Whoa! Really? There’s an end to suffering? An end to our pain? Our inner conflicts? Yes there is.
Sadly some people don’t make it. Some people do not realize there is an end to suffering, and choose to shorten their life, rather than bear the load they have been struggling with on and off for years. They believe letting go of their life will be the end of their suffering. And who am I to say this is not true? What I do believe is it can’t be the answer to inner peace.
The Four Noble Truths
- Discovering the four noble truths
- The First Truth: There is suffering
- The Second Truth: The origin of suffering is attachment
- The Third Truth: The cessation of suffering is attainable
- The Fourth Truth: There is a path that leads us away from suffering
By the time I was 12 I had tried to take my own life, and again at 18. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know there was a way out of my misery. I thought I couldn’t cope. I knew it was an option as I had known friends in my life who had facilitated their own exit out of life. Fortunately my sincere attempts failed. My stomach pumped, laying alone in a hospital bed, I glimpsed that there had to be another way. I found it through traveling, getting away from my life, and I have to admit my time traveling with my best friend aged 19 was one of the happiest times I had in my teenage years. I was happy every day for eight months. Every other traveler I met was happy and if we weren’t we just moved on to the next place. But I had to come home and face my true inner self.
Traveling opened me up to the rest of the world. I witnessed suffering everywhere I went. I was touched by a Palestinian who told me his story, and in the middle of it he knelt down to pray. He asked me to tell his story. Perhaps it’s why I became a journalist, telling many people’s stories. As a journalist I realized I was not alone in my suffering, but still I could not see an end to it.
Simple life experiences continue to teach me to accept the fact that the cessation of suffering is attainable. A few years ago I experienced excruciating tooth pain for a week. I had become tight around my pain. I panicked, went into horrified anxiety, and began swallowing painkillers like candies. During that time, a new root canal was put in, an old root canal was dug out, and an abscess flared. My face was swollen, and it hurt even to talk. I wanted to get rid of the pain and I wanted to control it, but when I came to my third day on painkillers, I realized they were doing nothing to curb my pain. I threw out the drugs and observed my pain. Sometimes it was intense, and sometimes it was calm, but what I have to admit is that the pain became more intense when I resisted it. I was creating mental suffering.
The cessation of the mental suffering was most definitely attainable. But what about the physical suffering? I have to admit I still suffered with pain, but the pain did not stay the same throughout the week when I relaxed into it without panic or fear.
I had to surrender to the pain, and when I realized that, the physical pain became manageable. I lived with the same amount of pain, but without pain killers, and I witnessed how my pain changed. How at times it throbbed, at times it just ached, and at other times it thumped throughout my jaw, my gums and my head. My life became bigger again, for it was not just focused on my tooth pain; there was a lot more going on in my physical body and my life. My fear and panic narrowed my life. All I could think of was my tooth pain, and nothing else.
My tooth made me realize that my mental pain was causing my suffering. My physical pain was just sensation that was always changing, arising and ceasing. My mind created a suffering that made my pain feel torturous. I realized that mental suffering can cease.
In my youth I had created mental suffering that lingered for years. I had sentenced myself with self hatred, and had also sentenced my biological mother and all my other abusers with hatred. This inevitably caused me great suffering. I hated my biological mother and abusers with a vengeance for all the things they had done to me. I hated myself, and I began rejecting myself through an eating disorder. I had created my suffering that lasted many years. I had become a victim of my own mind. I used to be proud of being a survivor of physical and sexual abuse. But I soon realized as a survivor I was only surviving through the skin of my teeth. I was lucky not to have been dead, from the extreme anorexia and bulimia I had imposed on myself. I knew I had to start living. The third truth taught me that if I was to accept there is an end to suffering, I had to be compassionate towards myself. Self compassion allowed me to begin letting go of my self imposed mental suffering.
I realized through letting go of the suffering, that there was a clear distinction between physical and mental pain. It had all seemed the same. I learned that I could experience physical sensation without the self imposed mental suffering. But once I had created mental suffering, there was always going to be some kind of physical sensation. I have learned that I cannot be free of physical sensation, from the minute to the extreme, but I can be free of the mental suffering that adds to the pain.
It is not the physical pain that makes us angry. We make the physical pain angry. Our mental conditioning punishes us and makes life a trial rather than a journey of equanimity. If we can let go of our fears, we can cultivate faith. There is hope, and there is an end to suffering! If we let go of mental suffering we will begin to experience the beauty of inner peace.
When a negative mental state arises, that puts us down, criticizes us, judges us, or undermines us, just breathe and say: ‘Let it go, let it go”.
Or when any of the above arises, we could pause and say: ‘This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. This is a moment to be kind to myself. May I give myself the compassion I need?’
When you are feeling calm take some time in your day to reflect on impermanence. Impermanence is all around us if we open our eyes to it. If we are deeply honest with ourselves we will accept everything changes and that includes our mental suffering. We will see that it is possible to detach from the past, and let go of grasping for the future. Being in the present moment will bring about an end of suffering.
If all else fails – get down on your knees and pray. Call out to whatever your God of understanding is and ask for help. In these moments true insight can arise.
What A wonderful and helpful teaching. I loved the last paragraph, there is always something you can do!
Thanks for your article. I too have learned that most of what I used to think as my physical pain was the stories that I had woven – they were not true. I experienced an end to 12+ years of chronic back pain with periodical acute episodes of spasms after I began meditation practices. 10 months after including tonglen practices, I had a acute episode and after hobbling to a quiet room, I first focused on mindfulness of breath, did a few metta practice, turned to Hakuin’s Butter Pill Zen meditation (17th century Hakuin in his autobiography said it was the most perfect practice) and then decided to practice Tonglen. On the in-breath I accepted and welcomed my back pain and the back pain of all sentient beings and on the out-breath I asked that all sentient beings be free of back pain. After some unknown time (I don’t know how long I had been meditating), I heard a giant noise, felt my back unsnap and lost the excruciating pain. This is but one of many examples of experiences that convinced me that a confused, fearful, angry and delusionary mind is the cause of suffering, not the events of life. I ran across your article on FB at the Wildmind FB page. Namaste, gassho & with metta from Seattle.
Thank you both for taking the time to respond. Thank you Dan for taking the time to share your teaching – it is an inspiration. May all blessings be both of yours –
Yes. Being in the present moment is a panacea for all ills. The moment slips fast but it is worth trying and succeeding. Gool