Anyone who has lived in this world may not be familiar with a lot of things but they sure are familiar with suffering. Suffering is anything that makes you feel pain; whether it is a paper cut or a heartbreak.
Suffering arises from a number of things, such as, when we feel misunderstood, when we feel taken for granted, when we feel betrayed or when we feel shame. Notice something that is common here, it is WE who feel these things.
Have you observed that when you listen to someone else’s suffering you are not able to empathize with them easily? Sometimes we even say, ‘I think, you are not looking at the situation objectively.’ This after we know fully well that we also obsess over our suffering in much the same manner.
I battled with this left right and centre. Emotions which impeded my growth, such as, jealousy, envy, pride, etc. had no meaning to anyone else, except me. When I told my Mentor that I am envious of my colleague’s achievements, his only response was, ‘OK’. I understood then that I need to evaluate my emotion because my Mentor doesn’t find it worth his time.
So, I sat down and took out a leaf from my journal. Wrote down what I feel and why I feel it. It came out as a soliloquy and I started to see what it means to suffer.
I mean, Nikola Tesla was a personality worth everyone’s envy, yet, we don’t feel particularly impassioned by the mention of his name. However, a neighbour who purchased a new vehicle may provoke a very different reaction. Bear in mind, that Tesla is the father of almost every great wireless invention that fuels your life, whereas, your neighbour just bought a new vehicle.
Technically, if we were an ambitious lot and we wanted to all achieve great success then Tesla would be the object of our fancy, not the neighbour or their car. Yet, somehow, there is an illogical occurrence on account of our emotions.
So what are my emotions? I asked.
Let’s say, you are meeting a new person at a job interview; the feeling most reported by candidates is that of anxiety. Anxiety is defined by the dictionary as strong desire or concern to do something or for something to happen. So, if I were to break it down, I feel a strong desire or concern. I DO, the situation doesn’t and neither does my interviewer (unless it is his first time interviewing someone). The sweaty palms, the stuttering are all a result of my desire or concern.
So, again. My emotions are the cause of my suffering and hence, my executed actions show the results of these emotions that even physically overpower me.
I don’t know if this is a regular emotion, but any sort of heartbreak or betrayal makes me feel a sharp pain in my chest. Anger, on the other hand, hurts my spine. So, if my emotions take over me, my body responds accurately and I feel the pain in a physical way.
So I tried to control my emotions through my body, regulating the source of energy I consume and the physical actions my body can perform in order to take my stress away.
It did help, it allowed me to eliminate many of my worries. I was aware of my health and the careful and conscious eating practice removed the feelings attached to low self-esteem due to body image obsession.
The exercise illuminated my body’s natural processes and my mind’s response to them. For example, while running, I could feel my stress melt in the form of my sweat and somehow I felt energetic even after an hour-long strenuous workout.
Again, I could see the positive effects it had on my psyche, my time was better invested, I felt upbeat and cheerful and a lot of my worries seemed as though they weren’t important.
This is where I started to ask different kinds of questions. So now that I knew that I can influence my mind through my body, I wanted to give a shot to the other way around.
Can I make my body feel what my mind can?
In the beginning, I perused through texts written by anyone who had a similar query. Their explanations were enlightening yet conflicting and I understood what they meant by self-knowledge.
Many ideas that I read, made a lot of sense, but I had to put them into practice before I understood their validity. So I did.
The first step was to understand that I am a human being and as such, I have a few ways to perceive or make sense of my environment.
The evolutionary reason for this is so you don’t die by falling off a cliff or staying in a room that has poisonous gases. Your senses allow you to avoid danger and find a way to survive so you keep on discovering the world you were born in. Everything we register through our senses, helps us build our understanding of the world, primarily for survival and secondarily for pleasure.
Pleasure because a beautiful visage is capable of generating feelings of awe and a tasty fruit generates feelings of happiness and prosperity. Even a rainbow, which is just light splitting into 7 colours, can make us feel the spirituality of things.
