier to relate to your ideas when you don’t use the words “the” and “all” and “only.”

26 08 2010
Daniel

Thanks! Definitely, this is one window. If I speak “absolutely”, with “alls” and “onlys”, it is because every individual person must choose for their self what feels best. At a restaurant, if I wanted to decide the best meal, I would like to try bits and pieces of every thing; most importantly, I would not want each option to be only “half-made”—I would want every meal made AS IF it were the only meal, as if EVERY MEAL were the most important meal. So I write forcefully, not for the sake of being “right”, but for the sake of fully expressing the idea I am writing about; acknowledging full-well that I, or anyone else, may or may not agree with this idea, now or later.

For this topic though, I DO currently believe fear IS ALWAYS THE ONLY cause of suffering. Even in physical disease, I can feel unwell PEACEFULLY, even in bliss; I only suffer because I am afraid of being physically disabled.

On suffering from aversion, attachment, and the ego: I believe those are, in essence, fear.
I believe aversion is fear BLAMING something external–aversion “is” fear wearing a mask.
I believe attachment is blatantly “fear of loss”.
I believe the ego is fear of melting one’s identity into the eternal, infinite cosmos. The ego is useful, so I know what my “path with heart” is, and you know what your “path with heart is”, and we don’t mix ’em up and do things we hate because we have individual egos. Any suffering resulting from the ego, I reckon, is because a person clings to their ego-identification, and does not let their identification expand to include antagonistic ideas, differing opinions, or other people, which life has plenty to offer, and which, if we don’t accept, we WILL suffer whenever they appear, and our ego writes them off as “BAD”… the ego is an umbrella term, with all sorts of relative likes and dislikes going on… but I do believe fear is the reason we cling to those relative ideas, as if they’re concrete contents of our self, glued into a bowl, calling that version of the bowl “me”, and not letting our bowl-self change, probably due to fear of the unknown and / or fear of change…

To simplify, (this is one thing The Course In Miracles teaches): We can live our lives from only two foundations, that will determine how we experience life: Love and fear. Love expands and extends itself. Fear contracts and hides itself. Every thing, mental, physical, and emotional, can be unraveled to find these two powerful POWERFUL forces determining one’s decisions, thoughts, and emotions. (In addition, I believe there are also neutral “things” (plug key into car, step on gas pedal, “i should use clothes lines because clothes dryers use nearly half the energy in this house” etc.) But what is motivating those neutral things, why do I want to drive, why use clothes lines or a clothes dryer… “The” ultimate motivation is “always” “only” either fear or Love.)

of course, circumstance and conditions affect all things; life is holistic and all-comprehensive. With this simple method of discrimination, “Is this fear or love acting?”, I believe we can live much more consciously in our current circumstances and conditions.

26 08 2010
Daniel

and, “What is causing the fear?”

my answer: Life / The Universe / Existence. Life is EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING is EVERY THING, both love and fear. It’s the process of existence that causes fear and love.

NOW that we’re HERE, it’s up to us to decide what to focus on, and thus emulate. I don’t agree Life is a war between Good vs. Evil, as most epic stories say. Rather, I believe Life is the ever-changing kaleidoscope of Good With Evil.

That’s relative Good with relative Evil.
Absolutely, the ever-present life is really abraxas. It gives birth and then it eats its young. It shares food and then it murders. Life is Complete; Whole… and somehow, that Wholeness is “better” than the “best goodness”. And, it’s “worse” than the “worst evil”. It is EVERY THING.
Thus, it’s up to us what to focus on, and thus emulate.
And somehow, I believe the wholeness is especially “good”. Why? I don’t know, it just feels “good”. Do you think it feels bad? You’re right too. Shit. Follow your path with heart.

‘Divine Paradox’, this yin-yang “All-Is-One”.

God bless us, every one of us.

26 08 2010
Joey

I think you basically just said, “critique acknowledged and ignored – now let me continue cause I was right all along.”

For one, you completely ignored my first comment. If suffering is caused by fear, then what causes fear?

