To be human is to suffer said the Buddha. It sounds a bit depressing but it wasn't meant to be so, there is far more content in that statement than I could ever talk about in a short blog, or fully understand, but let's get down to the basic idea of it anyway and see what you take away for yourself.
I was lying awake in bed last night, I woke up around 1am because, being a middle aged man I needed the loo. Often I can get back to sleep quite quickly, but at the moment we seem to have a lot of things going on in our life and of course once back under the duvet I accidentally allowed my attention to slip to one of these and that was the last I saw of sleep for at least another hour or two.
That might sound strange coming from someone that likes to share meditation teachings and all of that sort of thing but at the end of the day it is also what makes me human. I haven't passed beyond suffering, I believe that I am still human and in fact there is no suffering other than that which I create for myself as this human.
Let me try to explain it another way. There is a situation in my daily life that needs to be resolved right now. Don't worry its nothing that exciting but it does niggle me most days at the moment and causes me some anxiety. The thing in itself is largely out of my control and in and of itself it carries no suffering, it is just a situation that has arisen. A situation isn't suffering, it doesn't contain suffering, any more than a car alarm is suffering – its just a car alarm. If I don't like car alarms I'd suffer to hear one, however if I had been deaf for my whole life and then I suddenly heard a car alar, it would be the most amazing sound ever! You get my point? The car alarm has no inherent suffering attached to it, nor does anything, however much we might believe they do - that is just our greatest misunderstanding, what in yoga we would call Avidya.
So where on Earth does this suffering arise from if it doesn't come from things outside of me? Its not like I would actually create suffering for myself is it? That would be an insane thing to do.....?
When my attention first went to the situation that I am currently feeling anxious about there was a moment of decision right there. I had a chance to choose to give it my attention or not. The problem with a lot of this is that we simply forget. In fact I really think that meditation should be renamed 'Remembering practise' because that is actually all we have to do. We constantly have to remember that we have a choice and that choice is where the attention or awareness rests
So why do we choose to put that awareness on our disturbing thoughts for so much of our time? Simply because the awareness finds them so fascinating. They are an unsolvable problem to chew over, watching the breath is nowhere near as fascinating, at least not at the start of our journey.
You might say that herein lies some of the truth of what the Buddha was exploring - to be human is to suffer. The question that we might sensibly ask here then is what does it mean to 'be human' – what does that entail? Because by extrapolation from the Buddhas observation, we might conclude that to not be human is to not suffer?
My awareness could be said to be what I truly am; we have explored this in past blogs – explored why we aren't our body and we aren't our thoughts because both of these are constantly shifting and changing. The only thing that is unchanging is my awareness (not be confused with my senses – I can be aware of my senses – but the awareness knows the senses, it isn't the senses themselves.)
The 'humanness' that my mind (thoughts) imagines myself to be isn't the awareness; the humanness I imagine myself to be is the body, the thoughts, emotions & so on – the faculties of being a humans you might say. It is only these bodies, thoughts and emotions that appear to have any problems at all. The awareness has no problems and never has had, how can it? It is simply aware.
Sooooo, if we confuse ourselves to be human then of course we confuse ourselves to have all of these problems associated with that humanness and therefore we imagine that we suffer.
Logically then 'to be human is to suffer'. If 'I' could permanently remember that 'I' was not this human form, no suffering would exist. Sure things would happen (from your human point of view you might classify some of them as bad or negative) but essentially they are just things happening, not good or bad. Empty of any inherent suffering, but actually full of infinite potential.
That is pretty far out and you might need to read that back half a dozen times to make any sense of it at all. But of course that is entirely natural. After all if all that you had heard for your entire life was very loud white noise, you would assume that the only sound that existed was very loud white noise. Likewise with these ideas, it is very hard to think yourself out of thinking after all 'How do you solve a problem like Maria?' Well Maria certainly can't fix that problem, she is the problem.
Eventually when I'm lying in bed on nights like last night, I do remember that I am my awareness, and when I remember that first step, then I remember that awareness is free and I can then let it rest on the breath, the body and indeed even on the thoughts in moderation. I can be aware of the thoughts, I just have to remember not to confuse myself with being the thoughts.
It can need to be a forceful process at first, after all as I said, the thoughts are so fascinating, so full of detail, so changing and shifting. But if I direct that awareness forcefully onto the breath for example, after a while I can relax it and allow it to dissolve over everything, the next thing I realise it is morning.
Not to worry though, because I'm still very much identified with this human form, however much I logically understand it to be an illusion, I know that I'll get to practice the same thing over and over again tonight as well!
If you enjoy working on all of this or are right at the start of your meditation journey you will probably enjoy our Beyond Mind Online Course, which we have reduced by 30% for the Christmas period at a time when many of us are suffering greatly from an over active mind or know someone that is! Now only £25 for 3 hours of video lessons and 3 hours of recorded audio meditations :)