Suffering is relative NOT absolute!
Over the course of my life and, more specifically while working extensively with people as a coach and director for several decades, I have come to witness a great deal of emotional and psychological suffering.
Working with individuals is quite an extraordinary journey. I had to realise very early in my career that unless I focused on the total human being, whatever skills I was attempting to teach would not be assimilated well.
Put more simply, people struggle with themselves more than they struggle with their talent or learning process. What is all this emotional suffering all about? It became a real passion to help people, by shedding some light on the subject of suffering.
I started out as a professional actor in New-York City. After moving to Los Angeles, I founded the Hollywood Actors Studio in Los Angeles in 1989.
Teaching and directing actors and performers were the first steps in beginning a long second career as a public speaking skills trainer. As my passion for artistic expression grew, coupled with the realisation that all public speakers have to deal with performance issues, I was inspired to create Speakers & Artists International, Inc., dedicated to public speaking and business communication via performance skills.
Coaching is all about empowerment and self-discovery; helping and encouraging individuals to get in touch with their talent and potential and seeing to it that it gets expressed fully.
Speaking as a professional talent developer, individuals, in their process of living and learning, carry so many wounds and unfinished business internally. It brings so much tension and distortion to the life of a person. Oh, I know everyone is a genuine expert at covering it up and boy are we good at that! If we could actually win awards and make money covering up how we truly feel, it would end material struggle for good.
Fortunately, when truth matters as on a stage, as an artist or in a relationship we really care about, it becomes essential to discover what is holding us back. It’s usually ourselves!
What an irony that with all these amazing minds out there in so many fields that all we have succeeded in doing is camouflaging our species’ existential mass suffering instead of coming up with authentic and lasting solutions. It has always astounded me. Nobody is to blame but ignorance itself.
There are so many therapies, gurus and experts out there who claim this and that and the other thing; some of them genuinely from the heart. I have been there myself as an empowerment coach to so many individuals. At times, I grew more and more frustrated but, I never gave up the fight.
I had to finally discover something valid to communicate to my students and clients. The insight I came across is that psychological or emotional suffering is relative not absolute.
Let me explain. There is no denying suffering and the scientific literature on what potentially causes it is extraordinary and, in more modern times, especially from Freud onward.
In college, I became a philosophy major. I have always asked myself: why is it that none of these marvellous theories and contemplations over the centuries ever produced a viable remedy or even a temporary relief of our existential angst? Some of it really deep and causing much confusion!
There are so many coping techniques, pills and various therapies but none you can actually apply and just wash away the angst like you would taking an aspirin to wash away a mild headache.
Here’s the actual theory and therapy:
Nobody suffers in a vacuum or inside an inevitable absolute reality that one IS a sufferer. Outside obvious physical pain, like for instance a broken arm, mental or emotional unease is always in relationship to a PERCEPTION of (1) where we are, (2) with whom we are and (3) what circumstance or situation we “think” we are in. Stay with me.
In other words, there is always a perceived and interpreted scenario, story, ideal, picture, hope, expectation, desire, vision, etc., that feels real or is projected. What we call our experience is actually a projected experience undetected. Unseen or unrealised.
Nobody is watching and noticing the projections. What I mean is that when we are caught up in the flow of life it is very difficult to catch (as in watch) the patterns of “perceived reality”. They are illusions of perceptions but unless you are watching them, they cannot be detected let alone laughed at.
The experience is very much like falling asleep during a movie and waking up in the middle of it on your couch…and carrying on with your life with the plot and story of the film as if it was actually happening to you.
No matter how sci-fi this sounds, it’s what we do when the content of our thoughts and feelings is not watched.
As an example, an Awareness 101 course would begin by showing individuals that life never shows up outside of a who, where, what, how, with whom and when. By educating the watcher, one becomes aware of this basic set-up, which always carries inborn expectations, and, if left unchecked leads to some form of angst. The technique is to watch the who, where, what, how, with whom and when.
Making watching into a way of life so as to avoid getting caught up in the movie of our lives!
How is suffering triggered? A suffering trigger occurs when, in the course of a day, the built-in and rather “natural” expectations of life are not met i.e. being stood up or a failed exam, a missed train, the news of a sudden death in the family, a sudden change in our mood or physical well-being, etc. Natural here simply means that we consider these expectations normal and more to the point human, hence how they are carefully hidden from our consciousness.
There are two kinds of expectations triggers: very obvious expectation triggers as just mentioned and then we have undeclared or unstated ones. If a person loses someone dear to them in a car accident it is obvious that they would have preferred it did not happen.
On the other side and deeper into the psychological and emotional realms, we have childhood triggers that are of a much more profound and unconscious nature but “built-in” triggers nonetheless.
