Is physical pain a source of suffering?

275We are taught from early childhood that physical pain is a source of suffering. The two words – pain and suffering –, sometimes even used interchangeably, as if they were pointing to the same thing.

However, physical pain in the body is nothing more than an arising sensation that is labelled as ‘painful’. When this label is put onto the raw sensation accompanied with a story about how bad this experience is – that is the cause of suffering, not the physical sensation itself.

The word ‘pain’ is not just a simple ordinary word, because it goes hand in hand with a bunch of other labels: ‘having pain is bad’, ‘I don’t want it’, ‘I want it to go away’, ‘I don’t want to be sick’, and so on. So even if just this single word ‘pain’ is put onto the raw physical experience, all the other conditioned labels are also automatically applied. When this happens unconsciously, and not seen for what it is – only a stream of thoughts – the suffering is guaranteed.

The bodily sensation does not have any innate attributes at all. It is just IS as it is. It is not bad or painful, only thought-labels suggest otherwise.

However, in order to see the difference between pain and suffering, it is not sufficient to believe these lines. You have to see it for ‘yourself’; not thinking about it, but LOOKING at it.

Next time when there is a physical pain, there is an opportunity for paying attention to the bodily sensation itself. When all the thought-labels are ignored, what is the raw experience like? Does it have a shape or form? Does it say that ‘I am the pain’?

What kinds of thought-tags arise interpreting the experience? ‘Oh, it hurts’, ‘this is pain’, ‘I don’t want it’… Are there any accompanying mental images about the body or certain body parts? Maybe a picture from the ‘past’ or an image projected onto the ‘future’?

What is left, when all the stories, thought-labels and mental images are just observed but not believed or resisted? When they are seen for what they are – simply thoughts and images passing by, like clouds on the sky… what is left then?

The story about the pain can be very tricky. Apart from some extreme cases, the physical pain is not constant at all. Only thoughts create the illusion of its continuity.

Let’s say, that there is a headache. The first sign of it emerged about an hour ago, and it has been in the focus of attention about ten times for five seconds (at each time), since the first experience of the headache arose. Some (or all) of these experiences have been stored in memory, and every time when the focus of attention goes to the sensation of pain again, the ‘brain’ links the current experience with all previously stored memories and creates the illusion of its continuity, by stating that ‘I am having this terrible headache for more than an hour now’. When this interpretation is believed, the continuity of time has arisen, and as a result, the illusion of a continuously present pain has also emerged.

Maybe it sounds complicated, but it can be observed in direct experience. The following exercise could be helpful to look at this phenomenon, if there is a curiosity to do so.

For the next ten minutes, label all experiences as they arise. When the focus of attention is on seeing, say ‘seeing’, when something is heard, ‘hearing’, when a food is tasted, ‘tasting’, when a bodily sensation arise, ‘sensing’. If thoughts come up interpreting the experience, ‘thinking’, when mental images appear, ‘imagining’, when pain arising, just simply say ‘pain’ or ‘hurting’.

The exact wording does not matter. The purpose of the exercise is to see that pain or any other phenomena ‘exist’ only when it is in the focus of attention. When the attention moves somewhere else, the experience of the pain is gone. Only the mental interpretation links together the memories of the experiences, creating the illusion of their continuity.

The source of suffering is not the experience of ‘pain’.
The source of suffering is the story about the experience.

Am I the body?

265Imagine that you are walking in a beautiful forest. There is a small walking trail meandering away into the distance among the huge trees. Look around. The sun’s rays are filtered through the green canopy, illuminating the fallen leaves on the ground. Breathe in the fresh air. Feel the stroke of the gentle breeze on your skin. Listen to the twittering of birds and the sound of the cracking twigs under your feet. Feel the movements of your body as you walk along the trail. Enjoy the peace and beauty that surrounds you…

Now, wake up. Where were you just a few moments ago? Here, in front of your monitor, or in the forest, enjoying the walking?

If ‘you’ were the body, how is it possible, that you felt the breeze on your skin and the movements of ‘your’ body, while all along the body was sitting in front of the screen, reading these lines?

When you are dreaming at night, all the happenings in the dream seem so real, but the body is lying immovably in the bed, and still, ‘you’ experience a ‘different’ body moving from one plot to another in dreamland.

For ‘you’ the dream is real. ‘You’ have no idea that this is just a dream and the body is lying in the bed. ‘You’ seemingly have another body now. So, are ‘you’ the body?

