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  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel
  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel
  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel
  • Sacred journey to peru, mystic travel agency peru, mystic travel

THE MOST COMMON REASON that people turn to spirituality is to deal with suffering. They don’t do this by accident, but because every religion promises that it can relieve pain, that faith transcends the sorrows of the flesh, that the soul is a refuge for the suffering heart. Yet when they turn to God or faith or the soul, many people find no relief, or only the relief that otherwise might come from talking to a therapist. Is there a special power found only in spirituality? For those who turn to it, therapy works, and the most common forms of suffering, anxiety and depression, respond in the short run to drugs. When the depression lifts, is there any reason to turn to spirit?
To answer these questions we have to realize, first of all, that pain is not the same as suffering. Left to itself, the body discharges pain spontaneously, letting go of it the moment that the underlying cause is healed. Suffering is pain that we hold on to. It comes from the mind’s mysterious instinct to believe that pain is good, or that it cannot be escaped, or that the person deserves it. If none of these were present, suffering would not exist. It takes force of mind to create suffering, a blend of belief and perception that the person thinks he or she has no control over. But as inescapable as suffering may appear to be, what brings escape is not attacking the suffering itself but getting at the unreality that makes us cling to pain.
The secret cause of suffering is unreality itself. Recently I saw dramatic evidence of this in a very ordinary way. I chanced on one of those television programs where people who were born with physical deformities are given a free makeover using the full powers of plastic surgery, dentistry, and the beautician’s art. On this particular episode, the people who desperately wanted makeovers wereidentical twins. Only one twin wanted to change her looks; the other didn’t. As adults, the twins no longerlooked exactly alike. The “ugly one” in a given pair had suffered a broken nose or damaged teeth or had put on extra weight. The dramatic thing for me was how minor these cosmetic defects were compared to the intense belief, shared by both twins, that one was extremely beautiful and the other distressingly ugly.
The “ugly ones” admitted that not a day went by without comparing themselves to their “beautiful” sisters.

In this TV program one could witness all the steps that lead to suffering:

  • Overlooking actual facts
  • Adopting a negative perception
  • Reinforcing that perception by obsessive thinking
  • Getting lost in the pain without looking for a way out
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Cementing the suffering through relationships

The handbook on how to suffer would include all these steps, which build up a sense of unreality until it seems totally real. And by implication, the directions for putting an end to suffering would reverse these steps and bring the person back to reality.

Overlooking the facts: The beginning of suffering is often a refusal to look at how the situation really is.
Several years ago some researchers conducted a study to find out how people deal with crisis when it unexpectedly arises. The study was sponsored by therapists hoping to learn where people turn for help when they find themselves in trouble. When the worst misfortune occurs—when someone gets fired, has a spouse walk out, hears a diagnosis of cancer—about 15 percent seek some kind of help from a counselor, therapist, or pastor. The rest watch TV. They refuse to even consider looking at the problem or opening it up to discussion with someone who might help.
The therapists behind the study were appalled by this deep denial, but I couldn’t help thinking: Isn’t watching TV a natural reaction? People instinctively try to blot out pain with pleasure. Buddha faced the same situation many centuries ago. People at the time of Buddha were also trying to blot out pain because the monsoons didn’t come and all their crops died, or their whole family perished in a cholera epidemic. Without TV they had to find other escapes, but the assumption was the same: Pleasure is better than pain; therefore, it must be the answer to suffering.
Replacing pleasure with pain may work in the short run. Both are sensations, and if one is strong enough it can cancel out the other. But Buddha didn’t teach that life hurts because of pain; it hurts because the cause of suffering hasn’t been examined. Someone can be sitting by the pool in Miami Beach, watching a favorite sitcom, eating chocolate, and being tickled with a feather at the same time. The person won’t feel much pain, but she could be suffering very deeply anyway. And the only lasting way out is to take steps that will confront the source of the suffering, the first step being a willingness to look at what is actually happening.

