The Anatomy of Suffering~The Anatomy of Serenity
You have within you the potential to meet all of life’s circumstances with equanimity. You are not a victim of your circumstances. You are the master gardener of your life. The seeds of despair and the seeds of hope are buried within the soil of your subconscious. The ones you water, grow. The buds you fertilize, bloom. The weeds you remove have no power over you. In this manner you create the harvest of your life.
The following musings were inspired because I was re-reading chapter 8 of The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer this morning. It is a brilliant book, and I highly recommend it. Here is my take on some of the concepts that he presented.
Singer wrote, “When your stuff gets hit, let go right then because it will be harder later” (p. 74). “You must be aware that there is something within you that needs to be released. You must then be aware that you, the one who notices the stuff coming up, are distinct from what you’re experiencing” (p. 75).
The Anatomy of Suffering
When you experience an emotional reaction to what someone said or did or to something that happened in your environment, what part of you is noticing? Is it your thinking mind or your emotional core? Neither; it is the consciousness behind your thoughts and emotions. It is the part of you that simply watches. But then the story is so captivating that you get sucked in and “lose consciousness.” Now you are immersed in the story that you are telling yourself and have left the here and now. You are living in your head and kidnapped by your emotions, and the story is looping. Every thought you are thinking is feeding the narrative about how you are a victim or about how there is an injustice or about how you have been misunderstood. The story is so engrossing that you begin to dwell on it and tell it to other people as if it were true. And parts of it are true—the physical and verbal details—but the meaning you have assigned to it is completely subjective. You have literally made it up based on your speculations. Now you are defining yourself and the other person or people in relation to it. The tale has taken on a life of its own and is now an objective thing. You have actually created it, invested in it, and given it energy to sustain it.
And what is the fruit of this creation, this grand story? Discord. Us against them. Me against you. Victim vs. persecutor. And here is the really interesting part . . . now that you have identified your role as victim, you begin to live from that constructed reality. “This happened to me and now I am like I am,” or “They did this to me, so I am justified in behaving this way.” So the first created yarn spawns a new narrative around “coping” behaviors. [I put the word coping in quotations because you are not coping with the actual event (like you think you are); you are coping with your response to the event. That fact doesn’t make the reality any less daunting.] “This is why I drink.” “This is why I isolate myself.” “This is why I am lonely.” “This is why I can’t go around my family.” “This is why I binge eat.” “This is why I have to protect myself.” It is a painful, deadening, life-draining progression.
What can be done?
The answer is to unite with your True Nature, which is LOVE. How does one do this? The philosophy of yoga offers some insight. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali said that yoga is the release of the commentary of the mind. Then the seer abides in his or her True Nature. He instructed that this commentary is released through practice and non-attachment and that any effort toward steadiness of mind is practice. If you like steps, here they are:
Disengage from the story.
Identify and acknowledge the seed affliction that is driving it, for your own understanding of your raw spots.
Utilize the situation as an opportunity to exercise your values.
Go as soon as possible to a quiet place where you can immerse yourself in uplifting ideas to get back on track (journal your insights).
Now get up and do what best awakens you to LOVE.
So the first step is to release the commentary. When the feelings of discomfort arise and you begin to hear the story in your head trying to make sense of things, step back from the narrative. This is non-attachment. Detach from the drama. Hold it at a distance. Watch from your witness consciousness as your mind rattles on and your body contracts in emotion. Understand that the essence of who you are is separate from the reactions of your body. From this removed perspective, view these reflexes with compassion, rather than judgment. These responses are part of being in a human body. They are not who you are, however. You are the witness behind these reactions, so don’t identify with them. Disengage from the commentary.
Patanjali was very specific about the afflictions that kidnap one from the present-moment awareness of LOVE. These generate the narrative of suffering. Afflictions exist as seeds in your subconscious. Virtues also exist as seeds in your subconscious. The afflictions he postulated are:
Identifying with the impermanent (such as thoughts, emotions, and actions) as permanent;
Having pride that causes you to be self-seeking to the detriment of another;
Having an attachment to outcome or the way you think things should be; having an attachment to persons or possessions;
Having an aversion to persons, places, or things;
Clinging to life and/or having fear instead of faith;
Now that you have disengaged from the commentary and identified it’s originating affliction, it is time to water the seeds of virtue. This is called practice. Patanjali suggested three general forms of practice. These are:
Accepting the situations of life as opportunities to exercise your values and manifest virtues;
Filling your mind with inspiring ideas that remind you of your True Nature, usually through immersion in scripture or other mind-expanding literature, music, videos, etc.;
Devotion to LOVE through dedication of every thought, word, and deed; living a life of surrender & trust;
The Anatomy of Serenity
You have within you the potential to create a life of serenity. The experience of serenity is not dependent on the circumstances of life. It is cultivated through the practice of mindfulness and gratitude. Awareness of and appreciation for the very process of life breeds serenity. Self-centeredness and judgment foster suffering.
Not only does the philosophy of yoga offer insight into the nature of suffering and how to overcome it, but Patanjali also proposed a plan of action to promote serenity. His blueprint begins with abstinences and observances.
When you abstain from causing pain to yourself or others, gentleness is present.
When you abstain from telling false stories to yourself or others, truth is present.
When you abstain from stealing (in the form of goods or esteem) from yourself or others, dignity is present.
When you abstain from excess, balance is present.*
When you abstain from hoarding, generosity is present.
Welcome purity. Purity is revealed when you let go of impediments.
Welcome contentment. Contentment is revealed when you let go of striving and rest in this present moment.
Welcome acceptance. Acceptance is revealed when you let go of resistance.
Welcome wisdom. Wisdom is revealed when you let go of ignorance.
Welcome reverence. Reverence is revealed when you let go of self-centeredness.
In addition to the abstinences and observances, Patanjali recommended engaging in breathing practices and meditation to nurture the witness consciousness. These practices function to equip you to meet the inevitable challenges of life with equanimity and joy.
The garden of your life is an ever-changing field of potential—a fertile soil that responds to the slightest nurturing. You are the master gardener. What seeds will you water? You can always uproot and replant. Let the sun shine in, and watch your life bloom.
*This is my take on Patanjali’s concept of continence.
Postscript: My intention in writing this is to offer a tool that allows you to disengage from the story immediately when you get triggered in natural, day-to-day interactions so that you may experience equanimity. The purpose of my writing about this process is not to make suggestions about how to heal from severe trauma. There are experts in that field, and I respectfully refer you to them.