What is suffering?

109In order to answer this question, first, we have to make distinction between pain and suffering.

Imagine that you have bought a beautiful framed picture and you are just up to put it on the wall. You position the nail to the marked spot on the wall, lift the hammer, but a sudden sharp noise distracts your attention and you hit your thumb with the hammer instead of the nail. Abruptly, you feel a sharp pain.

Just in a few seconds, a chain of self referencing thoughts emerges: ‘What a fool I am! I should have been more careful. Oh, it hurts so much! What am I going to do now? What if I am not able to work tomorrow? I won’t be able to type, I’m sure. How will I explain it to my boss?’ – and it goes on and on. This is suffering.

The physical pain is real, but the suffering is optional.

When this string of selfing thoughts, which is a story put onto the experience of pain, is seen for what it is, and not believed or taken seriously, then what is left is just the raw experience of pain in the thumb.

Suffering is the byproduct of a belief in the illusion of the self, who ‘lives’ separately from the rest of the world. When the ‘I’-thought is seen through then there is nobody who could suffer from anything.

From the point of view of the separate ‘individual’ the suffering seems very vivid and real, because all the thoughts that generate suffering are believed. Like in the movie analogy, when the character identifies with its role, all the happenings in the movie of the flow of life are taken very seriously. As the story of ‘his’ life plays itself, the character is just tossed around in the endless waves of the ocean being at the mercy of the elements.

When the story is seen through, it becomes translucent and loses its sharpness and seriousness. It becomes lighter and entertaining as a movie intended to be. Even if the story takes a ‘darker’ turn in the form of sickness or some kind of loss – pain, sadness, frustration or anger may arise but they cannot stick to anywhere and linger, since there is no ‘you’ to stick to, who could suffer from them.

Suffering is optional.
Without believing thoughts, there is no suffering.

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Who are you protecting when you protect your friend?

161Imagine that you are in a garden party held by one of your friends. As you are walking along by a group of people, you cannot help but overhear their conversation as they are making fun of somebody else who is not there. You walk on, but suddenly you realise that the person they are talking about is your best friend, Pete. Thoughts come up: ‘Wait a minute. They are making fun of Pete. They shouldn’t talk like this. Pete is a very good guy. I have to do something. I have to protect him.’ The body becomes tense, and you feel frustrated. You turn around, hasten your steps back to them to pick up a fight to protect your best friend.

What do you think who are you protecting? Are you really protecting Pete or just protecting the concept of Pete in ‘your head’?

During the ten-year friendship, an intricately detailed mental concept of Pete has been built up in ‘your’ brain. This concept is compounded of a mental image of his body, his name Pete, the sound of his voice, his habitual reactions to certain circumstances, his likes and dislikes, the stories he frequently tells, and all the good and bad memories of times you spent together.

But this mental image is not ‘him’. This construct ‘lives’ only in ‘your’ mind. Actually, there is a huge web of conditioned neuronal networks in the brain that creates and re-creates this image of Pete every time ‘you’ think of him.

This mental image of Pete serves a seemingly quite important job; to be a building block of ‘you’. This concept of Pete is a small segment of ‘your’ self. The illusion of ‘I’ lives in almost every concept and all beliefs. The ‘I’ is assembled from these small fragments. When a part of it is seen through, then the identification with that part is no longer total. A segment of ‘you’ is dissolved.

So, who do ‘you’ protect when protecting ‘your’ friend?

‘You’ are protecting ‘your’ self.
The self that does not exist.
‘You’ protect an illusion of ‘your’ existence.

‘I’, as the centre of the universe

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When the identification with the ‘I’ thought set forth, from then on, literally everything is viewed from the perspective of a separate individual. The ‘I’ becomes the centre of the universe, and contrary to popular belief, this egoic perspective never stops until the end of the organism. The only way to break the spell is to awaken to the realisation that there has never been a self, who could own life, in the first place.

The sense of ‘me’ is constructed by the brain from the concoction of the mental image of the body, the collection of memories – which is the base of ‘my’ life story –, the compilation of thousands or millions of beliefs with the associated emotional responses and conditioned, habitual judgements.