Negative perceptions: Reality is perception, and the suffering person gets trapped by negative perceptions of his own creation. Perception keeps the pain under control, not by reducing it but by sealing outeven greater pain. This twist is the one most people find hard to understand. The body discharges pain automatically, yet the mind can override that instinct by turning the pain into something “good,” in the sense that it’s better than other, even worse possibilities. Inner confusion and conflict are why the mind has such a hard time healing itself, despite all the power it holds. The power has been turned against itself, and thus perception, which could end suffering in an instant, locks the door instead.

Reinforcing a perception: Perceptions are fluid unless we seal them in place. The self is like a constantly shifting system that incorporates the new into the old at every moment. If you constantly obsess over old perceptions, however, they become reinforced with each repetition. Let’s consider a specific example. Anorexia nervosa is the medical term given to a condition in which a person, usually a girl under the age of twenty, adopts starvation as a way of life. If you interview an anorexic teenager who weighs under 90 pounds and show her four pictures of body images, ranging from the thinnest to the fattest, she will say that her body matches the fat one despite the fact that in reality her frame is skeletal. If you go so far as to superimpose her own face on the four pictures, an anorexic will still choose the fattest photo as being herself. This distorted body image totally baffles other people. It seems bizarre to look in the mirror at a skeleton and see a fat person instead (just as it is bizarre for identical twins to feel that one is extremely ugly and the other beautiful).
In these cases, perception has become distorted for hidden reasons connected to emotion and personality. An anorexic, if shown photos of four cats, can easily pick out which one is the fattest. The distortion comes at a deeper level where “I” decides what is real about oneself. The whole thing is a feedback loop. Once “I” decides something about oneself, everything in the outside world must conform to that decision. In the anorexic’s mind, shame is essential to who she is, and the world has no choice but to throw her shameful image back at her. Starving herself becomes the only way she can figure out to make that fat girl in the mirror go away. Which leads to a general rule:Reality is whatever you identify with.
Anywhere that life hurts we have locked ourselves into some kind of false identification, telling ourselves private, unchallenged stories about who we are. The cure for anorexia is to somehow pry a wedge between “I” and this powerful, secret identification. The same applies to all suffering because each person arbitrarily identifies with one thing after another that tells an inaccurate story of who he or she is. Even if you were able to surround yourself with pleasure every minute of the day, the wrong story of who you are will wind up bringing deep suffering.

Getting lost in the pain: People have remarkably different thresh-olds of pain. Researchers have hooked subjects up to equal stimuli, such as electric shocks to the back of the hand, and asked them to rate the discomfort they feel on a scale from 1 to 10. It was long thought that since pain is registered along identical neural pathways, people would register a pain signal more or less the same (as for instance, almost everyone would be able to feel the difference between bright headlights in their eyes and low beams). Yet the pain that registered as a 10 for some patients felt like a 1 to others. This indicates not just that pain has a subjective component but also that the way we assess pain is completely individual. There is no universal path between stimulus and response. One person can feel deeply traumatized by an experience that hardly registers for someone else.
What’s so strange about this result is that none of the subjects thought they were creating a response. If you accidentally put your hand on a hot stove, your body reacts instantly. Yet in that instant your brain is actually assessing the pain and giving it the intensity you perceive as objectively real. And by not renouncing their control over it people get lost in their pain. “What can I do? My mother just died, and
I’m devastated. I can’t even get out of bed in the morning.” In such a statement there seems to be a direct link between cause (the death of a loved one) and effect (depression). But, in fact, the trail followed between cause and effect isn’t a straight line; the whole person enters the picture, with a wealth of factors from the past. It’s as if pain enters a black box before we feel it, and in that box the pain is matched up with everything we are—our whole history of emotions, memories, beliefs, and expectations.
If you are self-aware, the black box isn’t so sealed off and hidden. You know that you can affect what goes on inside it. But when we suffer, we victimize ourselves. Why is the pain a 10 instead of a 1?
Because it just is, that’s why. In truth, suffering persists only to the extent that we allow ourselves to remain lost in our own creation.

