Mindfulness and Sources of Suffering

Ignorance

This refers to a lack of clarity and understanding about the nature of reality and the laws of nature.

  • The seed of ignorance is present in almost all humans. It is in fact part of the human condition. Sometimes we may think we understand everything perfectly but usually we have only an intellectual understanding and lack the wisdom that comes from a place of embodied knowing.
  •  As a result of this ignorance we have a tendency to mistake unhappiness for happiness and vice versa.
  • We have a tendency to seek external pleasures to gain peace and happiness.
  • We cling to material things, relationships and this body.
  • Ultimately, we place our sense of self-worth and happiness on things that are impermanent.
  • We forget that change is constant (a basic review of chemistry and physics confirms this) and therefore have a lot of difficulty accepting change. We have an illusion of permanence.
  • As a result, endings, losses and death result in suffering.

As we become more mindful, we start to notice and become deeply aware of the nature of change and impermanence.

Craving and Aversion

These are rooted in our fundamental ignorance and refer to our tendency to categorize our experiences into pleasant vs unpleasant, good vs bad, likes vs dislikes.

  • What we like and is pleasant, we crave. We want more and more hoping that the experience lasts indefinitely! This can manifest in many different ways:

    I want ice cream. Hmmm… maybe I want two scoops, why not add chocolate sauce, sprinkles, and perhaps make it a banana split?
  • We may also find craving and desire for material wealth:

Once I have one nice outfit, perhaps I will need another to match that other pair of pants, and then a matching scarf and shoes. How about a bag or maybe two, and then I need a couple of cars so that my kids won’t stop comparing me to the neighbours. Perhaps a bigger house with a few extra bedrooms for the guests would be helpful too. Then I will need more furniture. And what about that cottage??

  • We may also start to notice that we have insatiable desires for status, prestige, love or attention.
  • What we dislike and find unpleasant, we also tend to avoid. We generate aversion and negativity towards it and we seek ways to avoid the unpleasant feelings.I’m feeling sad and lonely.  I think I’ll watch some tv, while checking out facebook. And I think a beer or two would be good tonight. 
  • These are examples of ways that we may avoid unpleasant feelings inside ourselves.
  • If we pay close attention and are very mindful, we will see that craving and aversion are arising constantly!!
  • When we cannot obtain the object of our desire or avoid that which we dislike, we suffer. Suffering occurs when we try to make things into what they are not and when we are not able to accept reality as it is. We lose our equanimity.

Mindfulness meditation provides countless opportunities to develop equanimity.

“The measure of suffering is the distance between what is and how we want things to be.”

Ego 

This refers to the Identity we hold in the world based on who we think we are and how we want others to perceive us.

  • We are constantly creating and recreating our identity. We may hold ideas about who we should be (eg. I should be a tall, beautiful woman who is a perfect mother and professional, who keeps the house tidy and has perfect children).
  • We may also try to be a particular way so that others can see us the way we want to be seen or to fulfill their expectations or the expectations we think they have of us.
  • Suffering happens when we move further and further away from our authentic selves/true nature in the service of the ego.

There are three versions of self:

  • The self we like to think we are.
  • The self we’d like others to think we are.
  • The Self that we truly are.

As we become more mindful, we start to notice the ways in which we are holding fixed views of ourself or in which we are trying to create a version of ourself for other people.

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