Friday, February 14, 2020

The Power of Forgiveness

     We've ALL experienced various forms of trauma, and as a result, are ALL contracted to varying degrees. This contracted state distorts & negatively impacts our perception, behavior, & ultimately our capacity for intimacy - to deeply appreciate ourselves, others & the world.
     This author writes from deep personal experience, hard-earned wisdom, as well as formal education. It's much easier to remain stuck in the contracted state, than to follow her advice & start healing.

     "The choice to meet suffering consciously, and then to open wider than this suffering, is the act of forgiveness. Very often there’s an idea that forgiveness is something you do, perhaps a kind gesture, the writing of a ‘letter of forgiveness’ to everyone who’s ever hurt you, or a turning of the other cheek. But the action is really an inner one. It’s the choice to open wider than you want to, wider than you can even imagine.

     Sometimes, you can really believe that you’re choosing to meet suffering consciously and yet somehow you’re still a victim of this suffering. For example, when you’re in the grip of a dark emotion and you feel it intensely, you think you’re meeting it completely, yet it doesn’t dissolve. The pain is like a rock; it just stays there. In this case, there’s still a subtle refusal to let go of the victim story. To open wider than the suffering is to be willing for the victim to die. As much as you say you no longer want to be the victim, the death of this victim is synonymous with the death of self, because victim-identity is a primary part of the ego’s scaffolding. The question to be faced here is this: ‘Who would you be without the victim?’ This isn’t to be replaced with another idea of self, not even a positive self! The question is one that functions to take you deeper into the core of being where there is no self, but only if you are willing for the structures that uphold your sense of self to come tumbling down.
     Of course, when trauma runs deep, if you’ve been physically or emotionally abused by someone in your family, a stranger, or by a collective force (such as Holocaust or political exile), it’s difficult to forgive. After all, the abuse did take place and you were indeed a victim of someone else’s violence, hatred, or insanity. Letting go of the victim story is certainly not about condoning injustice or cruelty; it’s not about making a wrong right. It’s really not about the ‘other,’ but about you. Holding on to ‘it shouldn’t have happened’ perpetuates a grievance. This creates an energetic contraction that freezes your life force, locks it into the past, and prevents full engagement with life now. One of the primary handicaps of trauma is the inability to ‘cope’ with situations that invoke strong emotions. There’s often a withdrawal from the deeper current of life, a closing down of the feeling-nature that shows up as an inability to be intimate (either emotionally or sexually), and a very high sensitivity to the stress of new situations, unexpected events, and loss. But even though this self-protective pattern continues way past the original event, it is possible for the energetic knot of trauma to be released.
     Through having the courage to face what deeply hurts and ‘sitting inside it’ without judgment, there is a dissolution of the grievance. It’s precisely this ‘sitting inside the grievance’ that was not possible when the traumatic event originally happened. The resistance to the horror and pain of the original event created a kind of splitting off of consciousness as a form of protection, and then the overlay of a story that says, ‘This shouldn’t be happening.’
     Forgiveness is, first and foremost, an inner journey. It’s about you. Are you willing to put an end to your inner conflict? Are you willing to meet the violence, hatred, cruelty, injustice, unkindness, greed, and ignorance in you? Are you willing to see that each of us is capable of dark feelings? These feelings may or may not be acted on, but the point is that we are each capable of experiencing these feelings. Forgiveness is the natural outcome of letting go of inner conflict. It begins with taking responsibility for your inner experience rather than continue to avoid the pain by throwing it outward through blame and retaliation.
     The power of forgiveness is poignantly encapsulated in The Railway Man, the autobiographical story of Eric Lomax, a prisoner of war in World War II who suffered brutal torture at the hands of the Japanese. This experience left deeply buried emotional scars in his psyche that created havoc in his personal life. Many years later, after uncovering in himself a desire for revenge, he set out to kill his former tormentor. But in meeting him and pouring out his story of pain and hatred, he saw at the same time the humanity within his tormentor and the inhumanity within himself. As his heart opened, his inner reality was transformed and a tender friendship developed between the two men that lasted until they both passed away in old age.
     At the core of every human being is a desire for love and wholeness: all acts of terror and horror are misguided attempts to find this. When you are the one who has been hurt by these terrorizing and horrifying acts, it may seem like it’s impossible to believe this. Each one of us is called to dig much deeper into our inner knowing, to see that when the desire for love and wholeness moves through a form that has also suffered and been damaged, it comes out in distorted ways. At the root of this distortion is an ignorance of true nature and a consequent acting from a belief of separation. From this belief, all fear, hatred, violence in the name of justice, and other endless harmful acts are inevitable. Seeing that ignorance is the root cause of all suffering opens our hearts. We see but do not judge; we see without a story. This is the essence of compassion, redemption, and resurrection. As Jesus said as he was dying on the cross: ‘Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.’
     An open heart allows the forgiveness of others, the world, life, God, and the self. In choosing to open to the mystery of this moment with all hits horror, you, as a separate self, die in this moment as it is, and what is revealed is the unending glory of an inner power. Forgiveness has the power to heal, for your sake and for the sake of the world. It’s a power that defies all opposition. And it’s more potent than any action.”