Comparing yourself to others: The ego wants to be number one; therefore, it has no choice but to get caught up in a never-ending game of comparing itself to others. Like all ingrained habits, this one is hard to break. A friend of mine recently learned that a woman he knew had been killed in a car crash. He did not know the woman well, but he knew all her friends. Within hours of her death a pall of grief had settled over them. The woman was beloved and had done many good works; she was young and full of optimism. For these reasons people grieved even more, and my friend was caught up in it. “I saw myself getting out of my car and being struck by a hit-and-run driver, the way she was. I kept thinking that I should do more than send flowers and a card. As it happened, I went on vacation the week of the funeral, and I actually found myself unable to enjoy myself just thinking about the shock and pain of dying that way.”
In the midst of these reactions, my friend had a sudden realization. “I was going along getting gloomier when it hit me: ‘That isn’t my life. She isn’t me.’ The thought felt very strange. I mean, isn’t it good to be compassionate? Shouldn’t I share in the grief all my friends were feeling?” At that moment he stopped comparing himself to someone else—not an easy thing to do because we all gain identity from parents, friends, and spouses. An entire community has taken up fragmentary residence inside us, composed of bits and pieces of other personalities.
Our style of suffering is learned from others. To the extent that you feel stoic or weak, in control or victimized, desperate or hopeful, you are adhering to reactions set down by someone else. Deviating from their pattern feels strange, even threatening. In my friend’s case, he broke out of a pattern of grief only when he realized that it was second-hand. Before that, he wanted to feel what was proper and expected. He wanted to fit in with the way others saw the situation. As long as you compare yourself to others, your suffering will persist as a way of fitting in.

Cementing suffering through relationships: Pain is a universal experience; therefore, it enters into every relationship. Nobody truly suffers alone, and even if you do everything you can to suffer in silence, you are having an effect on those around you. The reason that people find it so difficult to enter a healing relationship is that life in our family of origin often required a good deal of unawareness. We overlook what we don’t want to see; we keep silent about things that are too difficult to discuss; we respect boundaries even when they put someone into a box. In short, the family is where we learn to deny pain.
And denied pain is just another term for suffering.
Given a choice, most people would rather preserve their relationships than stop suffering. One sees this in abusive families where the victims don’t speak up or walk out. (Some states have passed laws forcing the police to arrest domestic abusers over the protest of the spouses they beat up and torment. Without such laws, the victim sides with the abuser more than half the time.) A healing relationship is based on awareness; in it both partners work to break old habits that promote suffering. They have to walk a fine line, just as my friend did, because compassion means that you appreciate the suffering someone else is experiencing, as well as your own. Yet at the same time there has to be detachment, making sure that suffering, no matter how real, isn’t thedominant reality. The attitudes that make for a healing relationship become part of a vision you hold for yourself and the other person.


  • How to Relate When Someone Else Is in Pain
  • I have sympathy for you. I know what you’re going through.
  • You don’t have to feel a certain way just to make me happy.
  • I will help you get through this.
  • You don’t have to be afraid that you are driving me away.
  • I don’t expect you to be perfect. You aren’t letting me down.
  • This pain you are going through isn’t the real you.
  • You can have the space you need, but I won’t let you be alone.
  • I will be as real with you as I can be.
  • I won’t be afraid of you, even though you may be afraid of your pain.
  • I will do all I can to show you that life is still good and joy still possible.
  • I can’t take your pain on as my responsibility.
  • I won’t let you hold on to your pain—we are here to get through this.
  • I will take your healing as seriously as my own well-being.

As you can see, there are subtle pitfalls in these attitudes. When relating to someone in pain, you have to extend yourself and yet remain within boundaries at the same time. “I feel your pain, and yet it’s not mine” is a tricky stance; it can tip either way. You can become so involved in the pain that you turn into an enabler. Or you can hide behind your own boundaries and shut out the person who is suffering. A healing relationship maintains the proper balance. You both must remain alert and attentive; you must keep your eye on the spiritual vision ahead; you must be willing to have new responses every day. Most of all, you share a path that leads, step by step, out of unreality.
The ultimate goal, if you really want to be real, is to experience existence itself. “I am” is such an experience. It is both common and rare because everyone knows how to be, yet few people extract the full promise of their own being. “I am” gets lost when you start identifying instead with “I do this, I own that, I like A but not B.” These identifications become more important than the reality of your own pure being.
So let’s go deeper into the link between suffering and unreality. The way we forget the peace and clarity of “I am” can be broken down into five aspects. In Sanskrit these are called thefive kleshas, the root causes of every form of suffering.

  1. Not knowing what is real
  2. Grasping and clinging to the unreal
  3. Being afraid of the unreal and recoiling from it
  4. Identifying with an imaginary self
  5. Fear of death

Right now you and I are doing one of these five things, although we began so long ago that now the process is ingrained. The five kleshas are arranged in a cascade. Once you stop knowing what is real (first klesha), the others fall into place automatically. This means that for most people only the end of the line—fear of death—is a conscious experience; therefore, we must begin there and go back up the ladder.
Being afraid of death is a source of anxiety that reaches into many areas. The way our society worships youth and shuns the elderly, our desperate need for distraction, the promotion of cosmetics and beauty treatments, flourishing gyms with full-length mirrors on all sides, and the craze for celebrity are all symptoms of wanting to deny death. Theology tries to convince us that there is life after death, but since that claim has to be taken on faith, religion exacts obedience by holding the afterlife over our heads. If we lack faith, if we worship the wrong God or sin against the right God, our chances for a reward after we die are ruined. Religious wars continue to erupt over this issue, which is so anxiety-provoking that fanatics would rather die for the faith than live with the admission that someone else’s faith has a right to exist. “I die so that you may not believe in your God” is the most twisted legacy of the fifth klesha.
A person fears death not for itself but for a deeper reason, which is the need to defend an imaginary self.
Identifying with an imaginary self is the fourth klesha, and it’s something we all do. Even on a superficial level, people erect an image based on income and status. When Francis of Assisi, the son of a wealthy silk merchant, stripped off his rich garments and renounced his father’s money, he was throwing away not just his worldly possessions but also his identity—the way people knew who he was. In his mind, God could not be approached through a false self-image.
Self-image is closely connected to self-esteem, and we know the high cost a person pays when self-esteem is lost. Children who sit in the back row in grade school and avoid the teacher’s eye usually don’t grow up to discuss foreign policy or medieval art because, early on, their self-image incorporated a sense of inadequacy. Conversely, studies have shown that if a teacher is told that a particular student is exceptionally bright, that student will perform much better in class even if the selection was random: Low IQ kids can achieve beyond high IQ kids with enough approval from their teachers. The image set in the teacher’s mind is enough to turn a poor performer into a sterling one.
Identifying with a false image of who you are causes a great deal of suffering in other ways. Life never stops demanding more and more. The demands on our time, patience, ability, and emotions can become so overwhelming that admitting your inadequacy seems like the honest thing to do. Yet in a person’s false self-image is buried the ugly history of everything that has gone wrong. “I won’t,” “I can’t,” and “I give up” all flow from the fourth klesha.
The third klesha says that even with a healthy self-image we recoil from things that threaten our egos.
These threats exist everywhere. I am afraid of being poor, of losing my spouse, of breaking the law. I am afraid to shame myself before anyone whose respect I want to keep. For some people, the thought of their children turning out badly is a deep threat to their own sense of self. “We don’t do that in this family” is usually code for “Your behavior threatens who I am.” But people don’t recognize that they are speaking in code. Once I have identified with my self-image, the fear that it might break down is instinctive. The need to protect myself from what I fear is part of who I am.
The second klesha says that a person suffers because of clinging, which means clinging to anything at all.
Holding on to something is a way of showing that you are afraid it will be taken from you. People feel violated when a purse snatcher runs away with a purse, for example, or if they come home to find that the house has been broken into. These violations don’t matter because of what has been taken; purses and household goods can be replaced. Yet the sense of personal injury often persists for months and years. If the right trigger is pulled, having a purse snatched can make you lose entirely your sense of personal safety. Someone has stripped you of the illusion that you were untouchable. (America’s national paroxysm after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center continues to play out this drama of “us” versus “them” on a mass scale. The sense of American invulnerability was exposed as an illusion. Yet at bottom this wasn’t a nation’s problem. It was an individual problem felt on a huge scale.)
There are many twists and turns to suffering. The trail leads from fear of death to a false sense of self and the need to cling. In the end, however, unreality alone is the cause of all suffering. The problem never was pain; quite the opposite: Pain exists so that illusion won’t keep getting away with its tricks. If unreality didn’t hurt, it would seem real forever.

