Is suffering of the mind? Or is suffering caused by external factors beyond the mind?
While in many ways suffering is circumstantial, Yoga says that suffering occurs when a mind becomes distorted or disconnected from it’s true sense of purpose & balance in some way – when it’s ‘true nature’ has been lost, forgotten or neglected.
This distortion happens when the senses (The Indriyas – sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing) are misused, causing attachments, aversions, associations and false beliefs (The Kleshas) which due to the distortion & inability of the mind to see clearly, might not be a real reflection of the truth.
The Senses are the lens through which the mind experiences & interprets the world – so if any distortion is present within them, it’s likely that OUR ‘truth’ might not be the ‘truth’ of another, or at least we will not be able to experience it in the same way.
The way we live today is full of things which impact & damage the senses – excessive indulgence in stimulating tastes & substances, exposure to media of a tamasic (heavy, dense) or rajasic (over stimulated & aggressive) nature, attachment to conversing in a heavy, judgemental or comparative manner with a focus on separation rather than oneness – and many other things we have come to normalize in a competitive society.
The suffering this creates over an extended period of time is not the kind to write home about (although it’s worth noting if you find yourself writing long-winded, in-depth analyses of EVERYTHING that went wrong for you that week), but more of a low-key, ongoing dullness.
This heaviness, dullness & consistent attachment to report it perpetuates suffering more than anything else – more than even ACTING on that suffering does. Acting on the suffering will actually likely lead you out of it, and yet we place so much emphasis on ANALYSING situations before we act. This is a sign that our mind is in a default mode of suffering (& is attached to the process of it) regardless of the potential that exists not to experience it.
The unconscious attachment to suffering is what keeps us stuck, and also quite possibly the hardest piece of it to overcome, because it requires us to get radically honest with ourselves. Taking a ‘long hard look’ at our habits, beliefs and daily practices & honestly acknowledging where we might be allowing the suffering to fester is one of the hardest parts of any healing journey. It might be in an attachment to unhealthy foods, an addiction or aversion to exercise, a reliance on stimulants to get us through the day or a resistance to going to bed on time. It could be something as big as a belief instilled in us from a young age that ‘life is just a struggle’ and we should accept it as so.
That last one is where I had to draw the line for myself. Of course there is suffering in life, that is a part of the journey, but we do not have to DEFINE our lives by that struggle, that suffering. There is ALWAYS the potential to heal, to experience more light and ease, and to change the way we show up in the face of it.
The quality of our sensory impressions is what dictates our mind’s attachment or aversion to suffering. Sensitizing to these sensory impressions (through things like yoga, ayurveda & meditation) is how we become more aware of them. Once this process begins, it is difficult to continue nurturing any negative unconscious habit, because it becomes so glaringly obvious how damaging they have been to both our mental and physical health.
What Yoga Says
Yoga & Ayurveda hold that the mind is an extremely powerful tool, which we must learn to master unless we want to become a slave to it’s attachments & aversions. Although the definition of ‘suffering’ varies from person to person, and is largely impacted by external circumstances, when we become aware and masterful of our mind’s capacity to either create or destroy, we start to realise just how much power we hold individually to overcome suffering.
By attuning our minds, bodies and energy to a more easeful, harmonious and natural way of living, so much of the struggle and the suffering we may have been told to just accept earlier in life simply falls away. The circumstances which caused the suffering may still continue, but our perception of them changes entirely. Our capacity to withstand and to alchemize that suffering into something more vibrant and light changes the very fabric of our minds, and the way we show up for, comment on and experience life’s inevitable challenges is transformed.
External factors can of course play a part in suffering, and yet when we meet them with a calm, clear mind which is stable & connected to it’s truth, strong in an awareness of it’s purpose and supported by a clear, healthy stable body – suffering becomes something we can work to solve & understand rather than allow to overwhelm us.