The most common reason that people turn to spirituality is to deal with suffering. Pain is not the same as suffering. Suffering is pain that we hold on to. It comes from the mind’s mysterious instinct to believe that pain is good, or that it cannot be escaped, or that we deserve it.
It takes force of mind to create suffering, a blend of belief and perception that we think we have no control over. But, as inescapable as suffering may appear to be, what brings escape is not attacking the suffering itself; its getting at the unreality that makes us cling to pain.
Mostly, this unreality is about overlooking actual facts; as we know, but so often forget. Adopting negative perceptions, reinforcing those perceptions by obsessive thinking, getting lost in the pain without looking for a way out, comparing ourselves to others and cementing the suffering through toxic relationships that don’t serve us.
Once we stop knowing what is real, these misperceptions fall into place automatically. This means that for most people only the end of the line - fear of death - is a conscious experience; therefore, we must begin there and go back up the ladder. Being afraid of death is a source of anxiety that reaches into many areas.
The way our society worships youth and shuns the elderly, our desperate need for distraction, the promotion of cosmetics and beauty treatments, flourishing gyms with full-length mirrors on all sides, and the craze for celebrity are all symptoms of wanting to deny death.
We fear death not for itself but for a deeper reason, which is the need to defend an imaginary self. Identifying with an imaginary self is something we all do. Even on a superficial level, we erect an image based on income and status. Self-image is closely connected to self-esteem, and we know the high price we pay when self-esteem is lost.
Life never stops demanding more and more. The demands on our time, patience, ability and emotions can become so overwhelming that admitting our inadequacy seems like the honest thing to do. Yet, in our false self-image is buried the ugly history of everything that has gone wrong. “I won’t,” “I can’t,” and “I give up” all became self-fulfilling prophecies.
Even with a healthy self-image we recoil from things that threaten our egos. These threats exist everywhere. I am afraid of being poor, of losing my partner, of breaking the law. I am afraid to shame myself before anyone whose respect I want to keep. The need to protect myself from what I fear is part of who I am.
Holding on to something is a way of showing that we are afraid it will be taken from us. People feel violated when they come home to find that their home has been broken into. This violation doesn’t matter because of what has been taken; but rather the loss of their sense of personal safety, stripped of the illusion of being untouchable.
There are many twists and turns to suffering. The trail leads from fear of death to a false sense of self and the need to cling. In the end, however, unreality alone is the cause of all suffering. The problem is never pain; quite the opposite. Pain exists so that illusion won’t keep persisting. If unreality didn’t hurt, it would seem real forever.
These misperceptions can be solved all at once by embracing one reality. The difference between “I am my hurt” and “I am” is small, but crucial. A huge amount of suffering has resulted from this single misperception. For example, thinking that I was born, I cannot avoid the threat of death.
All of these are perceptions that were created, not facts. Once created, a perception lives a life of its own until we go back and change it. In reality nothing exists outside the self. As soon as we begin to accept this one bit of knowledge, the whole purpose of life changes.
The only goal worth attaining is complete freedom to be ourselves, without illusions and false beliefs. To no longer bring problems to anyone who wants to leave us alone. To no longer reject genuine offers of assistance out of pride, insecurity or doubt. To no longer absorb the toxic effects of others, by keeping a distance.