Indeed, if you're honest, most of your time is spent either pushing suffering away so as to avoid it, whether through painkillers, entertainment, shopping, sensual pleasures or intoxicants—or, alternatively, holding onto suffering and using it as a means of distinction, a way of getting attention and sympathy. Do these two extremes sound familiar: push or pull, deny or indulge, pretend nothing is wrong or exaggerate the pain?

If you want to suffer, then why do you? We were teaching a workshop in England, and we asked the group: "What makes us hold onto pain and suffering?" To our surprise, everyone raised their hands! They agreed that they didn't want to suffer, yet they held onto suffering because it felt so familiar. Your habitual mind can lock you into patterns that are mentally unhealthy, such as holding onto grudges or past hurts, as they create a sense of identity.

The word suffering comes from the Pali word dukkha, which not only means suffering but includes all its varied family relations, such as discomfort, pain, anguish, dissatisfaction, failure, conflict, hurt. What do you do when one of these comes knocking at your door? How do you relate to it? Do you push it away, cover it up or seek distraction? Denying suffering is what society does all the time. Look at how advertisements focus on the young and beautiful; how people ignore the process of aging by putting the elderly in separate homes; how people insulate themselves from the weather, from too much cold or too much heat; how they separate the rich and the poor so their paths rarely cross.

The denial of suffering means your real feelings get repressed, held in and squashed down, which results in you getting cut off from all your other feelings as well, not just the uncomfortable ones. Life becomes more superficial and empty because any depth of real feeling has been put out of reach. Resistance to suffering means no vital life force flowing through you—who you really are is hidden away.

Or do you make your difficulties the centerpiece of your conversation, creating an image as one who suffers? Please don't feel guilty about this, because it is not unusual! In an overpopulated and competitive world, you seek ways to appear different and special in order to gain attention. Doing it through highlighting your suffering is no better or worse than doing it any other way. But it does mean suffering becomes imbued with importance—it becomes my suffering, my pain, my problem, and given the choice, I might not even want to give it up. Who would you be without something to complain about, something that generates such attention, without your identity?

How to understand your suffering


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