What is the body anyway? If you look into the mirror and observe the sight you see, can you say with certainty that image in the mirror is ‘you’?

Take a childhood picture and compare it with the image of the mirror. Which one is ‘you’? Could both of them be ‘you’? What if none of them is ‘you’? What if there is no ‘you’ at all that could own the body?

If you close your eyes, where is the body? You could say that I can see an image in my head about my body. Are you sure that this body-image is the body? This image is just a fabricated mental construct about the body, but NOT the body itself.

Where is the body without this mental image? What is left? Only pure sensations…

In direct experience, without this image, without referring to any memories, does the body have any shape or outline or a clear boundary? Without images and mental labels, where does the body end and the clothes start? Is there an inside or outside? Does the body have a size or a height?

The body-image is nothing more than a concept stored in memory about how we imagine the way our bodies look like. This image is heavily layered with conditioned thoughts and stories about the body and particular body parts.

The origin of human suffering is the belief that there is somebody inside the body, separate from everything else. When this belief is taken to be real, a seemingly existing ‘me’ energy is ‘created’ with doership and a need for a constant protection from the rest of the world.

There is no solid person, a ‘me’ inside the body.
What you think you are does NOT exist.
‘I’ is just a label on the body.
But the word ‘I’ does NOT refer to anything real.
The body is real*, but you are NOT.

* (The body appears real in conventional reality, but not in direct experience)

What dies when I die?

254The ultimate fear of humankind is death. We fear to cease to be. But death is not what we think it is. If our parents or society had not told us anything about dying or death then we would not have any idea about it, we would not even know what it is, let alone fear it.

Then what is death? There is a constant flow of experiencing while the body is ‘alive’, until it is not. We label it as death. In one moment the organs of the body are functioning; in the next, they are not. They are changing into something else. Is this bad? Does this change have any innate nature of badness?

In one moment there is experiencing, in the next, there is not. Can death be experienced when there is no experiencing? When you go to sleep, do you experience death? Do you fear not waking up the next morning? Is there any difference between going to sleep every night and death?

Death cannot be experienced, because death is an idea. Fear of death is a resistance to the concept of death. Fear ‘lives’ only in thoughts. Without believing thoughts there is no fear, just the flow of life, perfect as it is.

Death does not exist in direct experience; and yet, this is probably the biggest bugaboo the mind could ever invent. Fear of death could not exist without projecting the belief in the separate self onto the body. If I think that I am the body, then I fear death. But I am not the body, because ‘I am’ is just a thought. Can a thought fear another thought?

Actually, what we really fear is losing ‘our’ selves. We think that there is a separate entity sealed behind the skin, and when the body perishes, this supposed entity will cease to be.

The ‘I’ that fears death cannot die because the ‘I’ has never existed. If this is seen then there is no fear of death because there is nobody to fear it. There is nobody to die with the body, because there is no entity living behind the eyes.

What are lost during the process of dying are the beliefs that constitute ‘me’. The components of self-image crumble, and when it is resisted it can trigger fear. “What is going to happen with my precious collection of matchboxes? What about my achievements? I am not finished yet with my plans. I have always dreamt about a happy retirement with lots of travelling, and spending time with my grandchildren. How could I accomplish all of this if I am gone? Has there been any meaning of my life at all?”

But in reality, nothing is lost. All of this was just dreaming about a non-existent past and future, with a ‘me’ that ‘lives’ only in past images and future fantasies.

Nothing ever dies, only the imagined story of ‘me’.
‘I’ cannot die. What has never been born cannot cease to be.

Fear is not fearful

249In order to better understand what fear is, we have to make a distinction between instinctual fear, which is genetically coded into the human organism, and the projection of fear, when a fearful story is projected into the future about what might happen.

Examples for instinctual fear could be a fear of falling from the edge of a cliff, or being frightened by a sudden loud noise. However, humans experience instinctual fear rarely. When it happens, there is an instant adrenalin rush in the body which signals the organism to move away from the danger. Still, the adrenalin surge is not the result of thinking processes. Although, a few seconds later, thoughts may come up interpreting what happened, saying that ‘I am afraid because I almost fell off the cliff’. But the surge of adrenaline works perfectly without thinking, and by itself it does not imply fear.

The same adrenaline rush could be tagged as ‘excitement,’ if I jumped out of an airplane with a parachute fastened to my back. Or, it could be labelled as a ‘sign of love’ when I unexpectedly spot my new lover at the other side of the street. Fear, excitement, love – the sensation is the same, only the label varies.