The five kleshas can be solved all at once by embracing one reality. The difference between “I am my hurt” and “I am” is small but crucial. A huge amount of suffering has resulted from this single misperception. Thinking that I was born, I cannot avoid the threat of death. Thinking that outside forces exist, I must accept that these forces can harm me. Thinking that I am a person, I see other persons everywhere. All of these are perceptions that were created, not facts. Once created, a perception lives a life of its own until you go back and change it.
It takes only a flicker of awareness to lose touch with reality. In reality nothing exists outside the self. As soon as you begin to accept this one bit of knowledge, the whole purpose of life changes. The only goal worth attaining is complete freedom to be yourself, without illusions and false beliefs.


The fifth secret is about how to stop suffering. There is a state of nonsuffering inside you; it is simple and open awareness. By contrast, the state of suffering is complicated because, in its attempts to wrestle with pain, the ego refuses to see that the answer could be as simple as simply learning to be. Any steps that get you to stop clinging to complications will bring you closer to the simple state of healing. Complications occur as thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and subtle energies, meaning hidden emotional debts and resistance. For this exercise, take anything in your life that is bringing you a sense of deep unease, discomfort, or suffering. You can choose something that has persisted for years or something that is uppermost in your life right now. Whether there is a physical component or not is unimportant, although if you pick a chronic physical disorder, don’t approach this exercise as a cure—we are dealing with the patterns of perception that encourage you to hold on to suffering.
Now sit by yourself for at least 5 minutes a day for the next month with the intention of clearing away the following complications:

Disorder: Chaos is complicated, order is simple. Is your house a mess? Is your desk piled high with work? Are you letting others create messes and disorder because they know you won’t make them take responsibility? Have you hoarded so much junk that your environment is like an archaeological record of your past?

Stress: Everyone feels stressed, but if you cannot completely clear your daily stress at night, returning to a calm, centered, enjoyable inner state, you are overstressed. Look closely at the things that make you tense. Is your commute stressful? Do you get up too early without enough sleep? Do you ignore signs of exhaustion? Is your body stressed by being overweight or by being totally out of shape? List the major stresses in your life and work to reduce them until you know for certain that you are not overstressed.

Empathic suffering: Getting infected with the suffering of others causes you to suffer. You have crossed the line from empathy to suffering if you feel worse after offering sympathy to someone else. If you honestly cannot be in the presence of negative situations without taking on pain that isn’t yours, get away. Losing sight of your boundaries doesn’t make you a “good person.”

Negativity: Well-being is a simple state to which body and mind return naturally. Negativity prevents this return by causing you to dwell on not being well. Do you casually gossip about others and relish their misfortunes? Do you spend time with people who carp and criticize? Do you watch every disaster and catastrophe dished out on the evening news? These sources of negativity don’t have to be engaged in—walk away and put your attention somewhere more positive.

