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The big secret to living in peace is recognizing and transforming suffering, not running away from it. A difficult goal to achieve. Pain scares us and the society in which we live suggests us multiple loopholes in order not to look deeply at what torments us.
There are those who use food to avoid suffering, those who stun themselves with television or smartphones, alcohol or other tools of mass distraction.
THE ORIGIN OF SUFFERING
Every little child that begins to manifest seeks the approval and recognition of its parents at the same time that a small plant seeks water, light and air.
When a quality is not accepted and recognized, perhaps because the parents want the child to be like this or that, the child has nothing left but to change, repressing or denying this unaccepted quality, because he needs their love and their recognition.
This strategy has become automated over the years in the thoughts and emotions of the adult we have become, forming our Ego. So we suffer because we have an identity to protect. We are afraid because it can be threatened at any moment by circumstances that you cannot control. We get angry because we don’t receive the right attention from others and all of this becomes a burden that oppresses us moment after moment.
Let’s start looking for the ego: not in others – which doesn’t concern us – but in ourselves. Whenever we feel unhappy, petty, we immediately close our eyes: we try to find out where this unhappiness comes from, and each time we will find that our false center has come into conflict with someone.
We expect something… and nothing happens. Something is expected… and quite the opposite happens: our ego is upset, it falls into the blackest unhappiness. Let’s just observe it: when we feel unhappy we try to find out why.
The fundamental reason is within us, but we always look outside, we always ask: who makes me so unhappy? If we look outside we will never find out. Let us limit ourselves to closing our eyes and always looking within ourselves.
SUFFERING AND HAPPINESS ARE NOT SEPARATE
When we suffer, we tend to think that in that moment there is only suffering and that happiness belongs to another place and another time. We often ask ourselves ‘Why do I have to suffer?‘. To think that we should be able to lead a life completely free from suffering is as illusory as to think that we should be able to have a left side without a right side. The same is true if we think we have a life where there is absolutely no happiness. Just as if there is no right there is no left in the same way where there is no suffering there is no happiness and vice versa.
Through constant practice we learn how to transform suffering with meditation, training our insight and learning to see how both suffering and happiness are present in every moment and understanding how to get in touch with them. Every day meditating and observing deeply body, senses, thoughts and emotions in the here and now we take a step forward to understand that suffering and happiness are not two separate things.
If you want to learn more about the technical specifications on how to transform suffering with meditation, I talk about it here.
MENTAL PRESENCE: THE MEDICINE THAT HEALS
mindfulness is the best way to be with your suffering without being overwhelmed by it. Mindfulness teaches us how to transform suffering because it is the ability to inhabit the present moment, to pay attention in a non-judgmental way to what happens in the here and now. When we breathe in and know that we are breathing in, that is awareness. When we take a step and we know we are taking it, that is awareness. Awareness is always awareness of something; it is the energy that helps us to be aware of what is happening right here and now, in our body, in sensations, perceptions and around us. Read more about the power more about the power of the here and now here.
With mindfulness you can recognize the presence of suffering in yourself and in the world. It is with that same energy that you tenderly embrace suffering. Being aware of the inhalation and exhalation generates the energy of awareness, which allows one to continue to cradle one’s suffering. Those who practice mindfulness can help support each other in the work of acknowledging, welcoming, and transforming suffering.
With awareness we are no longer afraid of pain; we can even go further and use suffering to generate the energy of understanding and compassion that heals us, and we can help others heal and also be happy.
Thich Nhat Hanh
PRACTICE AWARENESS IS THE EQUAL TO PRACTICE LOVE
Loving yourself means so much more than just loving yourself and wishing good things to happen. Self-love is a practice, an art, and none of us learned to practice it from an early age. Through meditative practice we train our ability to observe one’s mind and to lovingly welcome one’s emotions in order to develop true love for ourselves, or rather love for the aspects of ourselves that we don’t love, that we hide, that we try to forget, that we deny and fight.
The practice of self-love opens the door to a life without any lack because when we fully love ourselves life no longer needs to mirror us the lack of self-love in various situations of scarcity. The fullness of love will be expressed in an abundance of joy in our lives.
Here is a guided meditation to practice loving attention towards yourself, a practice to understand exactly how to transform suffering with meditation: