The Gift of Suffering– Adventures on the Dark Path

The standard spiritual advice, at least in the dumbed down IBM school of Yoga has always been of the happy-clappy kind. That is, running after happiness/pleasure, avoiding anything defined as “negative”, which could even be close friends who haven’t eaten the “Positivity Kool Aid.”

But I have found, as have many people, that just thinking “happy” thoughts doesn’t make you happy. Anymore than thinking you are the most beautiful person alive makes you pretty. Or thinking that you are the Prime Minister of Britain makes you the PM. Are you getting the drift? This is the big lie of “manifestation” :

Just thinking it is so, don’t make it so. (I need to trademark this line).

The problem:

Humans have been trying to avoid pain and suffering for millennia. They have created wonderful technologies, created cure for diseases which just a hundred years ago killed millions of people, increased their comfort.

Yet, as human comfort has grown, so has human misery. Humans are more miserable than they have ever been. Why?

This problem is worst in the first world. Rich countries, with long lives and good incomes, are the most miserable. People are depressed, thy hate their lives, their work, yet when they retire, they hate retirement and die within a few years. People don’t know what the purpose of their life is, and look to other people or the social media to tell them what to do.

It is no better in 3rd world countries. In India, where I was born, people run after Gurus and astrologers to make their life easy. People go to Gurus not to get wisdom, but to find out when they will get a promotion, or when their evil mother in law will die.

Self help experts have replaced astrologers/gurus in the West, though they work on the same principles.

People have invented all sort of things to run away from misery. Big cars, big houses, big boobs and God. (Yes, the God most people worship is a figment of their own imagination).

They hate their pain, and would do anything to avoid it. If the pain goes away, they thank some imaginary God. If it doesn’t, they scream at God, and pretend to be atheists.

The problem of most spiritual (and unspiritual) people

In the material world, people spend years working hard, ignoring their families and health, to finally rich but alone, wondering What did I do wrong?

In the spiritual world, people spend years meditating or chanting mantras but get nowhere.

They are still miserable in their inner life, though they might try to act all spiritual and holy to others.

Why is this?

Why do people spend years meditating with nothing to show for it?

The Disease of Over thinking

We are slaves to our thinking and cannot stop thinking even if our lives depend on it. Like drug addicts, we keep going back to the mind for a “hit”.

The mind has gone insane, analysing and commenting on everything. The mind is a great servant but a terrible master. We start thinking our thoughts are “real” and start believing in them.

Worse: We have turned the mind into a sort of god we worship (the actual meaning of the world idol in Abrahamic religions). We think our thoughts are “special” and are willing to get into fights to protect them.

We then project our own thoughts on to the world.

What does that mean?

It’s like an angry man thinks the whole world is angry. Or an over-sexed man thinks the women are deliberately trying to tempt him. In both the cases, the problem lies inside the person, but they project it on to the world. Suddenly, it is the fault of someone out there that I am so angry / hateful / jealous.

We rarely see the REAL world. Instead, we see the projection of our own mind and thoughts. The mind interprets everything it sees, usually in a very negative manner.

So the sun is shining, and the mind says, “It is too hot! Why can’t it be cooler?”

It is raining, the mind says, “It is always raining, what bloody awful weather, I wanted to go for a walk.”

In both the case, the sun or the rain are neutral, and yet the mind has interpreted them to be enemies.

This is one of the interpretations of The world is an illusion thing. The world isn’t an illusion, but the world we see and interpret through our minds is 100% an illusion, because we so rarely see the real world, we just see our own mental projections and illusions.

That’s what the ego does to remain in control. It will read the religious scriptures, but rather than be changed by the book, it will try to co-opt the message.

And that is why you can have people reading about Jesus, a man who forgave even those who killed him, and interpret his teachings to start wars, or torture people, or enslave another race. In each case, the mind sees no contradiction, because the ego always convinces you You are doing the right thing. How can you be wrong? You are so spiritual!

Some Definitions

But before I go ahead, some terms need to be explained:

Pain — Pain is caused by external events, like disease, accidents, death of closed ones etc. Pain is unavoidable, even though most spiritual types pretend it is because of Oooh lala how enlightened we are.

Suffering — Is the story we create in our heads based on pain. So My boss is an asshole or My wife/kids don’t respect me, kids these days! or Why does it always happen to me? or God won’t give me a break

So shit happens to us– job loss, disease, relationship hurt etc. And while the thing maybe bad, what’s worse is we create a story around the pain that runs in our head giving commentary.

As a simple rule. 90-95% of the thoughts in our head are useless garbage, creating silly stories in which we are the heroes and the world is out to get us.

Ego – The ego originally meant attachment to body, but I think for modern people attachment to thinking is a better explanation (that I got from Eckhart Tolle). People have this non-stop stream of thoughts that blunder thru their head, over which they have no control, and which they identify with.