Inertia: Inertia means giving in to old habits and conditioning. Whatever the cause of depression, anxiety, trauma, insecurity, or grief, these states linger if you take a passive attitude. “That’s just how things are” is the motto of inertia. Become aware of how doing nothing is actually the way you’ve trained yourself to keep things the same. Do you sit and dwell on your suffering? Do you reject helpful advice before even considering it? Do you know the difference between griping and genuinely airing your feelings with the intention of healing them? Examine the routine of your suffering and break out of it.

Toxic relationships: There are only three kinds of people in your life: those who leave you alone, those who help you, and those who hurt you. People who leave you alone are dealing with your suffering as a nuisance or inconvenience—they prefer to keep their distance in order to feel better themselves. Those who help you have the strength and awareness to do more with your suffering than you are able to do by yourself. Those who hurt you want the situation to stay the same because they do not have your well-being at heart. Honestly count how many people in each category you have in your life. This isn’t the same as counting friends and loving family members. Assess others solely as they relate to your difficulties.

Having made a realistic count, take the following attitude:

  • I will no longer bring my problems to anyone who wants to leave me alone. It’s not good for them or me. They don’t want to help, so I will not ask them to.
  • I will share my problems with those who want to help me. I will not reject genuine offers of assistance out of pride, insecurity, or doubt. I will ask these people to join me in my healing and make them a bigger part of my life.
  • I will put a distance between myself and those who want to hurt me. I do not have to confront them, guilt-trip them, or make them the cause of my self-pity. But I cannot afford to absorb their toxic effect on me, and if that means keeping my distance, I will.

Beliefs: Examine your possible motives for wanting to suffer. Do you deny that there’s anything wrong?
Do you think it makes you a better person not to show others that you hurt? Do you enjoy the attention you get when you are sick or in distress? Do you feel safe being alone and not having to make tough choices? Belief systems are complex—they hold together the self we want to present to the world. It is much simpler not to have beliefs, which means being open to life as it comes your way, going with your own inner intelligence instead of with stored judgments. If you find yourself blocked by your suffering, returning to the same old thoughts again and again, a belief system has trapped you. You can escape the trap only by ending your need to cling to these beliefs.

Energy and sensations: We rely on our bodies to tell us when we are in pain, and the body, like the mind, follows familiar patterns. Hypochondriacs, for example, grasp the first sign of discomfort as a clear message that they are seriously ill. In your own case, you are also taking familiar sensations and using them to confirm your suffering. Many depressed people, for example, will interpret fatigue as depression.
Because they haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep or have been overworked on the job, they interpret feeling depleted as a symptom of depression. The way to deal with these sensations is to strip away the interpretation. Instead of being sad, look upon this as the energy of sadness. Like fatigue, sadness has a bodily component that can be discharged. Instead of being an anxious person, deal with the energy of anxiety. All energies are discharged in the same way:

  • Take a deep breath, sit quietly, and feel the sensation in your body.
  • Feel the sensation without judgment. Just be with it.
  • Let any feelings, thoughts, or energies that want to come up do so—this often means listening to the voice of anxiety, anger, fear, or woundedness. Let the voices say what they want to say. Listen and understand what is going on.
  • Watch the energy disperse as much as it can. Don’t demand complete discharge. Take the attitude that your body will let go of as much stored energy as it is able to.
  • After a few hours or the next day, repeat this whole process.

This may seem like a stiff regimen, but you are being asked to spend only 5 minutes a day on any one of these areas. Tiny steps bring big results. The simple state of awareness is nature’s default position; suffering and the complications that keep it going are unnatural—it wastes energy to maintain all that complexity. By working toward a simpler state every day, you are doing the best anyone can do to bring suffering to an end by cutting out the roots of unreality.



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