Friday, 16 September 2016

Afflictions of the Mind: Part-5.2 (Suffering)

Suffering v/s Pain

Sometimes people confuse the two. Pain is a physical process, where the peripheral nervous system is communicating a situation of damage to the central nervous system. This is a healthy occurrence. The body takes proper actions (such as avoiding the damage causing agent, or protecting the damaged parts) and it helps the organism to survive. It is a primitive, yet very effective strategy of the Mind.

When does pain become a suffering? When the person identifies with the pain. The pain happens, it does not “happen to” the person. It is the ignorance of the person that makes him perceive the pain being inflicted on his whole being, when the pain should have been seen only as an uncomfortable sensation happening in the body. It is wise to take action and minimize the pain, than to cry about it, curse the situation, fall into self-pity or hate the agent causing the pain. These are all signs of immaturity and stupidity.

Once there is knowledge that the pain is a physical occurrence, and the damage has been already done, one can take proper action to end the suffering as well as the pain. Pain takes some time to go away, but one need not suffer from it.

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A state of the Mind characterized by negative contents. Thoughts, memories, fantasies etc. that cause and maintain suffering. Also seen in the forms of worries, stress and anxiety. Often a fear, a belief, an uncertainty or lack of knowledge is the root cause of negativity. Negativity makes a person behave in irrational ways, makes him doubt and distrust everyone, makes him see all situations as threatening and harmful and renders him incapable of taking right actions. 

Often, negativity is also caused by past traumas, unfulfilled desires and unfulfilled expectations. An ignorant person cannot see their nature and thinks that he is a victim of it all. Instead of letting these occurrence come and go, he clings to them, making the suffering worse and prolonged. Needless to say, a negative person suffers a lot, and makes others suffer too. 

There is no general cure for negativity. The root cause is ignorance and ignorance of the specific matter that is causing the negativity. If it is a fear, one must see it, become aware of it, take action to get rid of it or protect oneself reasonably (if its a real threat). This should make the suffering go away. And if even after that the negative thoughts return, the memories haunt, one must observe them carefully and attentively. One must not jump to action, proper action has been already taken. One must see that now there is no reason for negative content to appear in the Mind. This weaken the negativity and it soon disappears. Awareness of the negativity is the key.

In the same way, if the cause is unfulfilled desire, one must see that the desires come and go, they are not “your desires”. Expectations are usually beliefs, assumptions that an event/person/situation will happen in exactly the way you want. Things may or may not happen as you please. You have no control over those, the most you can do is try to control your own thinking, correct it first. The suffering disappears when irrational expectations disappear.

If there is an uncertainty, a novel situation or a demanding situation and you have no clue how to handle it, you fall into anxiety and stress. The worry consumes you. The intelligence disappears and your actions are mostly reactions, damage control in haphazard way. I cannot suggest a cure it all medicine for stress, but I can say from my own experience, that breaking down the problem into small parts works well. Set up priorities and handle the first thing first. This keeps the mind focused on the needed tasks instead of things that seem impossible to do or to know. One step at a time, and take your own sweet time. Learn, know, act, rectify – repeat.
Often work, survival issues and close relatives contribute to the stress. One must see the cause clearly, one must accept his ignorance and turn the situation into a learning activity. Ensure that your attempts at learning are not random and are not causing further damage (such as a loss to your company or yourself). Once you get the needed experience, the stressful situation is handled properly and the stress will never appear again.

Automatic loops of suffering

Suffering is also caused by habitual patterns in the Mind. Some programs that are there for proper functioning of the Mind and some abilities like imagination or planning go haywire and the infinite loops of suffering begin. These can be the narrator, the nagger, scenario maker and fantasizer. Yes, I made up those names. I use them to locate and kill the loops whenever they occur and the Mind is caught in them. Naming helps in setting up a trigger, the Mind associates the name with the loop. When they begin, the Mind recalls the name, a recognition occurs and it snaps out of the loop immediately.

As we have seen in previous articles, the Mind is caught in a thought process continuously and most of the time keeps narrating the thoughts in a language form. This is the infamous Monologue, the internal chatter, the monkey mind. Moreover, the Mind identifies them as “my thoughts”. When does it become a suffering? When the content of the thoughts is negative. It is irritating as it is, and when the monologue also causes suffering it is desirable to kill it there and then. This ends the suffering instantly. A common example of narrator in action is a story, that you keep telling again and again to no one but yourself. Probably something bad happened, and now there is this story of how it “happened to me” and how terrible it was. The narrator is never tired of repeating it again and again, filling the Mind with negativity and suffering. Some people even repeat it to anyone else they can find, causing a suffering to others also.

The only way to end the narrator loop is to become aware of it, know that it is not you (if it is you, why would you even do it?). Just as I mentioned, there are some tricks to become aware of it as soon as it starts. One is to set up a hook, a name or an affirmation, that kicks in with the narrator and you get a choice to stop there.

The nagger is a loop that incites you into action, a negative action. Someone insulted you, and it hurt you deeply. The narrator brings it up repeatedly and pushes you to take revenge. It has turned into a nagger. This repeats endlessly, causing endless suffering. Sometimes people take actions suggested by the nagger, and repent it later. One can weaken it by not taking the action. It often provokes in different ways. Know that these are simple survival instincts, primitive programs, that have gone dysfunctional.

