Tuesday, January 28, 2014

To be Free from Suffering

A comment on my last post made me realize I need to clarify something.

How can I accept the world exactly as it is, and yet desire that people be free from suffering? Isn't this an incredible contradiction?

It isn't, for two reasons: this sort of acceptance comes from a place of nondual thinking, and so to accept the world is to accept my desires, as well. Second, to be free from suffering does not necessarily mean that the suffering ends.

The path of accepting the world precisely the way it is begins with a deep inquiry into our own nature and the processes of our conception and cognition. The more deeply I understand the nature of reality, the more willing I will be to accept it. And this inquiry into nature's essence has, for me, yielded the conclusion of the nondual nature of the world.

What do I mean by this? Much of our philosophy and perspectives on life are based on the idea that we are something separate from life itself. There is this self, and there is everything that happens to it--two separate things. There is mankind, and then there is nature--two separate things. There is self, and there is God--two very separate things. Watch yourself, though. Watch your thoughts and your motivations and ask this one crucial question: where do they come from? Where is their origin?

This is the incredible thing about studying history. When you study a time period deeply and then read the writings of people who lived and thought in that time, you see their thoughts and feelings in context--almost everything they write can be viewed as the product of historical forces. Likewise, my every thought, and many of my fears and pains, are the product of historical and social forces. My hunger, thirst, and fatigue are the product of the laws of nature. So what exactly am I?

Nothing separate from the whole. I am the intersection of many different things, but I am not separated from the world or from life itself. And so, to accept the world is to accept my own desires and thoughts about the world--but to accept them for what they are, which is not any product of my own uniqueness, but rather the culmination of the intersection of historical and social forces that I represent.

And this is why acceptance is never quietism. I believe that the world is perfect just as it is, including my desire to change it. I do not want people to be hungry, and so I accept the world of hunger and my own desire to change that world. These are not two separate phenomena. They are one.

Second, to be free from suffering does not mean that pain ceases. Freedom from suffering comes when we stop identifying in suffering. When we recognize ourselves for what we truly are--which I believe is loving awareness--we find an incredible capacity to greet our own suffering with love. Instead of identifying in the pain, we can identify in the awareness that is aware of the pain (and the awareness of the pain is not in pain--it is simply aware of it. Awareness of depression is not depressed. Awareness of anxiety is not anxious.)

As we cease identifying in our suffering, something changes about its nature. We stop desiring for it to leave. We find an incredibly deep acceptance. Ironically, it is this very acceptance that changes things. It is this very acceptance that makes us, like Hafiz, "always kind and full of wonder." This is the step between desiring change and becoming change.

Suffering can be a beautiful and wonderful thing, because it is a call to awaken to our own nature.


  1. The only thing I would change about this post (other than the obvious typo of "great" instead of "greet") would be to change the penultimate sentence of the penultimate paragraph to read, "..., like Hafiz describes himself, 'always kind and full of wonder.'").


    I am trying to accept my pretentiousness. ;)

    1. Pretentiousness is deeply allowed :)

    2. I love that I actually understand, from experience, what you are talking about. Beautifully put, as always. :)