You let go of suffering by no longer creating it.Jim Tolles
Suffering is our constant creation and re-creation. You let go of suffering by no longer creating it.
That’s the short answer.
Clearly, we don’t stop easily. Nor do we even like to accept the fact that we are creating it.
Our suffering is all someone else’s fault, isn’t it?
It’s your mother’s fault for calling at a bad time.
It’s your brother’s fault for all the times he bullied you as a kid.
It’s your boss’s fault for not paying you enough.
It’s your employees’ faults for not doing enough for the company.
It’s the government’s fault for not making this legislation.
It’s the other party’s fault for being what they are.
And so on and so on.
Certainly, some people get stuck in the tailspin of self-blaming, which is very different than being accountable.
The result of blaming others or self-blame is that suffering tends to get worse as the person never deals with the true source of suffering.
What Is Suffering?
If you want to let go of suffering, you have to know what it is.
What is suffering?
It is our reaction to life based on our illusions and attachments of what life should be.
You have a romantic relationship. The other person decides you no longer have that relationship. You feel sad.
The romantic relationship did not exist outside of anyone’s neural pathways. Because it isn’t real, it can disappear with one tiny decision.
Your reaction is also entirely made up. You could have chosen to feel anything, but understanding that choice is available to you has not come to you yet. Instead, you feel compelled to feel sad.
And you are attached to this emotional decision and will suffer again and again each time a romantic situation like this one happens.
Pain Is Part of the Body
Conversely, I am not talking about pain.
If you stub your toe, you feel pain.
Pain is a physical communication tool that lets you know there’s a problem.
It’s really, really useful.
If you get angry about the stubbed toe, you suffer. The anger is a choice. The stubbed toe is not.
Certainly, suffering can impact the body, and the body can have lots of pain that are caused by the ego misusing the body. Additionally, prolonged pain is different than ego suffering.
Ego suffering can create physical problems that resolve themselves when the ego suffering is gone.
So when you hear about people having physical ailments resolved on this path, it’s important to understand just how much trouble our ego attachments to illusions and false beliefs can create.
Accepting Your Role in Suffering
Now that we’ve established what suffering is, how do you let it go?
Well, it’s going to help a lot if you can identify areas of life where you are suffering. Identification is critical because it helps us to come out of the ignorance that we’re stuck in. Willful ignorance is a powerful force, and it keeps people trapped in suffering.
A few of the vast number of areas where people suffer include:
- Changes in relationship,
- The rising and falling of the stock market,
- Whether their team wins a game or not,
- If people like the clothes they’re wearing,
- How much money they’re making,
- If they met or did not meet their athletic goals, and so much more.
Again and again, the ego wants to keep things it wants, get things it wants, get rid of what it doesn’t want, and avoid what it doesn’t want. But life and society don’t play by these rules.
How to Build Your Sandcastle (a metaphor for impermanence)
Realizing You Can’t Stop It
You don’t stop suffering.
You stop fueling it.
This runs counter to the self improvement mindset. We should get tools to get better at overcoming suffering, right?
We’re removing our active engagement with creating and re-creating suffering so that the pattern runs out of energy.
Once again, suffering is created by us.
Suffering is an action.
When we no longer want to take that action, it is forced to run out of energy. It’s like a car driving in circles, but if no one puts any more fuel into it, it will run out.
It’s just a bit of a grind to feel all these feelings, hear all these old thoughts, and experience different physical states as this pattern screams to be refueled.
This is where we all get tested.
Tests After Finding the Treasure (a spiritual allegory)
Watching the Response Disappear
Again and again, we practice coming back to awareness.
What is awareness?
It is aware of your happiness and heartbreak.
It is aware of good health and sore knees.
It is aware of vomit, empty bank accounts, sunburns, first kisses, an amazing salsa, and everything else.
It never changes. It never judges. It simply observes.
In returning to this neutral space, we pull away from identifying with our experiences to allow the experience to arise and pass.
As all experiences will do.
The nature of the human experience is impermanence. It changes. It keeps changing.
Instead of trying to control change better, we come back to awareness to consciously observe and let go of different experiences as well as our internal patterns until they have no more energy. When our internal patterns no longer have any energy, they disappear.
The First Releases
The first time we go through a cycle of releasing attachments, we begin to realize that we do have the freedom to change. We are not trapped in these repeating patterns at all.
There is a way out!
But this is only the beginning.
Too often, people think that releasing one or two issues is the whole of the game. They vastly underestimate their ignorance about themselves.
It’s just how it is.
We are profoundly ignorant about our ignorance.
Usually what happens is that we go for some time working through more and more ego layers, saying,
“I had no idea that was there.”
“Holy shit, there’s more there.”
“Okay, I think I’m getting close and can go back to my regularly scheduled life, but wait…what the Hell is that?”
At a certain point, there’s a massive breakthrough where someone really gets a sense of just how many ego programs they’ve created since birth. If the person actually wants to realize freedom from suffering, they’re going to have to bring a whole new level of sincerity to the process.
The Insincere Spiritual Seeker
Few people want to have a full release from all suffering.
Most think that most of what they feel and do are fine. They don’t see the breadth of suffering nor the reality that
ANY ATTACHMENT WILL CAUSE SUFFERING
This tends to be a shock for people to understand. Because things can’t be that bad. I mean you’re alive and all, right?
Which is the most basic understanding of success in the world.
That’s ultimately what the ego is all about.
It doesn’t actually care about your quality of life nor even long-term consequences to you and others of your attachments and suffering. It cares about staying alive, and if the current patterns are doing that, then you’ve succeeded.
But as we become conscious, we see how little good our attachments are doing us. We see how they briefly reward us and then punish us. We sometimes see that they’re actually degrading our health and communities. We realize that we can’t improve this structure.
We can only sincerely surrender, including surrendering attachments that we like.
More Comes Up to be Surrendered
The more you look within, the more suffering you find. But sincerity helps to guide someone through these moments of challenge. Releasing attachments fortifies someone’s resolve.
While we won’t always get confirmation in any way about the inner work we do, we do need something to feel like we are benefiting…
before we realize that the concept of benefiting isn’t even quite right.
The benefit of letting go of suffering is not making ourselves suffer.
It’s like the difference between waking up and running into a wall every day of your life.
Then one day, you decide you don’t want to do that to yourself any more.
But you’re so stuck in this program that it goes on for awhile. However, it eventually stops.
Now you get up in the morning and don’t run into a wall.
Does that feel better?
But really, this is an absence of self-inflicted distress. After the temporary relief, it becomes normal to not walk into walls.
Additionally, the experience of not suffering is not happiness per se, but there is an interesting thing that happens in the absence of our illusions.
Unlocking Your Ability to Evolve
The ego is stuck.
The human animal body is also stuck in all kinds of patterns.
Breaking out of these attachments unlocks your ability to intentionally evolve as well as to use our long-term planning mind in a useful way. We see patterns more logically as the suffering of the ego shrinks. We make decisions with a little more understanding of cause and effect.
As we go, we are confronted with more uncertainty, ambiguity, and hard truths in this world. It’s just how it is, but with less attachment and ego suffering, we find that we can more consciously engage in useful ways with all of that and live our lives from a greater sense of inner peace and possibility.