Secondly, my point with aversion, attachment, and ego is that you could look at any of those as the product of (as you do) or the cause of fear. For example, I’m afraid because I don’t like pain; I’m afraid because I don’t want to lose my friend/TV/etc; I’m afraid because I might look bad. Picking fear as the primary one is only one option, and I think it is important because you lose something by simply stating that fear is primary. It’s like acknowledging that the Buddha had many lessons, but claiming this ONE is the only one that matters.

And I think that your explanation of the “alls” and “onlys” ignored my point too. You frequently frame this blog as not only a reflection of your learning, but as some sort of tool to teach other people (as evidenced by the email you just wrote us and your constant use of the second person). If you weren’t trying to teach, then I would have no problem with these words; however, because you are trying to teach, I think you’re asking for people to react defensively when you use words like these rather than leaving open other possibilities that don’t fit your theory well (or that you didn’t think of). Trying to teach + absolute words = preaching, or at least that’s how it feels to me.

Also, you seem to be using the word belief a lot, and I think I can use a quote here to best emphasize my point:
“Rufus: I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can’t generate. Life becomes stagnant.”

I apologize if this came out harsh, but I felt like this is what I had to do to make my point.

26 08 2010
Joey

K so I hadn’t seen that second comment when I posted mine. My bad. I guess you answered the “what causes fear” part … although I don’t know how satisfied I am with that answer. Why not just focus on existence as the root of suffering then, rather than fear? What makes fear so special?

26 08 2010
Daniel

(Joey, I think this first paragraph is another one of our word-game-dilemmas.) I think Rufus was talking about dogmatic beliefs, beliefs that are not willing to change. I agree, ideas are nice to have, and yes, they can be even easier to change; but my opinion is that living actively for one’s values is much harder with ideas, and much easier with beliefs. True, it is dangerous to have a belief and stand up and shout what you believe in! That belief could be wrong! But my opinion is that a belief is like surfing, and an idea is like “sitting on a fence-post”. Personally, I would rather try to surf and wipe-out than never getting off the beach. I’m not trying to belittle ideas, I’m just explaining my word game, and why I more frequently use the phrase “I believe” rather than “I have an idea that”. (also, i take it for granted, but i pray every one reading this sprinkles the phrase “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” onto whatever i write.)
Also, in school, I learned to practice shortening my phrases. Rather than “I walked very slowly”, I should write “I crawled”, or something like that. Belief is a concise word, and that’s a major reason why I use it.

(I’ll try writing without beliefs this comment, and just ideas. Tell me how it reads for you.)

If it seems like I ignored your comment, perhaps I subconsciously did so because I felt your comment only slightly addressed the idea on hand (what is the cause of suffering), and instead, mostly critiqued my writing style. However, I feel that I did address your comment, in the second post (and below, point 1) and in the first post, explaining how I interpret aversion, attachment, and the ego to come from fear (and again, explained below in point 2).

1. Why focus on fear? What makes fear so special? Why not blame existence as the root of suffering?
We do exist, and we cannot change that (suicide ends our sojourn in this body, but I agree with the idea that we are eternal souls as well as eternal everything); but we CAN change our fears. Existence is whatever we make of it. The way I see it (currently), existence is the top of the family tree. Existence then branches down into two areas: fear (which becomes suffering) and love (which becomes bliss). Peace is what one experiences when both fear and love, suffering and bliss, are accepted (bit about Peace is somewhat of a tangent. to get back on track:) We cannot change the top of the tree, Existence, but we can work within the tree, with fear and love, with more sensitive, keener awareness of each; I think that awareness, awareness of effects AND their deep-rooted causes, will grant us a fuller picture of existence, and help us manifest in this world more and more consciously, meditated, and intentionally. With a greater understanding of how and why certain things appear, we can gradually shift from a passenger seat, flowing along with a dis-eased culture, to a driver seat, directing our lives in harmony with our (individual and collective) nature. What makes fear so special is that this seems to me to be a fool-proof gateway into suffering, and a way to alleviate suffering in its habitual tracks. Wherever there is suffering, I think there is fear. I think this idea is not addressed much in our culture (usually, we blame suffering on lack of food, shelter, the actions of another, or many other things). So I address fear because A. i think it’s not talked about much, B. i think it’s common to all suffering, C. i think it’s the most significant factor in suffering, and D. i think we can work with it more easily than any thing else we blame for suffering. Where there is fear, there will be suffering. But where we are AWARE of fear, i think we can consciously lessen our suffering. Now,

