Recently I have spoken about what happiness is, and this week I want to talk about the other side – suffering. This subject touches on one of the lessons in our Leaders Program and here I can give you a little taste of it! Click the video link above to watch this blog, or continue below if you prefer to read it.
Let me begin with a question: What is suffering?
Suffering can be broken down into physical and emotional mental pain.
The first distinction is to consider physical suffering (such as pain), and mental distress (like anxiety) – and see what the common thread is between them.
Physical suffering can manifest as pain, nausea, and itching. The key to understanding pain is that it is made up of two aspects: physical discomfort and an aversion to that physical discomfort.
When you are in deep meditation, you can experience that aversion to physical discomfort falling away. So, for example, if you have a slight pain in the knee. At some point in the meditation, you find that while the pain stays, the aversion of not wanting that pain will fall away. Great meditators tell us you will still feel the pain, but there is no desire to get rid of the pain at all. This leads to peace of mind.
You can sit there for quite a while when there is no aversion in the mind without bothering at all about the pain. Of course, you know if the pain gets to a certain level you move because it’s not good for the body. But with no aversion, there is no compulsion or desire to move your leg, and as a result, it doesn’t worry you. For people who haven’t achieved meditation, there is another excellent example to understand.
In World War 1, when the surgeons operated on people, they used a chemical called nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas.’ to deal with pain. The interesting thing about nitrous oxide is it has no analgesic effect at all. It just gets rid of all the aversion in your mind. A soldier could feel all the pain of being operated on or feel the surgeon’s knife, but it didn’t bother them. They could sit and watch as their body was being amputated.
It clearly shows you that if aversion could be switched off, the physical discomfort doesn’t cause suffering. If you look at the pain research, you will find out that it is a very mental thing.
So from this, I conclude that physical pain does not cause suffering per say – but aversion causes suffering. So all suffering is mental suffering. Which brings us to the next type of suffering…..
Now, this topic is more difficult. We are subject to all sorts of mental suffering. But again, in a similar way to physical suffering – it is not the things that are going wrong in our life – but the inability to accept them that cause the bad feelings and thus the suffering. This is where meditation can help. To find equanimity for all things in life that will eventually lead to an end of suffering.
So contemplate both of these types of suffering to determine the root. It will help you find a deeper meditation and in the end transcend suffering altogether.