Life can be really hard. As the Buddha said, “Life is suffering.” Dukkha. This is the word he used. It means “unsettling” and refers to a basic sense of discontent we all seem to feel.
Yet, it’s possible to experience a life of joy and ease, which is the main point of Buddha’s teachings. Much as to do with our attitude — our basic approach to life. That’s why many people today are looking for a simpler way. Buddhism provides that.
A Little Bit About Me
I first came to terms with my own feelings of discontent while confronting a lifelong struggle with chronic pain. Through the work of Dr. John Sarno, I discovered that my pain is rooted in a condition he termed: Tension Myositis Syndrome. This condition is primarily psychogenic in origin. That just means something going on in my mind creates real pain in my body.
Realizing my pain originated from my mind, I began tracing it backwards, so to speak. The physical pain, I noticed, was an expression deep-seated feelings of self-doubt that were compelling me to establish a sense of worth in all the wrong ways. This in turn led to a great deal of tension and confusion, which inevitably expressed itself as physical pain.
Having studied and practiced Buddhism since 1996, it was a bit of a shock to realize I harbored so much ill will toward myself! The whole path and practice is about learning to see our own foibles with curiosity and humor, while treating ourselves and other with compassionate regard. I had apparently missed the most important lesson.
That’s the tricky part about psychospiritual development, though. These practices really only work when we bring real issues to the table. I didn’t do that. I was more interested in projecting an image of false security than confronting how I really feel.
After all, one of the driving forces of feeling unworthy is a strong compulsion to show up unscathed. That’s why the archetype of the peaceful meditator worked quite well for me. Except, of course, for all that pain and suffering I was so good at hiding. True realization doesn’t hide behind false pretenses.
Fortunately, when approached correctly, the Buddhist teachings can help us discover a real source of healing we all possess. Upon this basis, we can learn to show up more authentically.
The Basic Buddhist View
Buddhism asserts that while our individual minds tend to be quite confused, the deeper nature we share as human beings is wholesome and good. Unfortunately, though, our essential nature tends to be like the clear, blue sky on a snowy day–hidden behind thick clouds of mental confusion. Here’s another way to say it.
The confidence and inner peace we seek are already part of who we are. In fact, all of the enlightened qualities we aspire to–the stuff that makes us feel good about how we show up in the world–are already in us. We just need to know how to clear the obstacles and access those qualities. That’s why we meditate. The work of meditation is simply this:
To clear mental obstacles in order to discover our innate clarity and wisdom.
In the mystical Buddhist teachings of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, this spontaneous eradication of negativity and pain is known as self-liberation.
How Self-Liberation Works
Self-liberation is a strange mystery. It rests on this premise (which can be realized in your own experience): even our deepest issues, when brought to the light of awareness, will eventually dissolve and self-liberate effortlessly.
The key, though, is this. We must learn to cultivate mindful awareness. It’s not just about paying attention. It’s how we pay attention that counts.
Mindfulness is both an art and a practice. It’s a non-judgmental way of being that includes kindness and compassion, both toward ourselves and others. Mindfulness is generally cultivated over time through the practice of meditation. Once realized, it has the power to dissolve our pain and suffering.
Mark Coleman puts it like this in his excellent book, Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You From Your Inner Critic.
As soon as we see something with mindfulness, it can no longer hold us in its spell the same way it did when it was unconscious.
Change is possible. The ancient wisdom of Dzogchen and Mahamudra provide excellent tools for working with our heart and mind. That’s why I’m so glad these teachings are available. They’re needed now as much as ever. Why? Because life really shouldn’t be this hard. There is a simpler approach.