With every thought and every belief the sense of ‘I’ is ‘created’ again and again. ‘I’ am the centre of everything. The ‘I’-thought is so pervasive that it is there even in the most seemingly innocent judgements, like ‘This flower is so beautiful’. Apparently, the word ‘I’ is missing from this statement, and yet, it is still there implicitly, because ‘I’ am the one who makes this judgement about the flower, according to ‘my’ definition of beauty. A flower does not have an innate attribute of beauty. The flower just IS. ‘I’ project beauty on it. ‘I’ put the mental label of beauty on it.

Reality is neutral.

All the input that comes from our senses is filtered through a huge, intricate web of beliefs. As a result, a flower may look like ‘for me’ as if it has independent and inherent attributes as its own. But in direct experience, there are no attributes, just colours, shapes, movements, scents, textures.

When these judgement and beliefs are seen for what they are – simple thoughts passing by – then the heavy veil of life gently becomes translucent until it disappears back to nothingness.

This is peace.
This is what ‘we’ are seeking.
Freedom from ‘our’ selves.

How is the self constructed? (part 2)

Around the age of two, the ‘story of my life’ started its lifelong, ragged journey. The ‘I’, who is the centre of the story, has been constantly and uncontrollably expanding out to the universe.

119The human mind is a labelling machine, meaning that it interprets and judges everything it encounters. It cannot help doing it, this is its job.

The original self-construct, which is an identification with the ‘I’-thought – ‘I am Charlie, I am this body’ – is further expanded with a huge array of adjectives picked up from the environment, like ‘Charlie is a good boy, so I am good’, and later, generated within the system itself by thinking, ‘I screwed it up, I am a failure’.

These deductions that ‘I am good’ or ‘I am a failure’ later become beliefs and the attributes of the ‘I’, which are nothing more than unexamined thoughts. In addition to these self-generated beliefs, a huge web of social norms have been gradually internalised into the dream of sense of ‘me’.

‘I’ have learned what is good or bad, what ‘I’ should and shouldn’t do in order to be accepted by the seeming ‘others’. But social norms are nothing more than beliefs – unexamined thoughts – but we believe that they are accurate descriptions of what IS.

So, when a slim body becomes the beauty ideal of society, then the slimness is labelled as high value, as a means for the ‘I’ to gain approval and attention from others, while its opposite, a ‘fat’ body is tagged undesirable, ugly and worthless. But these labels are just beliefs. The body itself does not have any innate attributes of worth, beauty or ugliness, regardless of its size. The body cannot be young or become old. ‘Young’ and ‘old’ are just mental constructs, labels put onto the mental image of the body. The body just IS, as it IS.

But since these labelling thoughts and beliefs are believed and not seen for what they are – a stream of thoughts passing by like clouds in the sky – they become the attributes of the sense of ‘I’, which leads to suffering.

But this is just a story, nothing more.
There has never been a self, an ‘I’ in the first place.
The self is just a fiction, an illusion.
‘I’ do not exist.

This is freedom.

How is the self constructed? (part 1)

Human suffering originates from the belief that there is somebody inside the body, a solid entity, an individual, who is separate from the rest of the world. As a result of thinking, a seemingly existing ‘me’ energy is ‘created’, an autonomous entity, with free will and doership, who acts independently from everything else.

103But how is this self created? What is the sense of ‘I’ made of? When ‘I’ was a baby, before learning the language ‘I’ think in now, the aliveness of the body was there, but the ‘I’ was not. As the brain developed and acquired the capacity to learn a language, the word ‘I’ was learned – alongside with thousand others, but not being particularly more important than any other words – as a means to localise bodies in space, to differentiate this body from others. Consequently, the sense of aliveness in the body has become associated with the word ‘I’.

In the meantime, the body was given a name, ‘Here comes Charlie’, and it is learned that this name refers to this particular body. From these associations, an idea is constructed in the developing brain: ‘I am Charlie, I am this body’, – and the sense of self was ‘born’, believed into reality.

