The Path to End Suffering
This article attempts to answer 3 very important questions:
1. What does it mean to end suffering?
2. What causes suffering?
3. What are some practical steps you can take to end suffering?
Just now, when you read those questions, your mind automatically tried to predict the answers, didn’t it?
This is because over the course of your life you’ve gathered a huge collection of images about what it means to suffer.
And based on those images, your mind has crafted a corresponding collection of hopes and ideas about what it must mean to be free of suffering.
But you’re going to have to let go of all of these ideas in order to walk the path that ends suffering.
Because any preconceived notion you have is not the path.
All words and ideas, even the ones I’m about to share with you here, can only point the way, but they are not it.
In order to get anywhere, you have to actually walk the walk.
This process is completely experiential.
Words and ideas can be helpful, but they cannot ever convey the full capital “T” Truth.
You’re going to have to live it for yourself to know it, not just think about it.
And before we go any further, it’s important that we are crystal clear on a few very important points.
The path to end suffering is not about a future destination.
The path itself is the destination, right here, right now.
Walking this path doesn’t mean life’s challenges are going to go away.
And it doesn’t mean that circumstances will miraculously fall into place, just the way that you want them to.
Not even pain will go away.
Because while pain appears to be a source of suffering, it actually isn’t.
Pain is a sensation.
It’s your interpretation of that sensation that causes suffering.
So what does the path to end suffering give you?
What the path to end suffering gives you is a healthier relationship with life as you are living it.
It gives you the means to enjoy the moment you’re in, even when it’s not comfortable.
When you decide to walk this path, feeling good has to be your number one priority.
This isn’t selfish.
Actually, it’s the opposite.
Because it’s only when you feel good that you’re able to fully show up for others authentically.
And it doesn’t mean that you adopt a “good vibes only” mentality.
Because that would mean denying the Truth of the full scope of your human experience.
Feeling good happens naturally when you let go of your resistance to what is, which means allowing things to be what they are, not judging or denying them.
This shift is revolutionary.
you have to be willing to let go of your resistance in order to embody who you most want to be.
Many people are surprised to discover that finding peace involves a destructive process, but you don’t lose anything of real value.
The path to end suffering is only destructive in that you free yourself from your shackles.
What Causes Suffering?
You suffer whenever you decide life should be different than it is, or that you should be different than you are.
You may imagine that the path to end suffering involves changing something.
Surely, you think, if you could just control enough elements of your life, then everything would be ok.
But that’s not the way life works.
It is only when you open yourself up to the way life is that you allow yourself to feel good.
Yes, there may be moments where everything works out the way you want.
But these moments don’t last long.
Life keeps moving and changing, like a river flowing.
And as the great spiritual teacher Michael Singer aptly puts it, when you try to stop life’s flow because you judge something as bad or unfavorable, it’s like putting rocks into a riverbed.
The river keeps flowing, but the water becomes turbulent.
Life keeps flowing, but your experience of it becomes turbulent.
Throw in enough rocks and you build a dam, blocking the flow so much that all that’s left is pressure.
This is where dis-ease comes from.
Whenever you judge or try to control the outcomes of your life, you reject the Truth of life’s flow and create a painful pressure inside yourself.
Because you are literally made of life’s flow.
Life’s flow is what animates your body.
It is the source of consciousness.
It is what makes you, you.
You may imagine that you are separate from it, but you cannot be separated from it because it is who you are.
So when you judge anything in your life as bad, within or around you, you’re pushing against your very essence.
You cause stress and pain that you can feel in your physical body every time you push against the Truth of what is.
This is the root of suffering.
Sometimes the suffering is huge and overwhelming.
More often, however, suffering is nagging, gnawing, and irritating, like a pebble in your shoe.
You could take the pebble out, but instead you just keep stepping on it and complaining.
You imagine that if you step on in a different way, ignore it for long enough, or talk to enough people about how upset you are about this pebble in your shoe, it’ll magically disappear.
You have to choose to remove it.
So how do you do it?
What are some practical steps you can take to end suffering?
First, you have to recognize the predicament you find yourself in.
And here it is:
Your body is conditioned for survival.
And your mind is your body’s navigation system.
Every experience you have is stored in your body as an emotional memory (what Eckhart Tolle calls “the pain body”), and every time you have a new experience your body responds by pulling up the emotional memory that resembles it most closely.
