Nothing I’m about to say is new. It’s just another way to say the same thing.
Conscious suffering is the ego grind I’ve mentioned before. It’s where we now understand that we are the witness, and we are watching our mind, heart, and body do what they’ve been conditioned to do. We watch ourselves unconsciously choose to suffer and realize that we have no way to change this choice…yet.
Consider getting a divorce. This is a common thing to happen for people. But for a person who has let go of a little ego, they understand that there is nothing threatening about this change of a relationship. They realize that they don’t have to be happy or excitement or sad or scared.
Yet, their unconscious preferences about the situation happen anyway. So they get upset or scared or excited or whatever their ego thinks they should feel. But now you have a choice to make: to agree with the unconscious and habitual emotional choice and react. Or you can continue to surrender.
If you surrender, you will suffer while your habitual/unconscious response still happens. AT the same time, when you are consciously suffering, you no longer feed those responses, and so you are allowing those responses to gradually run out of energy until they no longer happen at all.
Sometimes I talk about the ego and all its subconscious reactions like they are a fan. For years, we’ve poured energy into it. We’ve poured so much energy into it that when we stop–when we turn off the energy switch–it continues to spin.
This can be frustrating for people. Many people think things are simply turned on and off, and the language of many spiritual teachers–myself included–around just letting go make it sound simple. It is simple, but for most of your life, you’ve made yourself very complicated. It’s going to take awhile for that fan to stop spinning, and the work is really a non-work.
How long can you be with that spinning fan that is still churning out the same old thoughts, emotions, and sensations?
#1 The Spinning Mind Fan
Early on the spiritual path, I’m usually teaching people to watch their thoughts. Despite how difficult this feels at first, the attachments to thoughts are much less than to feelings and sensations. And so we begin here to watch the mind and stop giving it energy. Every time we re-energize an old thinking pattern, we’ve flipped the switch back on. We’ve given it more energy, which will now have to be depleted as well.
This isn’t trying to “not think.” Sometimes people come up with this strange idea. Trying to “not think” is a form of thinking. So now someone is thinking about not thinking and is increasingly frustrated with the thinking that is happening.
Yes. Me too.
Surrender is simpler, but here a person has to develop a kind of resilience to the addiction of thinking. Like most addictions, it will subside the longer it is deprived of what it craves.
#2 The Waves of Emotion
Everyone’s emotional space is different. For many who are emotionally shut down, they have to open up just to get started unwinding the many emotions inside of them.
Despite a person being shutdown or even numb, emotions are still happening in their subconscious. That’s why a person needs to numb or distract themselves even if they think that they “don’t have much or many emotions.” So there’s a lot of work to do for some people just to get to the point where they can acknowledge their emotions much less consciously suffer them. Once again this means observing without feeding the emotions with more thoughts, emotions, and so forth.
This experience is like being upset at traffic and watching your emotions get upset at traffic even though you weren’t thinking that you should be upset. Any situation where your emotions are reacting while your mind is quiet is this type of conscious suffering.
This is really humbling as a person sees just how out of control they are emotionally and how little the thinking mind can do in a sea of emotions.
#3 Physical Tensing and Reactions
Then there’s the body.
As a person resolves the resistance in their emotions and old patterns break down, the body tends to be the slowest of all to “forget” unconscious patterns.
I want to emphasize that there’s a lot of work to do before paying attention to the body in this way. The mind and heart need a lot of help coming to rest first before we really delve into the many levels of body reactions. Otherwise, the mind and heart keep triggering body reactions on top of other more basic physical responses. But once here, it is even more humbling than the first two, and it will confront a person with all kinds of truths as well as stored memories and attachments.
It’s like seeing your mother and being emotionally and psychologically at peace with her after all kinds of issues and attachments have been addressed. But there’s still this sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that makes you feel nauseous. This is what your body has been trained to do. There’s no problem. There’s just the need to consciously suffer this response as the body unlearns a very physical way you felt around being around your mother for years if not decades.
Watching It Work Itself Out
Again and again, we are humbled on the spiritual path. At times, you will feel more vulnerable than you have ever felt because you see how little control you have over all these internal processes. Coming back to awareness is the start to seeing these things, and surrender is the doorway in allowing these deeply practiced processes to run out of energy.
In running out of energy, you discover more freedom that had been masked by these automatic thoughts, emotions, and sensations, and now, you have an opportunity to live and experience life in ways you might never have dreamed.