The cause of all suffering

If we take any difficult situation in our lives, and ask ourselves why that situation is making us suffer, we come down to one fundamental truth – our suffering is caused by our resistance to what is happening – to other people’s behaviour, to events and situations, to what we have lost or lack, to our own unwanted thoughts and emotions

Our suffering is always caused by our resistance to life.

We might not be aware of this, or we might be in denial about it. So we might blame someone or something else, saying ‘I am unhappy because of…’ but the truth is, ‘I am resisting what’s happening, and I am unhappy because of my resistance.’

We resist losing or lacking things which we perceive as desirable – positive emotions, friends, family and relationships, achievements, positive situations and events, material possessions, comfort, security and safety. And, we resist everything that we believe makes us suffer – negative emotions, other people’s negative behaviour, undesirable situations and events, sickness and discomfort, uncertainty and change.

The ways in which we resist life, other people and ourselves is constant and unending… I resist not having a soul mate… I resist my partner’s behaviour… I resist my lack of friends… I resist the way my friends treat me… I resist my sadness/anger/guilt… I resist my imperfect body… I resist my terrible job… I resist being unemployed… I resist that I’m too busy… I resist that I’m bored… I resist my lack of money… I resist feeling sick/uncomfortable/tired… I resist life.

Even when we are feeling relatively happy, if we enquire deep inside ourselves, we can still find something that we are resisting.

Resistance manifests as anger, frustration, irritation, sadness, jealousy, panic, impatience, stubbornness… and every other ‘negative’ emotion on the spectrum. Even boredom, apathy, laziness, procrastination and hopelessness are forms of resistance. At its most extreme form, resistance manifests as suicide – a total and absolute rejection of ourselves and life.

Resistance is very subtle, cunning and tricky to identify, because it entangles itself into our emotions, creating a stick web of negativity – which we often cannot recognise as coming from within us. It also hides itself behind other seemingly less destructive emotions, and can create a snowball effect of negative thinking (for example, being late for work can trigger internal resistance, which escalates into us unfairly criticising a colleague, which creates even more drama and resistance, negatively affecting our entire day).

When we do experience resistance and the negative emotion that arises from it, our usual reaction is to try and escape that negative emotion – i.e. to resist it. But if we look really carefully, we can see that we feel more of what we try to resist. So if we resist anger/sadness/frustration, we just continue to feel angry/sad/frustrated. This is difficult to notice at first – we think that we resist our own suffering because it is happening, and we don’t want to suffer. But actually, our suffering continues because we resist it.

It seems paradoxical to accept that the only way out of our suffering is not to resist it, but rather, to allow and accept it.

Also, it often seems like we feel the negative emotion first, and then we resist it. But in truth, the emotion arises because we resist something that is happening (ie. the situation that triggered the negative emotion) – so the resistance always comes first. To add to our suffering (and confusion), we can then resist not only the original triggering situation, but also our negative emotions about it. Then we may also resist our resistance to those emotions… leading us into a confusing spiral of even more negative emotion and resistance.

For example, I accidentally drop and smash my favourite decorative plate – a much coveted and exclusive designer piece. The plate is broken, unfixable, trash. This is the reality of the situation. But I choose to resist this truth. I don’t want the plate to be smashed, so I get angry, and my anger is an expression of resistance to what’s happened. I then get irritated with myself for being angry, and then I resist being irritated… and so on.

Resistance can manifest as many threads, interweaving together into a mesh of negative emotion, which impacts many aspects of our lives.

But, in its most simple terms, resistance is simply a rejection of what is… a rejection of reality… a rejection of the truth of life, as it unfolds in any given moment.

So, if we know that our resistance causes our own suffering, then we can ask ourselves, ‘Why do we resist life?’

If we examine resistance closely, we realise that it always stems from fear.

That boiling anger we feel, because our boss unfairly shouted and called us an idiot. That stems from a feeling of unworthiness, and a fear of being powerless.

That squeezing jealousy we feel in our chest, when we see our partner chatting with a very attractive person. That stems from a feeling of unworthiness, and a fear of abandonment.

That crippling fear we feel in our stomach, when we suddenly lose all our money. That stems from a feeling of lack, and a fear of being a failure.

If we explore our resistance each time it arises, we will always recognise fear at its core. Going even further, we notice that this fear always stems from a few core beliefs, such as, ‘I am unworthy… unloved… lacking… not good enough… alone… separate’.

What if those beliefs are not true? If we choose to stop believing in them, the result is that we stop resisting life as it arises in each moment, so we no longer suffer…

I accidentally drop and smash my favourite decorative plate – it’s unfixable, trash. This is reality. The plate is broken, and resisting it will only make me suffer. I let go of my belief that the plate somehow added to my status, that it made me ‘more’ of a person, that displaying it would raise my worthiness in other people’s eyes. I let go of all beliefs I have about the plate. Without any beliefs, I have no resistance to what has happened. I fully accept the reality of the broken plate. From that calm space of acceptance, I have clarity about what action to take (probably, I will just fetch the broom).

If we can meet our resistance with compassion, explore and question it… allow and accept it… then we have an opportunity to question the validity of the underlying fear that triggers it. And if we also explore this fear, we can get to the core of it, ‘see through’ it – and then, we realise that the fear originates from a set of core beliefs, which are simply not true.

Ultimately, resistance stems from the primary core belief that we are not yet whole, and that we can control and manipulate life into the wholeness that we seek.  Destroying this primary core belief is part of the mechanism of coming into alignment with reality – of seeing things as they really are – of spiritual awakening.

And the only way to see through all of our core beliefs, is to dive straight into them, examine and question them, explore and challenge them. And the only way to do that, is to first acknowledge and allow them, feel and experience them, accept and embrace them.

Because reality and truth – seeing things as they really are – can only be found by touching the heart of our suffering, by courageously allowing ourselves to become intimate with all aspects of ourselves. And in that space of radical acceptance, resistance effortlessly dissolves, as we remember the wholeness that we already are.

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