The Insane Ego

Each one of us carries the seeds of insanity within us. We are, truth be told, totally insane.

The only reason we get away with it is that other people are as insane as us, if not more.

What do I mean by this?

If you look at your mind, really look at it, you will see it acts like a mad person.

One part of your mind will say: I need to lose weight. Another will say: Maybe, but first, let’s have this delicious donut.

And once you have that donut, the same mind will then shame you. “You disgusting fat pig! Have you no self control?”

It’s like we have multiple personalities within us, all out to get us.

If you saw a person walking on the street, talking to themselves, screaming insults, would you not decide they are a little crazy and avoid them?

And yet, what do you do? Do you not do the same? You may not shout loudly, but you are talking to yourself in your head, constantly judging yourself and others, constantly looking to either attack or defend yourself from imagined slights.

This is what is called in spiritual lingo the Ego. It is an insane part of you, the part of you that talks to itself, the non-stop stream of thinking / judging / analysing that all of us go through.

And like we have said before, ego LIKES to be in CONTROL. And so it constantly creates situations that increase drama in our life, so that there is always stress, always something going wrong.

You want your dream job, and you get it. And the ego will start telling you how bad your boss is, how you could do better. Or now it wants an even higher paying job. The ego is never satisfied, because the ego is born of strife, and if your life became peaceful, the ego would have to die.

Sometimes, the ego doesn’t even need an excuse. It will look at something stressful in your life and try to blame you for it. An example from my own life:

I was guilty as I hadn’t meditated for a few days, and then some problem at work came up. And my mind said: Aha! You didn’t meditate, now God is punishing you!

And that’s the fucking insane ego– it constantly attacks and belittles you. It humiliates you and shames you, all the while pretending to be your friend.

And do you think this insane ego just sits quietly when you try to meditate?

Why do we need suffering to find peace?

And this is where suffering comes in. Not minor irritants like Ooh I stubbed my toe or My boss hates me or Jeez why am I not a millionaire yet, everyone else on social media is?

No, it has to be extreme suffering, the type that would have you crying on the floor. If you have never had such extreme suffering, I feel sorry for you; it might seem funny I feel sorry for someone not suffering, but we only grow as humans during times of distress. This is known in scientific circles, too, with the name Post Traumatic Growth .

Extreme suffering crushes the ego, like a grinder crushes seeds. It is temporary, true, but for a time the mind shuts the fuck up and dies.

It is a form of dark grace– very painful but also one of the few ways to a quick insight into the Truth.

I’m reminded of the 1st verse of the Yoga Sutras:

When the fluctuations of the mind are silenced

That’s when the Light of the Spirit is Seen

My own rough translation

The Yoga sutras say we see our own True Self (which can be called God, our Buddha Nature, the Inner Christ etc) when the mind is completely calm. For most of us, sadly, this will happen during times of extreme suffering rather than Samadhi.

Now, I must say, this doesn’t mean we run after suffering or create suffering. I’m reminded of the idiotic Indian “Yogis” who do stupid things like sit on nails or keep an arm in the air.

It is idiotic as they are trying to manipulate the universe, trying to choose their suffering, in order to become pretend enlightened sooner.

No, there is already so much suffering in the world. Even rich people in first world countries are not happy. Rather than trying to create suffering, why not work with the suffering you already have?

The Gift of Suffering

Suffering is a gift from the Goddess, a sort of dark grace: It helps us jump over our own mind. It helps us see there is something bigger out there than our ego and the non-stop and frankly very idiotic chattering of the mind which is mostly me me me oh poor me, woe is me.

Is suffering needed? No. Not at all. But until we realise this, we are bound to suffer. Not because of some idiotic Law of Karma or a vengeful God, but because our own thinking will keep attacking us.

Suffering does a few things for us:

  • Extreme suffering can help us see the Oneness with the Universe state, at least for a short time
  • It can also put us in touch with our Higher / Buddha Self, who can better guide us spiritually and materially
  • Suffering gives a better appreciation of life and all the good things we have and take for granted
  • Suffering can show us the lack of meaning in our daily materially oriented life and push us to seek something more

This post was meant to be an introduction to why suffering isn’t always bad, and we should embrace it instead of running from it. That instead of hiding from the darkness, look deep into it. I find that bringing our darkness into the Light of Awareness is the best way to dissolve it.

It is a scary path, but it is a very stable path. Unlike the “positive” path (which often turns into bury your head in the sand path), this path is more strong and grounded. There is less chance of being tricked or hijacked by the ego. And this negative path actually ends up making us more happy, as instead of trying to manufacture happiness, we are unearthing the joy that is already inside of us.

In the next post, we will go over some practical techniques that helped me turn suffering into peace and joy.