A scenario maker loop is the planning ability of the Mind gone wrong. Planning is good, an extraordinary ability, we talked about.
For an ignorant person having no skills of planning, the planning is replaced by making up scenarios. Simply making up scenarios in the Mind, especially negative ones, causes suffering. These are often negative and focus on how everything will go wrong with your task. Fear is the root cause here. You have an important project to complete or perhaps an exam to appear in. The Mind comes up with all kinds of negative situations that can happen, and indulges itself in suffering. The scenarios tell you how you will always fail, this is pessimism at it worst. Needless to say, one's performance is affected by it, and it can become a self-defeating act.

Fantasizer is a loop, a habitual pattern that is characterized by negative imagination. Imagination, a great gift, we discussed before, can become a cause of suffering when it happens in a negative way. Fantasizer differs from scenario maker in an important way, the scenario or situation imagined by the fantasizer is totally unreal. A good example is – a monster under the bed. This fantasy causes suffering for many children. For adults, the monster is replaced by other irrational things – a curse, an invisible presence, imaginary fears, phobia, paranoia, doom and gloom of all kinds. When in the grip of the fantasizer, a person imagines things that are not there, takes illogical actions and suffers.

I suspect that there are more such loops. The cure for most of them is to know what they are and remain attentive, alert and fully aware of the contents of your own Mind. The most important thing to know is that these dysfunctional processes are not “you”. You are the one who watches them. You don’t want negative contents there tormenting you 24x7.

Boredom and Depression

Boredom is a state of Mind, a dullness, that occurs when there are no distractions present, especially in cases of Minds habitual of distractions. In modern (aka “civilized”) societies, people, having fulfilled most of their basic needs, have plenty of time on their hands. They mostly (mis)use that time to keep themselves distracted with this or that. This is their idea of “happiness”. When, for any reason, the distractions are not present, they are overwhelmed by suffering, and absence of “happiness” or pleasures. This is seen in flights, trains, or in long queues, where people are forced away from their favourite distraction and entertainment. So, you will find some arrangements to distract people in such places. A screen, a TV, colourful magazines, newspapers, anything works. Of course, these days smartphones have replaced most of the varied distractions, you will find people deeply engaged with them and suffering as if in hell, when the battery dies. If you want to make a shallow person suffer, all you need to do is take his entertainment away.

This is the nature of the (untrained) Mind, that it loses interest in something, as soon as its novelty fades. So after a few hours, your most loved distraction also becomes boring, and you start looking around to find something even more distracting. This repeats, until you suffer some more and fall asleep, which is a natural cure. A better cure is to realize that the Mind has become habitual of the contents, it demands more and more of them. This results in impulses, desires and irrational actions, all causes of suffering. When one learns to just be, one frees oneself from boredom.

Some people find themselves caught in lifestyles that are boring. Their lives are a run of a mill. If one lacks curiosity, an attitude of an explorer, seeks nothing, questions nothing and does nothing of value, his life becomes nothing but boring. One needs to cultivate such qualities, and if one is on a path, boredom is least of his problems, he never gets enough time to spare. A seeker is busy seeking, peacefully, persistently, continuously, there is no time to get bored. He never suffers loneliness, he never needs distractions.

I see depression as an extreme and chronic case of suffering. When one can be distracted by nothing, loses a will to do anything at all, has no goals, no paths, nothing excites him, and his life becomes a burden, one is in a deep suffering, a depression. There are various causes of depression and one slips into the pit of depression mostly due to prolonged suffering. The long suffering dulls the Mind completely, makes the person devoid of life and energy. Often a series of failures in spite of best attempts, extreme trauma, long periods of abuse, ill health, unfriendly relatives and families, poverty etc. are causes of depression. However, at the root of it all, lies ignorance. 

I will not undertake lengthy case studies of depression, but it is easy to see how ignorance is the root cause and how correcting it can cure the depression. Often, the depressed person is so depressed that he is unaware of his situation, and external help is needed. It takes time and patience to bring someone out of depression. However, if one is not so deep inside the dark pit of depression, one can get out of it simply by careful observation and introspection. Firstly, it helps to ask the question – “who is depressed?” or “who is suffering?”. You will find that there is an illusory entity, a made up “me” who is going through the depression or the suffering. You will see that the Self is still there shining brightly, seeing this condition of depression too. This is enough to bring someone with self-awareness, out of depression. Secondly, one can start by finding the cause of the depression and seeing how the ignorance is behind it all. Once the ignorance is removed, the cause is removed and the suffering disappears. It was never there, it was just ignorance.

Great masters have opined that suffering is a blessing in disguise. It opens up the path to freedom. If one is not even suffering, one is surely deep in ignorance, one is fully unaware of his condition. Suffering makes you question, and thus shows you a way out of darkness of ignorance. When there is no suffering, there is no natural way to get out of ignorance. Why would one even try to improve or gain knowledge when one is perpetually happy? So suffering has a positive side, it is a device of mother nature to nudge us towards knowledge and freedom. However, once you get the hint, know, and leave the suffering behind. It need not remain as your only tool for progressing.

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