Even though instinctual fear is rare in our everyday life, we still experience fear quite often, due to mind-made stories being projected into the future: ‘I fear growing old’, ‘I’m afraid of being ridiculed in front of all my colleagues’ or ‘what if she leaves me’; the list is endless.

When my friend tells me that their company decided outsourcing a whole department, thoughts might come up: ‘What if my company will do the same? My job is definitely not indispensable, what if they will fire me? What would I do? I am too old to get a new job. How am I going to pay the mortgage?’ And the fear is set in motion.

But this fear is not caused by an adrenalin rush; it is caused only by believing the story – the story of ‘my’ life. It has no reality, except as a string of thoughts. It is real only as an appearing thought-story, but never its content. Only believing the story creates the emotional response.

When fear arises, is it really fear that is experienced, or is fear just another cover story? When I think ‘I fear that I might lose my job’, would not it be more appropriate to say that ‘there is a resistance to this story’? Do I really feel fear or I just resist what was made up about what might happen?

And what is fear anyway? How is it experienced? When the fear as emotion arises, it is nothing more than felt sensations in the body with the added thought tag ‘fear’. In direct experience, most of the emotions that are labelled as ‘negative’ are experienced quite similarly, as felt contractions in one or more parts of the body.

What is the difference in direct experience between fear, shame, guilt or anger? Is there any apart from the labels as ‘fear’ and ‘shame’? Does the felt sensation contain by itself any innate fearness or angriness?

Is fear real at all? Or is it just a resistance…?
With or without the story, reality is the same – neutral.

Fear is just an artefact, a fabrication. It is nothing more than a sensation in the body plus an attached ‘fear’ label. This is the case with all emotions. The sensations by themselves are not negative, positive, pleasant or unpleasant. They are totally neutral. Only the attached tags differentiate between them.

When this is seen, fear evaporates. It becomes an empty word.
Because fear is NOT real.
There is just a sensation.

Memory is not ‘me’

Visual illusion - Akiyoshi Kitaoka

Visual illusion – Akiyoshi Kitaoka

We were taught since early childhood that there is a solid, separate entity, a ‘me’ in the body, looking out to the world through the eyes. But this is just an assumption that has never been questioned before.

When the curiosity arises to look closer and challenge this strongly held belief, it turns out to our surprise that the ‘me’ is nowhere to be found. It is simply not there. Similar to visual illusions, where it seems that there is an animation in the picture, but it is just a trick of the mind.

However, reading these lines and believing that there is no self, is not sufficient to see through this illusion. In this case, just another belief would be placed on top of the idea of the self. The belief of the mirage of the ‘me’ needs to be deconstructed and dissolved, and not covered up with another layer of beliefs.

The ‘I’ seemingly lives in memories and beliefs. But in the present moment, where is this ‘I’? Not in a memory, not in a future image, but here and now? Is it in the body? Exactly where?

A memory is nothing else than simultaneously arising mental images, thoughts and bodily sensations, which are firmly welded together and appear as a coherent and real depiction about the assumed past. But this mental construct of a seeming past experience arises in the present moment. There are no little shelves in the mind holding small segments of the past as memories. All memory is constructed again and again in the here and now every time ‘we’ think about it.

The image of me playing in the garden as a five-year old is not ‘me’. Although, the thought label of ‘this is me, playing in the garden’ is fused with the picture of the five-year old body and the bodily sensations of the associated emotions. But thoughts, mental pictures and emotions arise in this body, here and now. The emotions and the remembrance of warmth of the sun on the skin are felt now.

There is nothing outside of the present moment. The ‘I’-thought that emerges as part of the memory is nothing more than a thought.

There is no ‘me’ looking out of the eyes, who is separate from the rest of the world. The idea of separation is created by thought. Only thoughts separate.

Between two thoughts there is no ‘me’.
The sense of me emerges when an ‘I’-thought label is put on the felt aliveness in the body. But the sense of self is NOT the self.

When a memory is dismantled into its components – thoughts, images, emotions, bodily sensations and beliefs – and each piece is examined closely looking for the existence of ‘me’, the glue that hold the memory together creating the sense of self, releases and dissolves. What is left is just the pure experience of thoughts, images, sensations and emotions, without a ‘me’ who could own the experience. There is no individual person.

This is what ‘we’ are seeking.
This is peace.

