Attachment and Suffering

 Bringing Illumination to the Source of our Suffering

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
— Haruki Marukami

I don't how many times I’ve heard that phrase uttered. And I’m fairly certain those who repeat it are only parroting something they’ve heard but do not understand. Moreover, I am very aware it is often offered without empathy or compassion.

While there is spiritual truth within the idea, the way it is typically used suggests people are choosing to suffer. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that we so often conclude that to be the case is simply evidence of a deeply ingrained cultural tendency to blame people for their own difficulties.

As I have studied this idea, it has become clearer and clearer that no one chooses to suffer. And yet, suffering certainly occurs.

In a recent online interaction with a woman we shall call Monica, it was a subject greatly in need of understanding. Monica was suffering. And the suggestion from others that it was self-inflicted was extremely painful to her. (As an aside, can you imagine a more heartless interaction with someone? You’re suffering, and they proceed to tell you it is your fault?) Regardless, we had a few exchanges that resulted in the following.

“Here's how I've come to understand it, Monica. Suffering tells me there is something to which I have unknowingly become attached. That’s a fine word offered by the Buddha to describe the source of all suffering. It is the nature of being human to become attached, and it occurs when we are not aware. Think of it as a kind of mesmerism that steals into our consciousness without our knowledge or consent.

With a great deal of inner work we can gain quite a bit of relief from the tendency to become attached. That does not mean we become emotionless, rather that we do not fall prey to thinking that our identity or well-being-ness is dependent on some person, creature, place or circumstance. In order to achieve such freedom, we must bring awareness to the tendency, to begin to see the potential mesmerism as it arises. When we bring the light of awareness to it, the attachment does not need to form.

When suffering does arise, it is a sure sign we have become attached to something. We are called to bring it into awareness to find a way to release it, to put it to peace…which we might call acceptance.

When the attachment drops away we are free to experience life and feelings without suffering. Emotions rise and fall like the tides, and in many cases we can simply ride them without pain.”

The dialogue those thoughts produced proved to be very effective for Monica. Shortly thereafter I found myself in a discussion with another person who works in the world as I do, we determined that life is filled with experiences that produce all manner of feelings, and we were actually designed by the Universe to handle those emotions. But we were not designed to effectively handle guilt, shame or suffering.

In its wisdom, the Universe uses those to bring our attention to areas that impair our well-being-ness so we can address them and move beyond them. Said one long ago mentor, "The process renders that which is malignant and has the power to harm us, into something which is benign and no longer has any power over us."

So our natural state is to emote freely and without suffering. When suffering arises, it is useful feedback from Life itself that allows us to attend to an attachment that undermines our well-being. It’s a perfect design.

Regardless of that beautiful design and all that rationale, I’m always terribly sorry for anyone who bears injury, regardless of the apparent cause.

Seeing True

Suffering is optional only to the degree that we can bring sufficient awareness to our attachments. Only then can harmony be restored.