When we are talking about enlightenment as a way to become free, we really mean freedom from suffering. Self-Created suffering that blocks our view form the beauty that lies underneath every moment of our experience. In this article, we are going to explore five ways in which we suffer and the role of our immediate reactions and habitual judgements.
|Is every moment inherently beautiful?
1. Attachments to good and badThe first thing that makes us suffer are our attachments. Our attachments are forcing us to categorize our experience into good and bad. The good things we want to attract and Theo bad things we want to avoid. This constant struggle is a source of suffering. Why are attachments leading to suffering? As everything in existence is impermanent, being attached to any certain way of existing, will lead to suffering, because we will eventually lose that thing. Our loved ones, money, possessions and our life. Everything is impermanent.
To resolve this source of suffering we can take a couple of steps. First is the recognition that fundamentally there is no good or bad. These are human categories in which we put our experience. The things don’t have these attributes in and of themselves. Like understanding your mother language, this is an automatic process which is very difficult to transcend. Try not understanding your mother tongue and you will see how hard it is to get past habitual, automatic interpretation. Something very similar happens with every experience.
After this realization the practice of mindfulness can follow. With many hours of training, we can stay absolutely present. This is done by constantly reminding ourselves to step outside of our judgmental mindset and into the observer mode. At one point the directing of our attention towards some aspects of our experience will be replaced with an open and restful presence. Our actions will flow unrestricted and we naturally respond to the events in our life without feelings of inadequacy.
The third step in this process is the acceptance of existing as a human being. Existing as the form that we are we have specific characteristics. One of which is this habitual judgmental categorization. Becoming aware of it is the most important step. It is not necessary to completely stop doing it. Operating in the world requires that we make decisions and judge our experience. All we have to do is to make it a conscious process.
2. Survival based judgements and actionsThe second source of suffering is our habit of evaluating our experience in terms of our survival. We judge situations by their meaning for mental and physical survival. This pulls us out of being and into a stressful state with the need to survive. What has to survive? The illusion of being a separate entity, of being a human. This illusion can only survive as a mental idea. The idea of being a human with a certain life-time exists only as a mental concept. It there has to be maintained with constant effort. But we deny it and instead think we are real. It is hard to grasp how deep this lie runs in our psyche. But to keep us from detecting this lie, our mind needs to employ a strategy to keep us from discovering the deeper truths of our being.
Here consciousness is again the solution to the problem. Making those processes conscious and revealing our tendencies to act on survival based thinking is the first step towards freedom. With the realization of our survival activities we open up to the possibility of experiencing the transcended state of pure being.
3. Existence in timeWhen we go through our daily life, we usually do so in a highly rational state. We observe only very little in our actual experience and filter for what is relevant for our future. We make these judgements based on our past experience. This is troublesome because we are pulled into the emotional energy of our stories. Instead of resting in the always peaceful energy of the present moment, we are living out a story that seems to spread out in time. But this time is illusory and we are therefore living in a mental construction of our mind. More so than living in what is actually true and real in the present moment. The result is distorted view of reality. We mistake our own personal story for reality because that is where 99% of attention goes. Rarely do we experience moments of clarity, where all of our personal story drops away.
Again, consciousness and the development of our mindfulness muscle is the simplest solution. An object or reminder can be of great help for beginners. Either set a timer on your phone which reminds you with a certain interval that you want to be mindful. The trick is not to overlook or overhear the reminder because it has become a habit. At the beginning you have to work on really becoming mindful every time you hear the sound or see the cue.
As an alternative, I like to make an object part of my regular experience, which I then associate with the goal of staying aware in the present moment. An armband for example. In the first few days of wearing the armband you have to instill the habit of making the connection between the armband and mindfulness. You can even use it during your regular meditation practice as you object of awareness. Feel the armband on your skin and let the sensation be your constant reminder and anchor for mindfulness in the present moment.
4. Comparing yourself to othersWe only observe the facade that others present to us. We never know what truly goes on inside them. I often find myself thinking that I am pretty good at judging others by their facial and bodily reactions. But I also think that I am equally good at hiding my true emotions from others. So which is more accurate? And can I really trust my judgments? If I am honest I would have to answer no.
But we always compare ourselves and our own life to our idea of the life of others. If we judge our life or current experience as inferior compared to that of others, we create those feelings purely based on our own mental construction.
Doing this gives us a certain kind of security. But it comes at the price of feeling inferior and this is only exaggerated by social media today. When most people only display their greatest moments on their Instagram feed, we compare our own lives to the greatest moments of others.
Conscious awareness is curative. Observing the mental constructs you create around the lives of others helps you to discern facts from illusions. The hard truth to accept here is that you will never know the internal experience of others. Personal experience will always stay personal and we cannot share this realm of experience other than what we can share through language and images.
Accepting the fact that there is only you in your experience has a liberating effect and may free you of the grip of mental constructs. I have found that experiencing them as a part of my reality but not giving them more weight than necessary had a positive impact on my well-being.
5. The illusion of happiness as a future stateWe believe in the illusion that happiness has certain prerequisits that we need to fulfill before we can be truly happy. The exact opposite is the truth. But we will get there.
For example, we may have unconsciously created the idea of money being a requirement for happiness in our mind. Over the years we have unconsciously adopted this as fact, maybe from society or even our family. Therefore we subconsciously created a barrier in our mental space, that does not allow us to be fully happy before we have not reached our financial goals. But this is purely a mental construction as well.
This delayed gratification has a danger. We are building the habit of always needing some future goal (in this case money) to be happy. We may live a lifetime in the illusion of happiness just being right around the corner. Just that next goal seems to be needed to make us fulfilled. But as soon as we reach it, our habitual behavior to search for the next thing is much stronger than our capacity to enjoy our present experience.
This is our default state. If we do not practice some sort of mindfulness or have had some luck in our upbrining, the tendency to always see our happiness in a future scenario is very strong. This default state is not to be mistaken with the best way to life. Working against it with a regular mindfulness practice is a wise move. The earlier you make it and the longer you practice it, the better the outcomes may be.