       Amoda Maa. “Embodied Enlightenment. Living Your Awakening in Every Moment.” Reveal Press, 2017. I highly recommend this powerful book.

We're all on the same path ...

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Ego after Awakening

“DOES THE EGO DIE?

     Another tenacious concept that perpetuates the myth of enlightenment and creates much confusion in the spiritual seeker is the belief that the ego dies, and with it all personal history is erased. In this myth, the ‘enlightened one’ supposedly has no sense of self and no story, and therefore he or she is expected to never talk about themselves, to never use the word ‘I’ or ‘me,’ and to never refer to ‘my life.’ The ‘enlightened one’ has supposedly seen that the body and the world are an illusion, and therefore is totally unconcerned with physical well-being or worldly affairs. This image of enlightenment is a fantasy upheld by millennia of religious dogma and patriarchal spiritual traditions. It also taps into our childlike need to enter the kingdom of heaven or nirvana, where bad things never happen and we are rewarded with endless peace.
     The stark reality is that awakening is not a death of the ego. As long as you’re alive as form, the ego cannot die. Ego, as a primary sense of ‘I-ness,’ must exist, otherwise you’d be unable to discern inside from outside. It’s very likely that, without an ego, the voices in your head would be undifferentiated from my voice, from someone else’s voice, or from the voice of God, and you would be in a state of psychosis. You might even be a blubbery mess, unable to function in three-dimensional reality. If you’ve ever taken too many psychedelics, you’ll know how disorienting and even terrifying this can be!
     As long as we operate within relative reality, the relative function of the ego must continue to operate. A sense of self as a separate entity is absolutely necessary for both physical and psychological survival as form. Death of the ego only happens when form dies. Luckily, as long as there is a functioning neurophysiology, there is a sense of self. It is a sense of ‘I’ that increasingly develops as we emerge from the womb and gives us the capacity for self-reflection and self-awareness. It’s actually the seed of awakening, because without it we would not be able to become conscious of consciousness.
     Awakening is also not a transcendence of ego. Transcendence of ego certainly can happen in a variety of circumstances, such as when you experience a mystical state or a state of expanded consciousness such as in deep meditation (samadhi), long-distance running, or giving birth. It also happens if you have an out-of-body experience or near-death experience. The initial experience of awakening can also be an intensely transcendent experience. But if you continue to identify with this transcendent state, you are likely to develop a ‘spiritual ego.’ There is no transformation or evolution of consciousness in the identification with this state, because when the inevitable return of old egoic patterns and personality traits appear there is a tendency to deny that any of this belongs to you.
     In true awakening, there is neither a death nor a transcendence of ego. Instead, the location of self is released from its entanglement with the unconscious ego (in other words, the conglomeration of conditioned mental, emotional, and physical responses.) Liberated from the prison of egoic identification, the ‘I-ness’ becomes nonlocalized and unattached. Having recognized awakeness as the inherent nature of all that is (including the self), the self becomes an ‘awake I,’ undefined and unrestrained by relative reality.
     Another way of saying this is that the self experiences itself as inseparable from the totality of existence. While certain survival-based impulses continue (protecting the body from danger, the impulse to eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, or rest when tired, and so on), there now happen without interference. They simply happen as life’s natural and intelligent movement toward what needs attention while form is alive. The ‘awake I’ is therefore free to respond intelligently and creatively to the moment, and this gives you access to a power that is at one with life itself.
     So what happens to the ego in all this? From one perspective, nothing happens. From another perspective, everything changes. In the process of liberation, the once unconscious ego transmutes to an evolved or ‘aware ego’ and gives itself in service to the ‘awake I.’ In other words, the ego stops being the master and bows down to awakeness.
     So, yes, in awakening there is a death. There is a death of the self-identity that is wrapped around the ego. But there is also a birth of a whole, integrated human being that includes both the surface sense of self as a separate entity (the self that is born and then dies) and the deeper layer of undifferentiated beingness (the self that was never born and can never die).
     Awakeness embraces the paradox of self and no-self. There is no conflict in this apparent duality. While the mind finds this intolerable, the heart abides in unfathomable acceptance. When the silent mystery of spacious acceptance becomes overridingly preferable to the habitual struggle of making sense of it all, the search for a mythical state of enlightenment comes to an end. However, the ever-unfolding deepening into authentic awakening never stops.”