I cannot make you feel happy… it’s impossible…

137Can I make you feel happy or sad? Do I have the power to have an effect on your mood or feelings?

Assume that I am on the verge of telling you that I want to end our relationship, but I am not brave enough to bring the topic up because I am afraid of hurting your feelings. But do I really have the power to hurt anybody’s feelings?

If I leave you, you may feel sad, abandoned, angry or unloved. But is it true that I am the cause of your suffering? Can I make you suffer?

If I believe that I can do all of these to you, it means I am believing a story about my omnipotence. In the current version of the story of my life, I am playing god.

I have no power whatsoever on anybody’s feelings. It is literally impossible.

If you think that I am responsible for you feeling unloved and abandoned, it means that you project your own self-image onto me and blame me for your misery.

While the belief in the deficient, unloving self is intact, each person and situation reflect back, in one way or another, some version of this core belief. You cannot see me, you cannot hear me, because you perceive me and the whole world through this lens. No matter whether I treat you lovingly or not, you will see and interpret my actions as unloving.

When I decide to leave you, you find this as a proof of your unlovingness, which in turn, fortifies the core belief of the incomplete, unloving self that is the basis of your identity. Thus, it is projected outward again and again and making others responsible for your own creation.

You cannot see me; you only see your story about me, which is your story about ‘your’ self.

Reality is neutral. In the action of leaving you there is no inherent attributes of pain, abandonment or lack of love. Only your story about ‘me leaving you’ hurts you. Your thoughts are hurting you, not me. I cannot do that.

But if I believe that I can hurt you then I create my own suffering by feeling guilty or responsible for your feelings. I do this to myself by projecting the belief of my incomplete self onto you, which will be reflected back to me, and thus the story of the deficient self keeps going.

‘You’ and ‘me’, we are not that special.
‘I’ have no power to do anything with ‘you’.
Only ‘you’ can hurt yourself by believing ‘your’ story.
By believing that there is a ‘you’ that could be hurt.

What would you be without ‘your’ story?
Would ‘you’ be?

Why do we have a need to enhance our self-image?

It is commonplace in our culture that we try to improve our self-image in many different ways. Many people attempt to enhance their self-esteem by positive thinking, different types of therapies, or being nice and follow social norms to fit in, in order to get approval by others.

230The ‘I’ is constantly seeking appreciation in some way or another and feels it has to make an impression on others to make them like ‘me’. It is trying to push an image to imprint into others’ minds, how it wants them to see ‘me’ and think about ‘me’.

We relentlessly try to improve our self-image, because deep down most of us feel we are not OK, we are not complete; something is missing. We push our desired self-image forward to win others over. ‘This is how I want you to see me’. The irony is that this image that depicts how I want you to see me is the exact opposite of how I see myself.

So, who do I want to convince that I am better than I think I am?
You or me? Is there any division between ‘you’ and ‘me’?

Without believing that there are two solid, separate selves, ‘you’ and ‘me’, the ‘I’ could not feel better or worse than ‘you’. Without comparison there is no division.

The ‘I’ wants to improve its self-image because there is a belief in an incomplete, deficient self. This belief can take many forms: ‘unlovable me’, ‘unworthy me’, ‘ugly me’, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am not successful enough’, ‘something is wrong with me’, ‘I am not strong enough’, and so on. The list is endless.

The illusion of the self is constructed from millions of beliefs, but the belief in the incomplete, deficient self has the strongest and most enchanting effect of all. This core belief is the basis of ‘our’ so called self-esteem and identity. All relationships reflect back this central belief, because the mind cannot help but project all its content ‘out there’. And since the world mirrors back the incomplete self, the reflection seems as a proof for validating its deficiency. As a result, the core belief is fortified and kept in place.

No matter how hard we try to override the belief in the separate, deficient self by positive thinking, or spending hundreds of hours in meditation or in different practises, the suffering is guaranteed.

But the existence of a deficient self is just a belief.

When this core belief is seen for what it is – just an unexamined thought taken seriously – it naturally falls away. But for the ‘I’ this can be frightening, since this belief is the basis of its ‘existence’.

Without believing in the incomplete self, there is no self, there is no ‘I’ to be found.

There is no need to enhance ‘my’ self-image and imprint onto ‘your’ mind to make a desired impression. Self-image and self-esteem become empty words, not referring to anything real.

Beliefs – the building blocks of ‘our’ identities

026There is a freedom not believing any thoughts. Attachment to beliefs is the origin of suffering. Some people are even ready to die for their beliefs. But why are beliefs so precious for us? What are beliefs anyway?

