The most basic experience that all human beings have, which begins in the birth canal if not before, is that of pain and suffering or affliction. The fact of suffering, and how to deal with it and its effects, prompted the Buddha to present the Four Noble Truths. I like to refer to these as the facts of life. These are not dogmatic teachings, but excellent psychology that supports the spiritual journey.
The first Noble Truth is that existence is painful because "all things arise and pass away." The issue here is called dukkha in Sanskrit, meaning affliction. Examples of dukkha include: birth, death, ageing, loss, sickness, sorrow, association with what is unpleasant, separation from what is pleasant, not getting what one wants. The Buddha's final words before he died in 483 BC were: "All created things are subject to decay. Practise diligently to realize this truth."
Everything measurable or quantifiable will eventually disappear, and more immediately it will change to something other than what it was originally. This includes all relationships. Even that which is seen as progress or attainment will disappear, leaving one with the feeling that nothing has been attained and no progress has been made. Or what was valued will lose its value. Or what was treasured becomes a memory or an illusion or simple dross. Everything we grasp becomes an anchor that inhibits the flow of life. Enjoying and letting go constantly keeps us in the flow.
The first fact of life is that affliction exists, and we need to accept it and use it as the basis for our journey, for without suffering we would not be moved to manifest Spirit. Heaven would already be on earth. The needs that we are called to respond to, are revealed through the afflictions and challenges that we encounter. A desire to escape from our afflictions and challenges rather than to learn from them as the most valuable opportunity we have, leads only to suffering.
When we see our own imperfections, our conditioning prompts us either to be ashamed of them or to deny them. We need to appreciate that our imperfections are the greatest spiritual assets we have, for they will keep us on the path, provided that we live with them in a conscious, loving way. This attitude is easier to accept if we can appreciate that our purpose is not to live for some hoped for heaven, but to work and serve and thrive on this dualistic earth plane.
We all develop defence mechanism from an early age. We do this because we are trying to avoid dukkha (affliction). We are trying to avoid suffering. So much of the unpleasant facts of life are kept hidden from our conscious awareness. The spiritual journey is a journey of conscious choice and conscious commitment to Truth. Our defence mechanisms need to be examined, therefore, and we need to become aware of what we have avoided facing in the past. Defence mechanisms serve to distance ourselves from our own life. As we begin to acknowledge and accept what we have repressed we likely will feel ashamed, and be tempted to revert to suppression, not realizing we are handing over the power of choice to be dictated by unconscious factors within ourselves.
When we open our hearts and minds to embrace 'what is', we release the soul energy of compassion, tolerance and understanding. When we let go of the fear of life we can stop defending ourselves and blocking the presence of Spirit. We then allow the gentle hand of Spirit to instil peace within us and inspire us. When we stop being a victim and allow the love, power and confidence of soul within to give of itself, we not only avoid suffering but we then have the potential to become instruments for the relief of the suffering in other people's lives.
Suffering is a human condition. Its purpose is to teach us what we need to learn and to expand our consciousness to embrace life more fully.
1. Identify three defence mechanisms that you frequently use. Make an attempt at least once a day to stop using a typical one, and see what happens to you, your feelings and your relationships.
2. Reflect on someone or something that is leaving your life. Find the positive meaning of this and get to the point of emotional acceptance. See yourself through this as not something that has diminished you in any way, but that has given you something.