2. I have an idea that our culture has an aversion to fear. When fear crops up, it’s generally shameful (“What are you, chicken?” “Don’t be a wuss!” “I’m not afraid!”). I focus on fear because I do agree with the idea that fear originates many other emotions and phenomenon, including aversion, attachment, and the suffering from the ego. To address the idea you expressed (and explained better in your second post), you said we could say “I don’t like pain”, “I’m afraid because I don’t want to lose my friend/TV/etc;”, and “I might look bad”. These three causes, (not liking pain, not wanting to lose some thing, and looking bad), seem to me to be based on desires (desires for not pain, desire to keep some thing or not lose some thing, and desire to not look bad, or to look good). Some traditions believe desire is the reason we are manifesting in a body in this current space-time continuum. I sometimes toy with the idea that Desire is the name of the Goddess we are all manifestations of…

I agree with the idea that desire can have two motivations: desire for, and desire for not. The first is an extension, an expanding TOWARDS some thing, an ATTRACTION TO some thing else. This, I call love. The second, “desire for not”, is a contraction, a moving away FROM… a fear. Often, I think people act on their desires for not, believing its a desire for. For instance, a person goes to a movie because (they say) they want to see the movie, while an unrecognized, subconscious force is acting on the person: there may be a deep-rooted desire to not be alone on a Friday night—a fear of being alone on a Friday night. (When I recognize negative desires (desires for not) in me, and I call them “fears”, that feels right, like I’ve realized what the variable x equals in an equation. Try it for yourself, and feel if a negative desire is, or is not, a fear. Again, that is why I tend to write assertively, because I hope you believe what I’m saying enough to try it for yourself, and then decide if you still agree with the ideas.)
Not wanting pain (because one does not like it), not wanting loss, and not wanting to look bad, are, according to the above idea, fears. “I do not want certain things because I fear them.” Aversion, attachment, and the ego are DESIRES FOR NOT things, not wanting what we don’t like, not wanting to lose what we are attached to, and not wanting to experience any thing that disrupts my current sense of self. The idea that DESIRES FOR NOT are FEARS OF sits well with me. I like it. There are inverses (i.e. desire for health, desire for friend / tv, and desire for looking good), but I wrote this blog post because I think it’s worth questioning, and worth discovering if there is a deep-rooted fear we are unaware of that is driving our choices, a hidden contraction in our self; for I also agree with the idea that a contraction in our self causes suffering, or at least, impedes the fullest, most peaceful and blissful experience of life we could experience. Also, we must be careful, for if we live in any duality, its inverse will be its constant shadow. So long as our happiness depends on having the friend, we are guaranteeing (at least the possibility) of suffering.
{To call myself out, so long as I believe there is such thing as a most peaceful and blissful experience of life, a lack of peace and bliss will all-ways be possible, lurking in the shadows. I’m reminded of the zen phrase, referring to Nirvana: “Just This”.}

I also focus on fear because:
The three phenomena you described (pain, losing, and looking bad, the results of “aversion, attachment, and identifying strongly with the ego”), as well as any other thing (I think) we can say we suffer “from”, are external phenomena. Here, suffering depends on external other things (pain, a person leaving, and others’ judgments). Fear, however, is not something “out there that happens to us”, but it originates in the accumulation of circumstantial history that is “our self”.

[YES! To totally agree with you (i think), so do aversion, attachment, and the ego, originate in “our self”. So every person, if they wish to alleviate suffering, must work on any of these that is most pertinent. Still, I do agree with the idea that fear is the common thread in all suffering; and with that simplification, observing specific fears can help one see the full picture of, and find peace with, aversion, attachment, and the ego. If I would write a book on suffering, it would be called Fear, and aversion, attachment, and the ego, would all be chapters within it, and maybe others we haven’t addressed too.]