Here is a list of concrete examples: emotional abuse that was “not supposed to happen”, repressed feelings “why did the feelings get repressed in the first place?”, a dad with a strong superego who gave so much more attention to work than his children “the expectation trigger here is obvious”, a “do as I say and not as I do” and “there is no discussion about it” or “you’ll get severely punished if not beaten and ridiculed”.
More examples are: a dysfunctional home situation, an atmosphere of fault or constant blaming thus making us repeatedly responsible for all types of situations or happenings, internalising imposed rules of behaviour and conduct (societal or peer based), compartmentalised will and intellect and repressing deep feelings as a way to cope with responsibilities, unable to change or fix a sexual orientation that is not acceptable, conforming and fitting in which clashes with parental authority, being a slave to the authority of public opinion and constantly being at odds with other people’s expectations, people pleasing, and on and on…
What I am attempting to point out is that it is impossible to dissociate these situations from their built-in, almost common-sense, expectations. However, it is the projected assumption that “things should be different” that sets-up the malaise or angst commonly called existential suffering and second, that hardly any of it is actually being watched or observed.
We actually DO expect to be respected and honoured for who we are. After all, we come into the world pretty whole and complete in our being and spirit — the shit does not hit the fan right at the moment we pop out of the womb or does it? Well, it does as around 2.4 million babies die in the first few days of their lives.
To be able to transcend these triggers, it is crucial to contemplate and investigate that there is no suffering “per se” possible as an absolute. What is missing is watching the illusions of suffering through our thoughts. Another way to put it is that suffering is not a fact but rather, a relative interpretation that you are not watching.
It is the watching that brings the awareness.
In other words, existential suffering is a suffering “relative” to what is desired and expected but not an “absolute and inevitable” concretised suffering. Thus, if one identifies the unmet desire or unfulfilled expectation AND WATCHES HOW. THE MIND LAYS IT OUT, one can see the patterns of thought and feelings at play.
As a side note, if everything was absolute there would be no need to doubt anything and no interest in the mysteries of life.
We have lived for so long inside unrealistic expectations and measurements of ourselves that never belonged to us in the first place.
How do we begin to transcend our existential suffering? If you can identify the “background occurring and relative” patterns or architecture of your suffering, AND WATCH THEM IN ACTION IN YOUR MIND, you are potentially free from the worry or the angst — whatever its form. Because they only exist when you stop watching and remember that they are nothing but illusions of suffering.
It is as profound as it gets: no watcher no chance to pierce through the thoughts of angst. Is it easy? Absolutely not! I’ve been at it for many decades yet, there is a way out.
It is the understanding of the binary or dualistic nature of mind. Let’s investigate how. Mind is a binary principle. The dualistic nature of mind makes it difficult to identify mind as a “binary” principle but mind is a mechanical principle that only thinks in opposites.
To illustrate, extremes are only extremes in relationship to the extremes on the other side. For instance no “top” without “bottom” or rich without poor and yet again, no good without evil. Polarities are in perfect sync and juxtaposition. Suffering’s opposite is health or joy, etc., it is an absence of the declared state.
Escaping dualism is not the point but seeing it is.
Here’s a key: it is the identification with mind principle that makes suffering easier to invite, host and entertain. What generates suffering is the identification nor the intrinsic dualistic nature of mind. As we are unaware of where we are trapped (in a binary system), we begin to experience a relative failure to watch the mind and its many tricks to make us believe that what IT THINKS is real and actually belongs to you.
All is built on the principle of mind. That is our biggest blind spot and our greatest gift. We are born and we “expect” to live, it is built in so everything becomes a potential trap for suffering i.e. what if I don’t live, what if I get sick, what if it does not work out, fear, survival issues, which can lead to deep fears, greed, and so on.
Freeing oneself from mind’s opposites is the nature of the game.
All sources of fear can be traced to an absence or a lack of understanding of what is causing the fear and a definite absence of watching, as in mindfulness techniques. As an example, intuition is magical because it does not concern itself with opposites. It warns us but does not identify with “why” a person is hiding in the dark alley with a knife in their hand waiting for you to come near. In other words INTUITION does not think, it does not operate as a binary consciousness.
We pay attention to mind’s content but rarely the nature of the mind itself and its potential trappings. So the “seeing or spotting” of the unnamed and unexamined expectations or “personal rules” that we cherish about life, the world, our relationships and circumstances, etc., is what makes us free of unnecessary suffering.
Simply put, we all expect life to work out don’t we? But according to what picture? What storyboard? The picture is what we don’t see. It can be a picture of what is acceptable in our culture, our parents or peers, our country’s values, religion or social milieu.
I am not a Buddhist and I am certainly aware that I am not trying to convey that one should be without expectations but rather it is to explain that “if you have a mind, you have expectations and it does not matter that you are not aware of your expectations — they exist”.
Transcend mind principle not mind itself. It is the understanding and assimilation of mind’s nature by anchoring in a different soil, so to speak, that makes all the difference.
