Free Therapy #70: Why We Suffer Part 4

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“The spirit is so near that you can’t see it!
But reach for it… don’t be a jar,
full of water, whose rim is always dry.
Don’t be the rider who gallops all night
and never sees the horse that is beneath him.”


Some of us imagine we can freeze time. We imagine that this moment and all it contains will remain. Or so we secretly wish. We cling and clutch to what we have as if it will save us from pain, change and loss. Because we spend most of our time in our thinking minds, we fall for its lies and fail to realize there is something bigger; an indescribable vastness that is more miraculous and exquisite than our thoughts can comprehend, appreciate or know.

We are collectively dreaming we are disconnected from one another. In his book, The Five Things We Cannot Change, David Richo explains that when we get quiet and turn inward, “We notice the ongoing chatter in our heads and realize how it can lead to our believing we are a separate self.” But is this real?

Richo writes, “We are indeed distinct beings but when we fixate on that fact, we lose sight of the other truth about us – that we are interconnected and not ultimately separate in any fixed, final, or independent way.”

What is the difference between the dream you had last night and the dream you are currently having while you read these words? The only difference, of course, is that last night’s dream ended and this other one goes on.

When we are in a dream, it seems so real, but after it ends, after we “wake up,” we no longer identify with the person in the dream. We realize who we really are. In the dream we played a role in a world that vanishes when we’re awake. Once the dream is over, we realize it never was. All that remains are fading memories; tenuous, misty impressions in the mind.

Whether we live 25 or 100 years, this dream we call our “life” will end. And then what? At some point the Sun will burn out and all life on Earth will cease to be. What will any of this mean then? What was present before all this came into being and what will remain after all of this is gone? What always was, is and will be? What is permanent, perpetual, immutable and real and what is ephemeral, transitory, fleeting and surreal?

In his book, Falling Into Grace, Adyashanti gently explains that we have confused our normal state of egoic consciousness with ultimate reality, instead of understanding this is just a dream, a mesmerizing mirage, an intricate and beautiful illusion. Like waves in the ocean, we rise and then we fall.

For most of us, life involves struggle and suffering. We fight against life because we don’t always have what we want and we don’t always want what we have. Adyashanti states, “The reason that we struggle to maintain the egoic state is because it allows us to live our lives as if we are in control and separate from the world around us.”

The more we identify with a rigid sense of self and not-self, the more we find ourselves in opposition to aspects of perceived internal and external reality. We suffer because we oppose and we oppose because we suffer. However, reality can never be the true cause of our suffering. It just is. It is our resistance to reality that creates our pain. It hurts to maintain our illusions.

I recently spent a week with my wife and daughters in Nicaragua with a beautiful, dark-skinned, bright-eyed segment of the human race that are among the poorest and yet happiest people on the planet. How is that possible? At times we found ourselves crammed onto a bus for hours at a time, standing in the aisle as increasing amounts of passengers squeezed into the front and rear like extra layers of clothes in an overstuffed suitcase. Just when I was certain we were a dozen people beyond what laws of physics should allow, on came more. And then even more. And meanwhile others clambered onto the roof and held on for dear life as we raced down the loud, crowded highway, horns earnestly honking mad messages to one another: “Here I am!” and “Me, too!” For these rich, poor people all this was just another day. And no one complained. Their smiles were genuine. In the midst of continuous, cacophonous chaos, serenity and contentment clearly reigned.

Studies tell us that Americans are among the least happy people on Earth. Why is that? Could it be that we are materially rich and spiritually poor? Is it possible many of us suffer because we are constantly told material possessions will bring us the happiness we seek? And that we should be happier than we feel? And there is something wrong with us if we aren’t?

As I observed and visited Nicaraguans in their dirt- or sand-floored homes, along with their chickens, dogs and pigs, I noticed in their sparkling eyes a remarkable capacity for gratitude, generosity and love. To us they have nothing and that is true. They are literally dirt-poor. But if we look closer, we find they possess something more precious than fine clothes, homes or cars. In their poverty, they have wealth. They are able to be in the moment and appreciate what is present here for all of us. They suffer of course but in the midst of natural pain they are able to remain in close contact with their valued, cherished families and friends. Their stuff does not interfere. They are not too busy to listen and care. They have time to connect, laugh and love. In their joyful, humble innocence they celebrate their wholeness and unity as if it was more precious than all the gold and diamonds in the world. Which it is.

Struggle is here. We can notice it. Peace or what some call “spirit” is here. We can notice it too. Where struggle ends, peace begins. And yet peace doesn’t begin or end. Peace transcends space and time. It always is. Just because our spiritual radio is off, it doesn’t mean that spirit’s radio waves cease. Whether our “dial” is tuned to spirit or not, it is beaming our way, surrounding us on all sides, filling up every cell and pore, saturating us completely. And yet many of us fail to see, hear, feel, smell or taste it. Some of us choose to keep sleeping and dreaming.

Brené Brown, the author of Rising Strong and The Gifts of Imperfection describes spirituality as “a deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to one another by something bigger than us…something that is grounded in love.”

In her research, Brown finds that people who are able to bounce back from failure posses two critical strengths. They are willing to be uncomfortable and they are deeply curious. She states, “He or she who is the most capable of being uncomfortable rises the fastest. There is a huge correlation between a capacity for discomfort and wholeheartedness.”

In my practice, I try to keep it simple for my clients based on something called The Matrix, created by Dr. Kevin Polk. We have two choices. We can be here with our five senses turned on and blazing or we can live in the dream-world created by our well-meaning but trouble-making minds. We can run away from our internal experience or we can move toward our values: toward who or what is important to us. And in the middle of all this is “me (you) noticing.” Here we are, right now noticing and choosing. Are we wide awake and moving forward or are we fast asleep, dreaming and running away?

As we pause, we can quickly take inventory and reset. Right now. Or now. Or perhaps now. Am I alive in this delightful world or am I slogging around in the muddy mine-field of my tortured mind? Am I making “toward” or “away” moves? Am I restricted and rigid or am I expansive and flexible? Am I playing it safe or am I ready to leap into this magical moment? Am I devising clever but useless methods to avoid my internal experience or am I awake to the opportunities I have today to connect with and celebrate my unity with the universe? Do you see you everywhere or not? Are you big or small?

Adyashanti states, “If we really want to be awake, if we want to allow suffering to end, we have to open up our very idea of what…spirit is. We have to realize spirit is infinite potential that includes everything.”

There is something essential about you, me and everyone we know that never changes, that always remains. He, she or it is that noticer within, the observer, the secret, silent self behind the mask. Do you know that one? The changeless, ageless self that was “you” at birth and will be “you” at death. Our faces and bodies grow a little older each moment of life but that isn’t all we are. We are much more.

You can never “get” this. You can never lose this. Because you are “this.” This is you. This is me. It is time to get reacquainted, don’t you think?

“Your inner spiritual presence is an absolute lover of what is, of all of what is.” Let’s experience that now, shall we?

Douglas Craig

Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.

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