Assume that you have just arrived home after a day of work. Your mind is full of the story of the happenings of the day, how your boss treated you unfairly and how bad the traffic was on the way home. The only thing you want is to lie down on the couch and tell ‘your’ story to your husband. You want him to listen to you and comfort you. As you start outpouring the intricate details of the happenings of your day, your husband suddenly interrupts you and instead of standing on your side he defends your boss. Immediately, you feel angry and frustrated due to the thought that has just popped-up ‘in your head’, ‘my husband never listens to me’. This single thought triggers a loop of other ‘disturbing’ thoughts; a very familiar and conditioned story that you thought thousand times before. ‘He doesn’t care about me, because if he cared about me he would have listened to me and stood by my side instead of making me wrong.’

‘He never listens to me’ or ‘He doesn’t care about me’ are just conditioned beliefs. Beliefs are nothing more than unexamined thoughts which are believed to be true, to be the accurate description of what IS.

Beliefs are very important for the ‘I’, because beliefs are the building blocks of ‘me’.

The ‘I’ never sees what is, because it always tries to interpret what IS according to what it learned previously, what this or that means to ‘me’. Everything is filtered through a huge web of beliefs before the interpretations and assumptions about what IS arise.

When we are talking and I believe the thought that ‘you never listen to me’, then I stop listening to you. I stop hearing what you are saying, because the thought in ‘my’ head overrides what you are saying. I cannot hear you, I cannot see you, I can only hear ‘my’ thoughts I believe about you, and see the constructed image in ‘my’ head of you. So the belief that ‘you never listen to me’ overrides what is presently here, in the now.

When you say something that contradicts ‘my’ belief systems, the ‘I’ hears them as a criticism not as a help, because it feels threatened. In defence of ‘my’ beliefs – which are the building blocks of ‘my’ identity – the mind wants to gather ‘proofs’ to support its existing belief systems, and not to take part in uncovering or destroying them.

And when you interrupt and override me is not just simply a conditioned habit, but a defence. You try to defend your point of view what you believe is ‘your’ self. You are not simply interrupting me; you are literally fighting for your life in that moment, fighting for ‘your’ identity.

Observing, examining and questioning beliefs cut through the attachment to them.

The self is ‘made of’ beliefs.
Without believing the content of beliefs, there is no self to be found.
This is freedom. This is freedom from suffering.

Nature of thoughts

149One of the biggest calamities of the human race is that we take ‘our’ thoughts too seriously and we suffer as a consequence. When there is a tendency to being lost in the content of thoughts, which is the habitual state of humanity, ‘we’ are at mercy of whatever thoughts might pop-up in ‘our heads’. An almost constant flux of thoughts appears on the horizon which can trigger a wide range of conditioned emotional responses.

Let’s say you are working on a home improvement project and try to assemble some furniture what you never did before. At first, some enthusiastic thoughts may come up with images about your beautiful new table and the approving smile on the face of your spouse. This fantasy may trigger some pleasurable emotions with a feeling of contentment which enhances your self-image. Later, when you start working on your project, some disturbing thoughts might arise: ‘This is much harder than I thought. I don’t know how to do it. What if I screw it up?’ – accompanied with images of a badly-built, wobbly table and the face of your wife frowning at you. Feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction go along with this story and your previously inflated self-esteem is now plummeting. What’s going on here?

Thoughts come and go as clouds on the sky but when they are believed they seem to become real for ‘us’. There is an emphasis on the word ‘seem’ because in reality – meaning in direct experience – a thought is real, but never its content. Its content is just a dream, a fantasy. When this is seen, the grip of the heaviness of thoughts is gone.

The function of thoughts is to make a mental description or concept about what IS for a later storage in memory, but this doesn’t mean automatically that this concept is accurate or real.

When thoughts are seen for what they are – mere thoughts passing by – their emptiness and powerlessness become apparent. They don’t point to any real thing.

The mind is a labelling machine.
Thoughts pop-up out of the blue, and ‘you’ have no control over them.
‘You’, who think you have control over ‘your’ thoughts, is just another thought.
There is no ‘you’ to have thoughts.
Thoughts are real, but you are NOT.

When this is seen, there is freedom.
Freedom from the grasp of thoughts.
Freedom from the constant need to become or to appear as somebody in the eyes of the ‘other’.

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.