I know that what the title says here sounds highly provocative, because you are after all not responsible for most events that may cause you to suffer, like having your wallet stolen, getting bullied or getting struck by lightning. These are all things that are out of your control and no one can blame you if either of these things happen to you – they happen to even the best of us! So why this provocative claim, then? Because, in reality, it is not these events that make you suffer, but rather the emotional reaction that the events may evoke in you, and whereas you are not a master of controlling which things happen to you, you do have a say in how you choose to react!
When something happens that you don’t like and it makes you suffer, you actually go through a more complex process where suffering is simply many of the possible outcomes.
First of all, this process consists of three consecutive events: firstly, the event itself, secondly the sensory impressions this event leaves you with to perceive, and thirdly the reaction you have to these sensory impressions. Of this entire process it really only is the resulting emotions that you ever suffer from, regardless of the fact that the event itself may seem to be holding the problem.
You wouldn’t argue this if you ever got scared by seeing a figure in the dark, soon after realizing that it was just your eyes playing a trick on you. The fear was real, and in the moment you would have blamed the figure in the dark for making you scared. But really, the only problem you had was an uncomfortable reaction.
Of course event and the sensory impressions that arise in your body/mind are inseparable from each other, but there is a very important point in making a distinction between the two. The reason for this is that it is actually possible to change the way you react to sensory impressions, whereas it is not possible to prevent events from leaving sensory impressions on you. In order to change how one reacts to sensory impressions these need to be observed closely, and if one has all attention on the event itself, it would be impossible to ever learn how to do this.
In meditation this complex process is observed closely simply by concentrating on what can be felt by you; touch, taste, smell, sound, sight, thoughts and emotions. When doing this you realize that all concepts and ideas you have are made up of highly intricate combinations of all these. Even the ideas you hold of good and bad. That means that somewhere along the way all of your sensory experiences somehow are being interpreted in a general way of being either of these two. I don’t blame you if you think this sounds odd, but try and see for yourself if you can observe anything that isn’t just made up of the sensory experiences listed above. I asked my girlfriend to try and do and this she asked me in return: What about the feelings of love you may have for your mother? Together we came to an agreement that this too can be observed in its individual parts of the five senses, thoughts and emotions: You may think of what your mother looks like and of memories you have of her. This is visual sensation. Also you may hear her voice in your mind – this is auditory. Furthermore, you may feel touch sensations of warmth various places in your body. In this way it really all can be broken down into these sensory phenomena. We don’t normally notice all these little things, but simply the more general feel of all these sensory impressions altogether, in this case love and affection.
When looking very closely in this meditative way at any concept or paradigm that you believe in, you start noticing the individual parts of that, too. You notice how most thoughts you have are mostly auditive and visional, meaning that when you think you mainly think in mental images and sounds. You also notice that emotions you feel imply various touch-sensations all over you body and that these emotions almost always are accompanied by thoughts. For instance, are many emotions be felt in the chest area; some are sensations of pressure, others of tingling, burning, tension, throbbing or something else. You may have noticed that when you are sad it can feel like you have a lump in your throat and your cheeks feel warm. The next time you feel any strong emotions, see for yourself where else you something is felt, something that you may not have noticed before; feel your hands, your head or your stomach, any part of your body. This is really all that meditation (Vipassana meditation to be specific. All other types of meditation may be different) is, nothing special, just observing the bodily sensations that are always there.
The notions of “good” and “bad” are also concepts and are combinations of sensory experiences too. This is an important insight; because when you suffer, you do so thinking that something “bad” happened or is going on, or that it is bad that your situation isn’t different from what it is. But looking into the idea of whatever may seem bad, you see that there isn’t any ultimate truth to that claim, but what you are experiencing is simply sensations that together create the impression that you call “bad” and therefore you react with aversion and suffering. Whatever the case may be, you have made this concept your reality by buying into all the ideas about it, perhaps you have done so for your entire life. By not looking deeply and seeing that everything you ever experienced in your entire life was really just many tiny, subtle components of tingling, throbbing, warmth, cold, bright, dark, hard, soft, prickling, sharp, pressuring, vibrating, rushing, dancing and out-of-nowhere, magical sensations, you have bought into a self-made idea ,which you buy into to the point where you will go down with it all, if just a certain combination of these sensory impressions occurs in front of you.
You suffer because you do not bother to see the details of the entire picture, but focus on one specific way to view it and take that completely seriously. Ultimately there is no good and bad, these are just ideas – in spite of how “real” they may seem.
Good and bad are misinterpretations of the neutral universe which we experience. And we suffer from this every time something our psychology calls “bad”.
Try to look at some of the components of any feeling or idea you’ve got now or later today, and see how absurd it really is to make judgement of any of the subtle sensations that constitute this general feel you have. Perhaps you think this suggested approach to seeing suffering is ridiculous, and if so, I encourage you to have a feel and break this idea into the subtle sensations that are present in your body and mind right now.
Having meditated in this way for several hundreds of hours over the last year, I have learned that it is very difficult to feel all the subtle sensations that are present in the body, but also that it is indeed possible. When attending a ten day meditation course over New Years 2016/2017 where a hundred other meditators and I meditated for ten hours a day without speaking for the entire ten days, I developed enough concentration to feel most of my entire body at once. Even when you just sit still and normally would not feel much, the nerves everywhere on your skin are constantly producing tiny signals that you can actually feel as subtle sensations of vibration, prickling, tension or other faint sensory experiences.
When you can feel all of this at once, it becomes clear which perspective you’d rather take: Either you could stay with the approach that something is either good or bad and suffer whenever you experience something that you believe is bad. Or you could lay back and watch what seems more like an orchestral performance of a symphony of all that which composes what you normally call you. With this approach there is no judgement and also there is no suffering. In fact there is bliss. Beyond any I have previously known.
It takes great skill to get to this point but it’s worth it. It doesn’t take any skill to simply continue being taken over and dominated by whichever emotion your body makes of all the subtle signals that are always present in your body. Your body will do this with or without your awareness of all the smaller parts, but the difference will lie in having a choice about your suffering or not.
You may think (which everyone seems to at first), that we need to judge our experiences as good and bad in order to enjoy the good, simply at a cost of also having the bad. This is not true. Simple observation of our life without reacting to the sensory impressions that come into our field of perception, is totally relaxing and pure bliss!
You also may suggest that if we live our lives without reaction to our sensory impressions, then we just become dull vegetables, laying around like heroine junkies all day – not true either! Look at me! How excited I am to have found a way to be happier! When humans feel free from anger, irritation, stress, fear that’s where we truly can be excited and ready to take on the whole world! Look at the Buddha guy, 2600 years ago. He worked day and night to teach people this stuff. Look at Jesus, too! Also super enlightened guy and super active as well. Look at the guy that taught me my meditation – he established 170 centers all around the world and he was like the happiest, most relaxed, beautiful person ever! 😀
That was all for now, now get on to the next interesting post 😉
The meditation I refer to is called Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are. It has been used for about 2600 years now and the practice consists of observing each little part of the body and observing sensory impressions arise and pass away in each place, from head to toe, from toe to head, over and over again. In this way you learn how to see everything that happens to you in all of its sensory components, as described earlier. The course I took this winter was one of many courses taught worldwide by a very skilled person named Goenka. There are currently 174 course sites in the world, and these 10 day courses cost nothing. The whole thing is run on donations only, and the staff taking care of all students are all volunteers. To me that shows that people see practical, real benefits in practicing this way – I know that I do. I warmly recommend attending such a course to anyone who wish to suffer less. You can learn more in one of my upcoming posts or on the website dhamma.org.