By Ty H. Phillips
Quite often, we offer wonderful advice while following none of it.
Our cognitive dissonance allows us to see great swaths of perspective except for our own. We encourage others to embrace and love themselves while we hate ourselves. We offer encouragement and love to others while showing ourselves none of it. In my own life, it has been pointed out (often I might add) that I can be almost sadistically hard on myself, allowing neither for mistake or healing.
This can easily be ruled out as habituation.
Growing up in an abusive environment, I have become conditioned to feel uncomfortable without constant struggle, yet even knowing this and knowing how uncomfortable it makes me, I continue in this almost stockholm syndrome-state.
When it comes to the pursuit of a spiritual path, those hurting or abused tend to use the path as a facade and something to hide behind, rather than a means of healing. Every issue is a lesson, the universe sending us a message and the more we hurt and struggle, the more we pretend to be holy and accepting. It becomes a way to not confront who we are but instead hide behind a smile and comments of “light and love.”
The truth is, the path of Buddhism rejects this notion entirely. The truth of suffering is not to escape, but instead a means of fully understanding it.
To fully understand suffering we must first accept simply that it is real and we will suffer and hurt and mourn. Denying this fact of life or trying to escape it only compounds these issues.
I found myself doing this once again.
It wasn’t that I was offering an “it’s all light and love response” (I hate that new-age crap) but instead, rejecting my own hurt and suffering by mentally punishing myself for having it. I didn’t understand why my depression was worsening, why my anxiety was returning; I only scolded myself for being a wimp and compounding self doubt with self hatred.
Not until I was open to how I treated myself was I able to push my face through the clouds and see the light of day.
This reawakening does not remove suffering, but it does radically impact how we relate to it. My suffering still exists, however, I can choose to understand it, not denying it and at the same time, choose not to reinforce it. An acceptance of a shadow self instead of avoidance.
When we accept both sides instead of trying to be only one or the other, this acceptance of light and dark makes us whole.
The Buddha’s enlightenment was not freedom from suffering because it no longer existed for him, but freedom from its control over him because he fully understood the nature of reality. It’s a popular assertion amongst bourgeoisie Buddhists to say that suffering is optional. This is a form of denialism. Suffering is not something that we can pick and choose like items on a buffet—it is the nature of reality. All we can choose is how we relate to moments of suffering; acceptance and engagement or denialism or wallowing. The Buddha’s enlightenment was understanding this.
Now of course as I say this, I spent the night sleepless, upset stomach, wallowing in my own self pity and confusion but still, do as I say not as I do, right?
Even the slightest dawning of understanding is in itself, a sense of enlightenment.
This happens not because of escapism, but because of full engagement in the nature of our reality. Our reality is of course largely subjective, but until we are clear on our reactions and interactions, only then will change begin to happen.
This change is not a forced sense of self—a reworking or remolding. It is sight. It is a view into the workings of the mind. This is why the great teachers tell us changing in order to reach enlightenment is contrived (a sense of “spiritual materialism”).
Remember the Buddha reached enlightenment once he stopped trying to reach it through forced means. He sat and was aware and then it came.
So, now I will go take a swig of Pepto, pace for a minute or for two hours and allow myself to settle into who I am. Just as you should. We can do it together. Not striving but being.
Editor: Dana Gornall