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To Live Is To Cause ______, Part Deux

May 25, 2010

I had a long talk with my therapist about the situation I mentioned in my previous post, and about the post itself, and when I told her the title she corrected me: to live is not to cause suffering, to live is to cause problems.

The point here is that suffering is something which occurs internally.  Suffering is caused by attachment or aversion to a particular set of feelings, thoughts or beliefs within us.  Pain can be caused by external factors, which is what I caused – what we all cause – but suffering is developed from within.

It’s an interesting and important distinction, both when we are the receiver and giver of pain, to know that the hurt occurs in the moment, but lingering suffering is produced by the Monkey Mind.  I’ve heard Sharon Salzberg talk a number of times about the mind’s ability to “collapse” in on a particular event. Like when we say something we shouldn’t have, or do something we wish we hadn’t (or vice-versa, have something painful said or done to us), how those words or that event gets repeated over and over and over.  The tape keeps getting rewound, sometimes with new endings, sometimes with the same, ad nauseam.

We’ve all been there.  That’s suffering. That is attachment.  And letting go is so effin’ hard.  It feels like we couldn’t stop replaying those events for a million dollars.   As far as I can tell, mindfulness is the only real solution.  Each time you see the thoughts returning to the painful event, making the conscious decision to let it go and focus on what’s happening right now is the only way to chip away at and eventually release that repetition.

Drinking definitely used to be my solution.  I mean, how many times have we all announced, “I need a drink,” in regards to a difficult moment in our lives?  Unfortunately, it’s usually only a temporary solution, and in the  morning I’m back to the repetitive thinking, or worse, I start building recurring patterns over time.  Deciding not to dissolve away experience means sitting with those compulsive thought patterns and seeking other relief.

The discussion made me question what suffering I’m holding on to, from previous pains.  Who am I holding as a static being in my head, unchanged from when the pain was inflicted to today?  They aren’t that person, and I’m not the same person who was hurt.  But on this relative plain it’s so difficult to see the people in our lives as dynamic, ever-shifting creatures.

Not surprisingly, former lovers came to mind first, most notably the one guy I actually dated briefly (now married), and wonder what suffering I’m creating, and if I can let that pain go now.  But the nice thing about this investigation was realizing how much I have, in fact, let go.  I have strong relationships with a number of men who hurt me at one time in my life, and that’s heartening.

I think about my best friend, one of my first serious crushes, with whom I had a contentious friendship in our youth, and who then came out of the closet in his 20s, and think how easy it is for me to see both of us as different creatures from when we met 15+ years ago – how fluid our relationship has become – and it gives me incredible hope for the future of other relationships.

So, retraction stands: to live is not to cause suffering. Just problems. A whole lot of problems. All of which are fodder for growth on both sides of the problem.

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