What is the evolutionary reason for this?
Abraham Maslow outlined our motivations in his theory and called self-actualization as the very peak of any human’s journey. When you reach the very best of your potential is when you have actualized yourself. You will only be able to do so after thorough and complete knowledge of yourself which the previous level Self-Esteem explains in detail.
We as human beings have access to emotions because we perceive our reality through our senses and because we are egocentric (thinking from a Human perspective/individual perspective) we are inclined to feel that the stimulus or our situation, is directly affecting us.
Let’s take for example a bus. If you are at a crossing and you see a bus approaching your way, you will quickly calculate how far it is, how big it is, what speed is it approaching with and where you must stand to avoid getting under its wheels.
Did you notice that all that information, though visible to everyone, was calculated with respect to only your perception?
How far it is from YOU, how fast is it coming toward YOU and where must YOU be in order to not die.
This is our animal brain keeping us physically safe and it does so in our emotional paradigm as well. When you are speaking with your colleague and she says, ‘Please send me the report without any delay’, we process this information as a personal piece of information said to us. Depending on our relationship with this colleague, we may either take it as just a simple direction or a direction with a personal attack.
But it will depend on what our mind tells us to do with it; the colleague is completely unaware of your thought process and may believe that she has given the right direction as she was told to do.
So, something this simple could consume a few minutes of our day and we will ignore it as soon as something else catches our fancy.
What we don’t realize is that our collective experience of the world results in our collective notions of it.
If I have an episode like this one with one of my colleagues and in those moments I keep building my experience with her in light of what I feel and not in what she says, then I will feel angst toward her.
Hence, I realized that I see things in a limited way and that is why I am unable to understand my emotions, which in turn lead to suffering.
Hence, I pursued science and asked what do we actually see and what do we not?
Science explains perception just as a photographer would.
A photograph is light captured on paper. Photo – light, Graph-Paper.
So when a camera’s lens, much like our own eyes can detect light, captures the shapes and colours of the environment; those are what we see on the graph and also what we see in real life.
There is nothing a photo can capture that you do not see with your eyes. It is the same mechanism; that is why horror movies mostly show a ghost appear on a photograph to make the audience believe that it is real and not just a figment of the protagonist’s imagination.
So, now we understand that when light falls on objects is when we can perceive it.
But now that we have X-ray, MRI, Infra Red, etc. we can safely assume that our eyes are not equipped to pick up all the objects in our environment.
There are bones in our body, we can feel them, but only through X-ray we can actually see them. Similarly, MRI scans can show you processes in your organs which you know happen, but you can’t see with your own eyes.
Therefore, this logic also applies to our mind. If what I see is incomplete then what I think of what I see is too. Hence, the phrase ‘Logic is flawed.’
So, my suffering has its roots in my view of the world, through my senses.
I wondered if there is a way to improve my senses.
We know of drugs that can achieve this result, we also know of meditational practices that can evolve one to fully grasp our environment.
But does it help curb suffering?
If you are able to understand that your stimulus is incomplete, then the only logical reaction to such a situation is to seek to know more about your stimulus. Whether it is a new fruit or a new disagreement.
I realized that the only way I can relieve myself of my suffering is by making a careful inquiry into it. What it is, why it is, who it is, etc. Just like a scientist, I carefully considered my questions to ensure that I have a better understanding than before.
Of course, there is still a lot more to learn and we may never come to the very extent of knowledge, but it sure does allow us to detach from our situation because we realize that it is nothing, because once you understand that you don’t see all of it, you will automatically find detachment from your situation.
Just like a bus on the street doesn’t affect me while I am on my balcony, similarly, an emotion shouldn’t affect me because it is not at all related to my stimulus.
It is just the first story I carved out of what I initially understood from the ego-centric or the human perspective. Now I understand that I see very little as a human, and therefore, can easily move beyond what I feel, to what I understand.