       Amoda Maa. “Embodied Enlightenment. Living Your Awakening in Every Moment.” Reveal Press, 2017.

Fogo Island, Newfoundland

Openings

     We're conditioned to "see things, not as they are, but as we are" - ie from our personal, conditioned perspective. And to the extent that we're similarly conditioned (traumatized) by life, we share a similar, egocentric, contracted perspective - consensus reality.
     But we can be pleasantly surprised:

      A long time ago, in first year university, after spending a long day studying in the library, I stepped outside into a cold, clear, star-filled night and was instantly awestruck by the crisp, majestic, silent beauty. This was so startlingly wondrous that its vivid memory continues to reverberate over 50 years later. 
     This was not a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of nature (in suburban Toronto). My mind happened to be too tired to put up the usual filters of conditioning, so I accidentally perceived ordinary reality as it actually is, in its raw splendor. I was able to see 'innocently,' like a child. Maybe this is what Einstein meant by living life "as though everything is a miracle." Indeed, research shows that happiness is determined by our quality of awareness, not of the external environment. Killingsworth MA, Gilbert DT. “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind.” Science 2010; 330(6006): 932.

     To avoid sitting in traffic, I arrive very early for morning MBSR sessions, and park near a favorite coffee shop. On leaving the coffee shop the other morning, I passed by my car and noticed that I could now move it forward to free up an additional parking spot. Right after I did this, while walking the usual route to the MBSR session, I became aware that everything suddenly appeared vividly alive, friendly, happy.
     That small act of kindness was enough to shift my perspective & state of being from habitually slightly contracted, to open-hearted spacious awareness - and thus shifting my quality of life from neutral to wonderful. 

     At my first longish (10-day) silent meditation retreat, the intensity of my perfectionistic GI-Joe striving, my physical, mental & emotional tense contraction, and resultant overall suffering - progressively climbed to the absolute peak of tolerability for 9 days. Most of the time I was in a painful muscle spasm, as rigid as if I had been in a full-body cast. Mercifully, by day 10, a deeper wisdom*** took over from my ego, my body completely relaxed, after which I sat in blissful ease, time flying by as if the last day of sitting were a minute long.
     *** “… the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning – the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes – the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior. … the rider and the elephant work together, sometimes poorly, as we stumble through life in search of meaning and connection.” 
       Jonathan Haidt. “The Righteous Mind. Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Vintage Books, 2012.

     “When a living system reaches maximum stress, it can respond in one of two ways: it can either descend into chaos or it can jump into a higher order.
     In biological systems, this is the point at which a species either becomes extinct or re-creates itself as a more complex and intelligent organism.” Amoda Maa

     "The last two decades have seen a growing body of research focused on post-traumatic growth (PTG) in the aftermath of highly stressful life events. Such positive growth may include better appreciation of life, better relationships with others, deeper spirituality, increased personal strength, recognition of new possibilities, and a positive change in health behaviour. Theoretical explanations for these positive changes propose that growth emanates from disruptions in worldviews necessitating a revision of beliefs to reflect a new reality. These disruptions cause distress but also act as a potential catalyst for PTG." 
       AnnMarie Groarke et al. “Post‐traumatic Growth in Breast Cancer: How and When do Distress and Stress Contribute?” Psycho‐Oncology 2017; 26: 967–974.

     “When worldviews change, new possibilities can emerge, even within the same set of circumstances. Worldview transformation … is a fundamental shift in perspective that results in long-lasting changes in people’s sense of self, perception of relationship to the world around them, and way of being.” 
       Schlitz MM, Vieten C, Miller EM. "Worldview transformation and the development of social consciousness." Journal of Consciousness Studies 2010; 17(7-8): 18-36.

      We have the choice to intentionally, methodically, gently, progressively "lean into," carefully investigate ("listen deeply"), and unconditionally embrace & nurture all of life. This is a movement from fearful, egocentric, reactive, rigid contraction towards loving, allocentric / ecocentric, responsive, flexible, openness; from being on autopilot as a fearful child, towards consciously embodying a nurturing wise grandparent.

