Freedom From Suffering

optimized-grief_optI had the chance to talk to a Buddhist Monk about some things that had been bothering me lately. He listened patiently for five minutes of rambling and finally said “You are suffering because you want something to be different than it is…that’s all.” Now you feel combative when you argue with a monk but I found myself thinking “Yeah but it would be crazy to want something sad or unfair to happen”. He only repeated back to me “You are suffering because you want something to be different than it is”. As I thought more about this, or more accurately, as I wrestled with idea I was reminded that this suffering he spoke of always boils down to the meanings I am placing on things. Whether or not something is good or bad has everything to do with my definition of good or bad, that situations are all neutral. Now some situations definitely tilt the scales toward bad but what doesn’t change is still my ability to place any meaning I would like upon it.

When you look at situations and circumstances and recognize you can control the meaning, it’s nice to know that you can control something. But what about taking it to the next level. Can you place no meaning on situations at all? You are a meaning machine, you place meanings on things almost the second you lay eyes on them. I have come to believe that the monk wasn’t telling me to just shift my perspective and decide to be positive about it, he was telling me to stop insisting that it means anything at all. We are emotional creatures, and taking things personally comes so effortlessly that we would almost feel naked without it. I think that’s because if we don’t believe that things have to do with us, then we will feel minimized or unimportant. We subconsciously weave ourselves into everything to create a sense of self importance, and the interesting thing is that we don’t care whether it results in joy or suffering, the most important thing was that we mattered. I won’t be able to solve these questions of the soul in a single blog post but what I wanted to ask you to join me in the quest to go beyond optimism. Forget just making situations have a positive spin and lets stop spinning things at all. Meanings are exhausting, and almost always untrue. Meanings lead to self pity, one of the most insincere and pointless emotions of human kind.

“Some changes look negative on the surface, but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” – Eckhart Tolle

Someone once came to Buddha and said “I want happiness” and he said remove “I” and remove “want” ….all that’s left is happiness.


What do you want to be different right now? Job, relationship, finances, personal situation, or even a disease…a death…a deep loss….a way that you were once wronged…even abused…or not loved sufficiently. The all encompassing nature of the monks instruction to not want anything to be different than it is seems nearly impossible for the deepest of hurts. But a meditative lifestyle, a yogic lifestyle asks just that…are you willing stop taking life so personally, allow the circumstances surrounding you to be perfect simply because they are circumstances surrounding you. Even with the tough stuff and even the really really tough stuff.

“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” ― Thomas Merton

Here’s the thing about this topic, I’m realistic, we are not all monks…yet. So because we are emotional creatures and so we will inevitably suffer sometimes, at least while we are learning. So where you can so easily avoid suffering by not placing unnecessary meaning then do that, and when you find that level perspective out of reach then choose to experience it fully. In other words, be grown up enough to choose one or the other. You either let the situation be neutral or you absorb it completely. One way is easier, both are enlightened.

Chickpea to Cook
A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
where it’s being boiled.

“Why are you doing this to me?”

The cook knocks him down with the ladle.

“Don’t you try to jump out.
You think I’m torturing you.
I’m giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.

Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this.”

Grace first.
Then a boiling new life begins,
and the Friend has something good to eat.

Eventually the chickpea
will say to the cook,
“Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can’t do this by myself.

I’m like an elephant that dreams of gardens
and doesn’t pay attention

to his driver. You’re my cook, my driver,

my way into existence. I love your cooking.”

The cook says,
“I was once like you,
fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time,
and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.

My animal soul grew powerful.
I controlled it with practices,
and boiled some more, and boiled
once beyond that,
and became your teacher.”

– Poem by Rumi