I also agree with the foundational idea that the external world is a mirror, an expression OF our internal world. I think they happen simultaneously, internal and external; but I think, as Gandhi must of when he said “be the change you wish to see”, changing the internal is much easier and more significant than changing the external.
I focus on fear because we (more likely than not) cannot change the fact that we will lose things, we will look bad in others’ minds, and we will experience pain. Fear, however, is something we can slowly, gently, ween ourselves away from. Fear can still exist, but we can lessen its power over us. After the child walks through the dark basement they were previously afraid of, the dark basement becomes less and less scary, and the fear dissipates. And it is my sincere idea that letting go of fear will have the affect of making loss, pain, and looking bad, and any other plausible cause of suffering, much more peaceful.

3. I do not want you to become defensive. That is an unfortunate side-effect of my writing, but it is not the desired-effect.

From the Intro To Buddhism class I took in Ithaca, Brian Epstein M.D. writes that any discomfort is the greatest opportunity for us to explore our inner, deepest, “truest” self. If you become defensive, agonized, or any negative emotion, he suggests: take a few minutes of close-eyed silence to OBSERVE the emotion, the defensiveness: “Why this? Why now?” By noticing patterns, we can work with them, instead of being slave to them. Even deeper, contemplate on: “What is this “I” thing that is defensive / angry / uncomfortable?” Discomfort can be our gateway to Nirvana, true “self” knowledge.

I feel comfortable writing in the second person, to “you”, because it’s just a blog. I hope if you don’t like it, you ignore it (indeed, this is one of the most difficult practices I myself have ever struggled with: being okay in the midst of what I find unpleasant. So thanks for helping me write more pleasantly. I think it’s also your (and my, and every one’s) responsibility, if one wishes for a more pleasant experience, to practice “being okay in the midst of what is unpleasant”.) I’m not pushing this on you; you’ve come to this website of your own accord (all-be-it… hehe) perhaps at my suggestion; but still, YOU clicked here! You are TOTALLY FREE TO NOT CARE ABOUT THESE WORDS! LEAVE! Don’t agree with them! And please, please please PLEASE don’t take offense to them. These are just words. If you really hate them, do know that I am spending my time writing this entire blog because it is for you! This is a gift to you. If you want, consider it an itchy sweat-shirt from your great-aunt. Maybe it is. Exactly that. Consider me misguided in my language. But I am writing this from Love, for Love, to Love.

I take it for granted that you are a free-thinking, free-spirited creature. I may not say it, but in you, I do leave open any possibility that does not fit my idea / belief, or that I have not considered. That’s why I urge you to comment. And thanks for pushing me to explain more.

At the end of the day, I appreciate this test: “Is this phenomenon (i.e. event, book, blog, etc.) beneficial or hazardous to me?” and so, “What am I going to do about that?”

Sensitively, gently, the sun peaks through clouds, and buds with small roots poke out of the ground. and no one really knows if it is the sun that moves, or the clouds.

27 08 2010
Joey

Because your response is so long, I feel like I need to respond as I go. First, I recognize I was harsh before, but I think it was important for 2 reasons. I think it is beneficial for you to have practice against a strong critique and I think it is beneficial for me to have practice making one. I frequently feel like my comments get swept under the rug, and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to really hold my ground. Moving on to the body of your response.

The first thing you say about the language game reads to me like a wordy way to say that you disagree with Rufus. Fine. I obviously feel differently. Also, saying something like “never getting off the beach” is a way to alienate me and place yourself in a superior position. Why can’t a belief be like looking through only one window, while an idea acknowledges the multiplicity?

Moving on … I critique your writing style because I don’t think that the problem is with your ideas, but how you represent them. I think I understand the message you are trying to say about fear, but I think it could be clearer and more tactfully expressed. For instance, I thought your paragraph with the 1. was much better than what you had before. “C. i think it’s the most significant factor in suffering” is so much better to hear than “only” and “all.” Fear might be the best lens for you to view suffering, but for others it might make more sense with aversion, attachment, desire, ego, etc as primary. Why limit that? They are all interrelated.