      “We suffer to the exact degree that we resist having our eyes and hearts opened.” Adyashanti.


Friday, January 31, 2020

HOW we Relate

     Suffering arises primarily from having a distorted view of ourselves & the world, and thereby relating sub-optimally to ourselves & the world - as if lost in a dream, drifting on autopilot. 

     "... in my direct experience, I suffer when I perceive myself as separate from life." Caverly Morgan

     We can end suffering by waking up, perceiving reality as it really is, and relating more appropriately towards ourselves & the world.

     "We are liberated from suffering by correctly perceiving reality."

                                                                                                                              Yongey Mingyur

     From personal experience, we know that when we feel threatened, we become "contracted": physically our muscles tighten; mentally "the world shrinks" we're only concerned about our self or at most, our immediate family; emotionally we feel isolated, alone against a suddenly hostile world. We feel rigid, hardened, "up-tight," "a stranger in a strange land" physically, mentally & emotionally. In this contracted, grimly self-centered, "siege mentality", our actions naturally reflect our immediate outlook on life: "nasty, brutish, & short."
     There are many valid reasons why we become contracted - at times. Life presents all of us with some heavy, unavoidable challenges. However, the vast majority of our suffering is completely "discretionary" - completely unnecessary, IF we were interested enough to learn to live more wisely! But we become so thoroughly accustomed to being at least somewhat contracted, that all we may notice is that "life is stressful, but I'm coping as well as most" - "it's just normal stress" - (Freud's) "ordinary unhappiness" - just the normal momentum of my life.

     Again from personal experience, we also know that when we feel happy, satisfied, at peace, we become "expansive": physically our muscles relax; mentally "our world expands" our circle of interest & concern spreads far & wide across our one "global village," we entertain big creative nurturing thoughts & intentions to help solve common global problems; emotionally we feel part of & responsible for the entire human family, all living creatures, all of nature. We feel open-hearted, open-minded, at peace, relaxed, thoroughly at home, physically, mentally & emotionally. In this expansive, generous, nurturing mind-set, our actions naturally reflect our true nature: a wise nurturing grandparent who holds themself & all others in safety & unconditional love.

     Research also shows that we feel truly happy only when we're fully present; that it’s the quality of our presence, not the external environment, that brings happiness.
      Killingsworth MA, Gilbert DT. “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind.” Science 2010; 330(6006): 932. 

     Enlightenment has been defined as "intimacy with all things."

     Though we all have experienced episodes of expansiveness, for most of us it's a relatively rare, short-lived accident. We have little or no encouragement, guidance or support to learn to inhabit our true expansive nature.
      Even for those who learn mindfulness meditation, which is specifically designed to recognize & release contraction, and thereby allow us to naturally embody expansiveness, the momentum of contracted conditioning is so strong that they quickly forget about mindfulness, and resume sleepwalking through life in a contracted state.


     “… the main goal in meditation is not to get to certain good
      states, but rather to eliminate what gets in the way of those
      good states.” Shinzen Young

     “Your task is not to seek for love, 

      but merely to seek and find all of the barriers 
      within yourself that you have built against it.” Helen Schueman

      Mindfulness
is not for everyone. It takes clarity of mind, courage & perseverance to very gradually, intentionally, progressively let go of habitual patterns, that have us stuck in unhappiness. A very small proportion of us do choose to intentionally mature wisely by way of an ongoing regular mindfulness practice.


Expansive Nature

Friday, January 10, 2020

Power Phenomena in Meditation & Shamanism

     A pointer towards deepening meditation practice & liberation:

     “In Zen, if you buy into the content of 'makyo' experiences (power phenomena), it’s going to shunt you away from the direct path to liberation. 
     However, my take on it is informed by that, but also it’s a little broader. These power phenomena are basically the wish list for new age spirituality: encountering entities, gods, ghosts, ancestors, angels, remembering former lives. And they map onto a lot of shamanic experience culturally around the world. But the good news is that if those phenomena are happening, then that’s an indication that you’ve dropped into a deep level of consciousness, so that’s a good thing. It’s actually a kind of feedback to tell you that you’re going deep. 
     So in Native cultures, this would be called the Spirit World, and of course it’s very real to those cultures – so there are the Spirits let’s say. And then there’s what we might refer to as the Great Spirit or the Source, which in Buddhism would be called the Dharmakaya. And I would take that as that primordial perfection, that formless doing that molds ordinary and extraordinary experience, moment by moment. 
     So if you’re encountering spirits, it means that you’re getting close to the Great Spirit. That’s good. But the Great Spirit is formless, so by paying attention to the energy flow that envelops the manifestation of those unusual phenomena, you’re keeping yourself pointed towards the formless Source that is the Great Spirit. And so in terms of traditional Buddhist vocabulary, by observing the impermanence of the power realm experiences, that’s pointing you to the force that molds them. We can draw a metaphor from physics: force is proportional to acceleration. So as you’re watching how these things sort of vibrate and undulate, you can get a sense that there is a formless activity of consciousness that is molding these spirits. That’s the same thing that molds the ordinary so-called physical world. And by doing that, you ride the spirit world directly down to the Great Spirit. 
     But if you get either frightened or enchanted by the contents of the spirit realm, then you could go off in a horizontal direction and not realize it, and so you stop going deep – you just go out into the power realms. 
     Our remote ancestors practiced shamanism. And the spectrum of classical shamanism around the world is a spectrum of angles. One angle is you go out into the power realms and you don’t go any deeper into purification or get closer to the formless. Those people become one kind of shaman that’s sometimes called a Witch or a Sourceror or a Power person. Then at the other extreme are the people that just deconstruct, deconstruct, deconstruct, until they find the no-self, true self, formless Source of it all. And that extreme is sometimes traditionally called a Holy Person. And then there are an infinity of oblique angles, where your growth has a component of interest in the content of power realms, but also a component of movement towards the formless. 
     And so that spectrum is the real old time religion of this planet. It’s what most people did for their spirituality for most of human history. So it’s something to be honored from that point of view, but it’s also something to be understood.”
       Shinzen Young Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview #2: https://batgap.com/shinzen-young-2/




Monday, January 6, 2020

Three Stages of the Meditative Journey

#1     
     “Most beginners start with the idea that meditation is supposed to be peaceful. If they feel peaceful, they conclude that they are doing things right. Soon enough a disturbing thought or emotion erupts, and this is identified as a problem. We do not like disturbances. We start off with this dualistic preference. We want smooth ocean waters with no waves. When the waves come, we say we cannot meditate; or we assume that the presence of the waves means we are not meditating correctly. But the waves keep coming anyway, always. It is how we perceive them that changes. We can relate to these waves as threatening monsters and try to push them away. We can apply certain mental techniques to subdue them; or we can pretend not to notice them or try to deny their presence. But there is no liberation in trying to get rid of the waves; and actually, if you examine the mind that is trying to get rid of the waves, you will discover that it’s stuck on the problem. It is making a mountain out of a molehill. We can also tell ourselves intellectually, These waves are essentially empty. We can play with the ideas and concepts of emptiness and use intellectual logic to convince ourselves that the wave is not really a monster. But our hearts still feel the threat, and react to protect ourselves from it. This describes the first stage of working with the mind.

#2
     In the next stage, we are introduced to resting the mind in the spacious, nonconceptual aspect of mind that transcends the limited self. The waves might still be terrifying, but we begin to glimpse the boundless expanse of water beneath the surface, and this gives us more confidence to let them be. We do not yet see them as just waves, but our perspective has become so much bigger than the waves. Our personal stories of fear and loss, of rejection and self-recrimination are there – but they do not pervade every bit of space in our heads. Our fixed minds have loosened up a little; and once we recognize that our own version of reality exists within a vast impersonal experience of reality, these same stories do not disturb us as much. We might begin to think, Oh there’s a wave forming on the surface of my mind. Or, There’s a monster in my head. Okay, no problem. We can acknowledge the problem without reacting to it. We see it, but we do not feel it as much as we did earlier. The understanding of emptiness is dropping from the intellectual head to the experiential, feeling heart. The ratio is shifting: The more we rest in recognition of the spacious empty mind, and the more we embody the wisdom of emptiness, the less impact the disturbances have. The wave is there, but now it is just a tiny movement in the vastness of the ocean. But at this point, we still get stuck on the surface with the waves, and lose touch with the ocean beneath.