Later on, as picking up the language went on, different verbal names for emotions were adopted from the surrounding environment and labelled the pure sensations that arose in the body. Thus, the sense of self expanded with the inclusion of ‘my feelings’. ‘I am Charlie, I am this body, and I’m happy’.

Meanwhile, as the developing brain reached the capacity to retain long term memory, the sense of ‘I’ further expanded with images from the ‘past’, thus the ‘story of my life’ started its journey with the hero, the ‘I’, at the centre of the dream. From there, the self, which is constructed from the ‘past’, is being projected into the ‘future’.

A separate individual was ‘born’ out of nothing, without any real substance.
The only reality is the sensations in the body, the sensory perceptions and the arising thoughts.

But where is the self?
Has there ever been a self, or is it just a trick of the mind?
Where are ‘you’?
Is there a real ‘you’ in the body?

Or there is just a movement of energy, like the waving of the ocean, the blowing of the wind or the warmth of the sun.

Being lost in the story of ‘my’ life

043.1How many hours a day do ‘you’ spend in storyland? Is it noticed when being lost in the content of a story happens, or ‘you’ are just tossed around in the endless ocean of thoughts from one story to the other? In our everyday lives most of us do not live in the present moment, but in a constant stream of stories.

Let’s have a look at an everyday scenario. On a sunny afternoon, after work, the body is driving home on the motorway, while the ‘me’ is still in a story about what happened in the meeting. ‘My boss was so unfair to me. He shouldn’t have said that. I’m so pissed off…’ – and the story goes on. Tension and contraction arise in the body due to anger and resentment towards ‘my’ boss. Suddenly, a sense of hunger takes place which triggers another story, a story about being at home eating ‘my’ favourite pizza. Then, unexpectedly, a ‘mad’ driver cuts ‘me’ off almost causing an accident which sets off a new stream of story with images of being in hospital due to severe injuries. ‘That crazy, stupid bastard, he almost killed me. When I’m out of hospital I’ll track him down and give him a lecture on good behaviour’.

In the meantime, the body is still in the car and just arrives home, unharmed, but the ‘me’ doesn’t even remember how it got there because of an endless dreaming about the story of ‘my’ life.

And this is how most of us live, almost constantly falling in and out from one story to another hundred or thousand times a day, hardly noticing the blooming trees on the side of the road, the warmth of the sun on the skin, the whispering of the wind and the pleasant tingling sensation in the hands. All this is missed for only one reason: to keep the illusion of the self ‘alive’.

But the ‘I’ lives only in stories.
Without story there is no ‘me’.
If the stream of stories stops just for a second, the ‘me’ vanishes.
When there is no ‘me’ then there is peace.

Driving happens, seeing happens, steering the wheel happens but nobody is doing it.

It is not even necessary for the story to stop; it is enough to see the story for what it is, a stream of thoughts passing by. When this seeing happens, the ‘I’, who is the hero of the story, is also seen through.

‘Me’ is just another thought.
‘Me’ is nothing, an empty word.
‘Me’ does not refer to anything.

Thoughts are not facts

051The human brain produces more than 70,000 thoughts a day. Most of these thoughts are repetitive, meaning that most of them are the same thoughts that ‘we’ have had for decades.

There is a tendency to believe that thoughts are accurate descriptions of reality; however, this could not be further from the truth. A thought is just a label on what IS, never the thing itself. The experience is gone in the moment when thinking about the experience has happened. Thought has ‘replaced’ what IS, and the experience has become the content of the thought.

Thoughts can be artificially divided into two categories: practical or problem solving thoughts and self referencing thoughts. Not surprisingly, most of our thoughts are self referencing thoughts which all our apparent troubles ‘originate’ from, and all these selfing thoughts revolve around one single thought, ‘I’.

After seeing that there is no separate self to be found, Descartes’ most famous existential statement ‘I think, therefore I am’ can be viewed from a different angle.

The ‘me’ exists only in story which is nothing else than a stream of thoughts. So, ‘I exist’ only as a concept in thought. If this thought is taken to be real, the illusion of the sense of ‘I’ emerges with a conclusion that ‘I think, therefore I am’.