Sourced in mind all is lost, sourced in your instincts and attention, it becomes practical to see mind as a mechanical construct that simply measures stuff, across all time i.e. history, hence why mind is so powerful.
We have a body with instincts and intuition and we have an identity or ego with self-reflected consciousness, which uses the mind to self-reflect but is not “of” the mind.
It’s good to remember that life and mind are free agents and they both are not embarrassed in the least about their design. Life wants to keep going at the speed of the universe and mind wants to keep on exploring and measuring at the speed of mind.
Once you remove fault, blame and responsibility you can begin to navigate more freely inside your “self”. Limitations are built into life but not evidently as a problem as problems are meticulously added as a reaction to life’s inherent but natural dilemmas. It is one of the great contradictions of being born as a conscious being, caught between our animal nature and our evolving humanness.
Life simply happens to animals but, with human beings, life happens and we instantly measure it (the mind does the measuring). Then, we develop an opinion about what is measured, etc. so we get caught in a spiral of endless comparisons. We have conscious and unconscious issues with not being able to control our destiny, the circumstances we meet, the people, the changes, etc.
Mind cannot exist without binaries and a measurement is not a measurement without something to measure it against. A measurement is never an absolute but a “relative” value depending on the measuring criteria. Newton and Einstein were quite insistent on the matter, no pun intended.
Mind is very much like a trained hunting dog, it will sniff the fox’s trail and be absolutely relentless and focused on tracking the prey to please its master and its great sense of smell. Mind will find the opposite of any argument or position. The formidable analytic power of the mind turned onto oneself and how life is going, will undoubtedly find what’s wrong.
My wife and I often discuss the tragedy of someone like Robin Williams who hung himself on a door knob. His genius (mind) pointed in the outer direction of expressing humour was, I’m sure, a great relief for him compared to the cruelty of his mind turned inward toward himself. No absolute there either but built-in expectations of being somebody completely different outside of his amazing performances and genius. The mind can be very unforgiving when pointed inward. The self must train it to point outward. Only “you” as yourself can stop the identification with mind’s binary principle.
Beware of phrases that fit all i.e. “I want to be a better something or someone”, a goal like this tells the mind to measure you against not being that, it can be a great source of worry and angst if the pattern is ignored. If you want to become a better pianist no need for a conversation with yourself, just be at the piano 3 more hours per day and it will do the trick for your talent. Practice makes perfect not mantras and whatever you do a lot, you will eventually do very well, if you have the appetite and the tenacity.
Spot dualism and “built in” expectations as they are inevitable. Spotting duality identifies the source of suffering. As in the famous example of a glass half-full, is it half-full or half-empty? There is always a split in everything and it is natural for the mind but unnatural for the self.
Mind is not from us nor is it us, it’s a tool for self-reflected consciousness nothing more. Mind is beautiful but it only proves useful to us if we stay out of its tyrannical measurements as far as our direction and process in life are concerned.
Identification with mind principle is intellectual and emotional suicide.
If you can watch your mind you have met yourself — who was watching? You can either “be” mind or “watch” mind. The first is anxious and terrified and the latter is free.
In the biblical tradition, the original sin is not very original. It basically says you are pretty worthless (a sinner) and you’re going pay for it or make amends. Being bad is another collective delusion. We’ve been looking through the sinner’s prism for so long that it is near impossible to tell where nonsense begins and human ends.
We are so identified culturally to our so called sin, original or not, that we would rather jump out a window than face a life free and liberated. Like after the crash in 1929 when so many individuals committed suicide as they could not face their financial non-existence, being without money made them feel they did not exist and were left without an identity.
Who are we without suffering? Many philosophers such as Plato sought to dramatise this experience in works like “The Allegory of the Cave”, in which three prisoners have been chained deep inside a cave for their whole life. They are chained so tightly that all they ever see or experience are the grotesque shadows cast on a wall from a fire that is burning behind them. This is the only reality they have ever known. Then one day, a prisoner is released.
He is blinded by the light outside the cave and astonished to see a completely new reality of people, animals, and objects casting these shadows into the cave. He scurries back to tell the prisoners the news, but to his dismay, the prisoners do not believe his fantastic stories of the world outside of the cave. For the shadows on the wall are the only reality the prisoners have ever known, and therefore, to them, that is all that will ever exist.
In truth, they are just trapped in their minds’ illusions without knowing it.
Thank you for reading.
Note: these are essays in intuitive awareness offered as creative musings. Science uses intuition to establish new paths of inquiry and advance possible theories. We favour a philosophical exploration through our own intuition rather than fit-all reasoning. We see ourselves as traveling emotional spirits filtering universal consciousness in the now. We are witnesses of a great cosmic joke playing with our being on this earth, inside the tremendous beauty and mystery of life.