#3
     In the third stage, the wave no longer appears as a problem. It’s still a wave – big or small – but we don’t get stuck in it. We have become comfortable resting within the ocean itself.
     The ocean does not become calm and still. That is not the nature of the ocean. But now we have become so familiar with the full expanse of the ocean that even the biggest waves no longer bother us. This is how we can now experience our thoughts and emotions – even those we have spent our lives trying to be free of. Every movement of the mind, and every emotional reaction, is still just a small wave on the vast surface of the awakened mind.
     Although the mind is always free, it remains imprisoned in constraints of its own making. Concentrating on a sense object can protect the mind from feeling overpowered by the waves. For example, focusing the mind on a flower, or on watching the smoke from a stick of incense, can protect the mind from obsessing on marital discord, or on a business scheme. This type of focus may provide temporary relief. Still, it does not allow us to experience freedom. When we connect to our own awareness, then we can accommodate whatever arises: the big waves of loved ones dying and relationships ending, and the ripples of crashed computers and delayed flights. No wave stays the same shape: all crests fall. Let it be. Let it pass. Become bigger than the thought, bigger than the emotion. Everything is always in flux; by letting it be we simply allow for inherent movement. We can notice preference and desire, but chasing after them blocks the flow of change. Awareness contains impermanence, not the other way around. But they have this in common: Our liberation comes from recognition.
     Let it be makes it possible to see that our true nature is free from problems, distress, and suffering – and that it always has been. When we stop trying to make the surface calm – and accept that the very nature of ocean is change – we begin to experience this inner freedom.
     But this is not freedom from distress and anxiety. It is freedom that can be experienced with stress and anxiety. We are liberated from suffering by correctly perceiving reality; this means that we have the insight and experience to know that our minds are so much vaster than we generally think they are. We are not the size and shape of our worries. To recognize reality as-it-is makes recognition and liberation simultaneous." 
       Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Helen Tworkov. “In Love with the World. A Monk’s Journey through the Bardos of Living and Dying.” Spiegel & Grau, 2019. A well-written, practical book for serious meditators.



Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Metabolizing Emotions in Real Time

     This helps explain why in mindfulness meditation we practice physical processing: 'leaning into' challenging physical sensations with curiosity, interest & equanimity and watch how what seemed like solid aversive objects unravel into their harmless constituents.

     “Most people don’t maintain a continuous mindful relationship with their subjective thoughts and feelings, so most people do not have the ability to experience anger, fear, sadness, shame, and confusion without suffering. When an objective problem presents itself, it produces uncomfortable subjective mental and emotional states, and you suffer. A salient feature of suffering is that it distorts behavior. You cannot perform the delicate act of threading a needle while somebody is holding a flame to your body. Your whole body shakes; the objective functioning is distorted because of the internal suffering. In the same way, the delicate act of human interaction is frequently subjected to the distorting influences of (perhaps subliminal) suffering. Because of this subjective suffering, our objective responses to objective situations are often less than optimal, and sometimes horribly distorted.

     When objective responses are nonoptimal, they sow the seeds for new problems – new objective situations that cause distress. Then we respond suboptimally to that new situation. This can create a feedback loop that has the potential to spin out of control at any time.
     Even in situations where the suffering appears to be quite small, the distorting influences can add up. For example, a current cultural norm in the United States is to go from passionate love to acrimonious divorce in just five or ten short years. How does this happen? It happens in dozens and dozens of small daily interactions, some of them a little bit emotionally charged and a few of them charged in big ways. When interactions that are unpleasantly charged are not experienced completely in the moment, they are not metabolized. They leave a ghost, a remnant suffering that haunts the cellar of our own mind. That remnant suffering sinks into the subconscious and distorts our subsequent responses. We make cutting remarks when we merely need to reply. We yell when we merely need to be emphatic. We bite when we merely need to bark.
     The same cycle destroys a relationship here, a career there; leads to a war here, a rampage there; a repressive dictatorship here; an ethnic cleansing there. That is the basic pattern on this planet: People do not understand how to experience pain fully, that is, without suffering. Suffering distorts their response to the source of the pain, and this distorted response can easily lead to more pain and, hence, more suffering.
     Here’s a diagram that sums up the problem.  


     So where does meditation come in? Meditation allows us to experience pain without suffering and pleasure without neediness. The difference between pain and suffering may seem subtle, but it is highly significant. When physical or emotional pain is experienced in a state of concentration, clarity, and equanimity, it still hurts but in a way that bothers you less. You actually feel it more deeply. It’s more poignant but, at the same time, less problematic. More poignant means it motivates and directs action. Less problematic means it stops driving and distorting actions. I appreciate that merely hearing these words may not be enough to clarify the concept. But look back; perhaps you’ve experienced something like this in the past. If not, having read these words here will help you know what to look for in the future.”

       Shinzen Young. “The Science of Enlightenment. How Meditation Works.” Sounds True, 2016.
       *** HIGHLY recommended ***