Your section 2. continued to be a great response to my critique. I think that by using language like “all” and “only” in relation to fear’s role in our lives, fear was given a lofty place and isolated (in some way) from the other causes. Here, you show that in your language-game, “fear” is in some way synonymous with desire, ego, attachment, aversion, etc. And I think that is a much more useful and complete picture.

And more than my point that it makes ME defensive, was the point that I think it makes many people defensive (like our general group of friends) and that I think this is avoidable (to some degree) so that you can get out your message of love.

27 08 2010
Daniel

I’m sorry you feel like your comments get swept under the rug. I think your comments are always appreciated and considered equally as other peoples’; i’ll try be more aware of it in the future. One reason I initially ignored “what causes fear?” is because speaking about the driving force of the universe cannot convey any real knowledge (experiential understanding) about the driving force of the universe.
I appreciate your strong language in your first comment, it inspired me to respond directly to you. I’m glad you tried holding your ground—a firm foundation is a great place to live from. And, as Rufus warns, not being willing to change our foundation can limit growth and stagnate ourselves.

I’m aware “never getting off the beach” is a strong way to say it. I’m not alienating you though, I’m alienating an idea, the idea of “sitting on a fence-post”; You do not need to identify yourself with the idea: “ideas are better than beliefs”. In my terminology, beliefs are stronger than ideas, and in Rufus’, ideas are more malleable than beliefs. I think they’re both right. I think Rufus attributes some characteristics to beliefs that I attribute to ideas, and vis versa. We’re using opposite words to mean the same things. You said, “Why can’t a belief be like looking through only one window, while an idea acknowledges the multiplicity?” Well, they can, the words can be interchangeable, and both words can share both meanings. Beliefs can acknowledge the multiplicity, and ideas can only look through one window.
Overall, I feel this point is very nit-picky, though perhaps it’s not a nit-pick we can avoid. I would like you to hear what I mean through my language, and you would like me to say what I mean using your language. We must balance each other, “me” and “you”, even though my “me” and your “me” have two entirely different meanings.

I agree with you, i think my last comment was better said than much of the original post. Especially the bit about desire to go away from, I reckon that’s the crux of it.

To reiterate a problem you see with my writing, and an intention I have, I do think fear deserves a lofty place in our emotional awareness. If we were doctors, and we needed to remove some red blood cells from a body, It would be more helpful to say “remove the red blood cells IN THE ARM”, or wherever the dis-eased ones are, rather than saying “remove the blood.” The overall point of this post is that, specifically: FEAR, is what is causing dis-ease. I still believe that.

As all-ways, believe what you want. With all this writing, I hope you can determine for yourself whether what you want is coming from fear, or from love. I also think any one who tries both fear and love out as motivational forces will discover desires with no fear feel better and prove more beneficial than actions acted on desire with fear.

Thanks for caring.

And about any person becoming defensive… I do not think I am attacking you, or any one. I think that anyone who becomes defensive has an inner fear their own journey must work out (if they are to know complete inner peace). If a person doesn’t become defensive at me, but does become defensive with some one else, that person is still susceptible to suffering. I trust my self, and I believe I am generally coming from a motivation of care, not fear (or attack), so I think it’s fine if a person feels defensive around me, for I think I am providing a kinder mirror to show some one their own feelings, through their own experience, than a person who is malevolently fearful and attacking.

One last thought on fear and attack: I think if a person who habitually acts violently were not afraid or any thing (i.e. rejection), they would no longer act violently. Without fear, I do believe there is only peaceful compassion.

{I just realized, I also write forcefully because of my reading technique. When I read writing, I like to read it slowly, take breaks, and contemplate the words, phrases, sentences, and meanings in front of me. I realize other people may not do this. I think I (subconsciously) tend to write, not to explain a full argument, but to give people some thing to meditate on.} That is a reason, not an excuse.

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