Your mind then reads those emotions to try to steer you toward things that brought you pleasure in the past, and away from things that brought you pain.
These are your desires and aversions.
But the world has shifted and changed entirely since you had those experiences.
And when your mind dictates what “should” or “shouldn’t” happen, it is limiting your present experience to what it thinks happened in the past.
But this is a brand new moment.
And your mind doesn’t actually know what will bring you pleasure or pain moving forward.
While it is trying to protect you, in effect it’s actually causing you to close yourself up from your life as you’re living it.
And it’s preventing you from seeing the Truth, which is only found in your lived experience, not the memories you project onto it.
In order to end suffering, you have to recognize that the voice in your head is here to serve you, but it is not you.
And while it can advise you, it cannot ever tell you the whole Truth because it is limited by what it knows from the past.
So the path to end suffering requires you to shift your awareness behind and beyond the voice in your head.
Stop identifying with your thoughts.
And stop believing everything you think.
Your thoughts don’t define you.
Once you recognize that you are not your thoughts, then you have the opportunity to move further on the path.
One way to do this is to question your thoughts.
That’s a great first step, and you can learn how to do that here.
But in my experience questioning your thoughts is still too intellectual.
For me, the most effective method has been to move my focus from my thoughts to the sensations in my body.
I start by asking myself, “Would I rather cling to this thought or would I rather feel good?”
My mind usually answers “I would rather feel good and cling to this thought!”
Nice try, Mind. But I know enough not to be convinced.
So then I check in with my body and see how it feels to cling to the thought.
Spoiler alert: it won’t feel good.
It will feel tight, or empty, agitated, or stuck in some way.
This brings me closer to the Truth.
When I’m honest with myself, I realize that I’d rather feel good than continue feeling the way I do when I cling to that thought.
And if I keep thinking the thoughts I’ve been thinking, I will keep feeling the way I’ve been feeling.
Instead of continuing to focus on my thoughts, I choose freedom.
And that means I have to stop resisting life and allow it to flow.
So how do you let life flow?
When you notice yourself feeling a negative emotion, try not to indulge it, attempt to “fix” it, or suppress it.
Instead, feel into your body, find the tension, and soften around it.
Allow it to be there.
Simply by shining the light of your awareness onto the tension of your emotional experience, you already transform it.
But it’s not going to be comfortable at first.
You have to be willing to feel the tension you’ve been carrying in your body in order to release it.
You can’t clear anything out that you aren’t willing to look at or feel.
So you sit with the discomfort and instead of fighting against it and judging it as bad, like you normally do, try something new and just relax into it.
You might imagine it as a block of ice, and your awareness helps it evaporate and melt.
When your mind comes in to tell a story about it (and it will), shift your focus back to the sensations in your body.
Stay with it, and little by little, let it go.
As you do this, your body might do some funny things.
Because emotions are energy in motion, and as they start to release your body may physically start to move in response.
You may find that the urge to cry, moan, cough, gag, laugh, shake, twist, dance, or some other physical expression comes up.
As these urges arise, try not to resist them.
Allow your body to do it’s thing.
It knows how to heal all on its own, you just need to let it.
This practice can take a great deal of vigilance, and it is not for the faint of heart.
Most people endure a long lifetime of suffering before they’re finally ready to face the Truth and walk the path to end their own suffering.
And it can be especially overwhelming to dive into your bigger emotional baggage at the beginning.
So don’t start there.
Start with the little things.
Notice the small moments of irritation, judgment, restlessness, and stress as they arise throughout your day, and whenever you notice them, try to relax and soften into them as much as you can.
Sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to process your emotions in the moment they arise.
It can be helpful to keep a notebook handy and write down the thoughts and situations that caused you to close yourself up and become tense, and then at the end of each day, or a few times a week, set aside a time to bring these situations back into your awareness and feel into your reactions.
Over time you’ll be able to release resistance as soon as it arises.
But give yourself grace, time, and practice so you can get there.
And at some point you’re going to want to ask for help. It’s much harder to walk this path alone.
So if you want more personalized support as you walk this path, click here now to set up a (free) consultation.
My work is dedicated to helping you heal the root causes of stress and anxiety, and while this is one of the most powerful strategies I teach, it is far from the only one.
I’d love to chat with you to see if we’re a good fit.
So if your curiosity has been piqued, I can’t wait to hear from you!