But can a thought think?
Can a thought exist as a solid entity in space and time?
Is thinking a proof of the existence of ‘me’?

Thinking happens as a functioning of the organism.
‘I am thinking’ is just another thought.

You are not who ‘you’ think you are.

Because ‘you’ are NOT.

What is the meaning of life?

This is an all-time favourite question; does life have a meaning?

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But what is the ‘I’ that wants to know the meaning of life? What wants meaning? Why is there a need to assign any meaning or purpose to life? Why not accept life as it is without putting any interpretation, intention or meaning on it?

Have you ever entertained the possibility that life does not have a meaning?

What comes up, how do you feel or react when you read these lines? Is there resistance? Do ‘you’ want life to have a meaning?

What is this ‘I’ that doesn’t like to hear this?

The ‘I’ desperately wants to find or assign meaning to life because for the ‘I’ life is equal to ‘me’. It says: “I have a life and I want to have a meaning and purpose of my life”. But without life having any meaning ‘my’ life does not have a meaning either. I am nothing.

This is the last thing the ‘egoic mind’ would like to hear because it could lead to the conclusion of its annihilation.

But is there a self in the first place that could own life?

While the ‘I’ try to find or assign meaning to life, there is being lost in the heavy veil of dreamland – made of mental constructs – lost in the content of the story about life and not seeing what IS. Life is happening right here, right now and nobody is living it.

Searching for meaning is just a form of seeking.

The ‘mind’ always wants to put meaning on everything.
The ‘mind’ is a labelling machine.
Meaning is just a mental label on what IS.

Life is living itself without any purpose or meaning.
Life is as it IS.

This is freedom. This is peace.

Waking up in the dream

After seeing that there is no ‘I’ to be found, the story of ‘my’ life could still arise. As long as the body-mind organism lives, the multi-dimensional movie goes on. There is no way to ‘step out’ of the movie itself. It is not an option to wake up from the dream but to wake up in the dream.

007.1Waking up in the dream means that the thoughts and the story itself lose their mesmerisation, their stickiness. In the play of life, the appearance of the character still arise but without being taken too seriously. The character is seen for what it is… just another thought which seems to claim ownership of other thoughts.

And yet, wide range of emotions could still arise, like sadness, pain, happiness or satisfaction, but without an owner who would claim to be sad, happy or angry.

However, when the story of ‘me’ is believed, when it is not seen for what it is, the ‘I’ seems to exist continuously as a real living entity, who moves through time and space from a defined beginning, which is called birth, to an unforeseeable end, to death.

But in reality, if you pay close attention to ‘your’ thoughts, not by thinking but by looking, ‘you’ would discover that the character, the ‘I’ is born and dies with each and every thought in each and every moment.

Dream of life – as a 3D movie (part 2)

020If we view ‘our’ lives as a movie projected onto the screen, which could be watched from the cinema seat with some kind of distance between the happenings of the story of ‘my life’ and ‘me’, then there is an implication of an object (‘my life’ being projected onto the screen) and a subject (‘me’ as an observer). Now, there is another layer of story of ‘me’, the actor with another play, who is observing the happenings of the movements of ‘my’ life. In this way, the ‘I’, which is believed into ‘existence’, stays intact.

To dissolve this confusion, Nathan Gill suggested a bit different movie analogy.

“…it is a multi-dimensional movie, being viewed from within the movie, not being viewed by a viewer from outside.”

“There is nothing outside of the movie. There is only the movie and the present registering of it from ‘within’ the movie.”

Nathan Gill: Already Awake (p. 58)

In this three-dimensional movie, when the thoughts are seen for what they are and not being lost in their contents, the identification with the character is noticed ‘within’ the movie. All the problems and happenings can be watched, but they are no longer ‘my’ problems. They just appear and disappear as the part of the flow of life. There is no ‘I’ to stick to. Even if the thoughts of ‘my’ problems appear, sooner or later noticing happens, and the ‘me’ disappears from the nothingness where it came from.

There is no ‘me’ at all, not even as an observer, who could step out of the story and watch it from the outside. Watching just happens. And nobody does it.