Suffering, Part 1

By Lisa Dietz

This is the first of a series of articles that I am writing about suffering. It is from my point of view but based on Buddhist doctrine. I will also be including references to "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz as well as DBT of course interspersed with both Christian and Pagan spirituality. I just don't want anyone to feel left out (-:

The best description of the Buddhist perspective on suffering comes from this website: In case you don't want to read that very articulate description,  I am going to start with an informal summary of the Buddhist perspective on suffering and in the next article, I'm going to talk about how that fits into other forms of spirituality and fits perfectly with DBT. But most of the series is going to be about how I see all of that theory working in my life. I'm going to tell you about all of the most difficult issues I've been facing over the last few years and examining how I have or have not been using these concepts in my life and more importantly, if I had used them, how it might have changed difficult outcomes. I do this because it's what DBT Pros ask you to do all the time with a Behavior Chain Analysis and  because it's something I'm always doing in my life to try to learn from my mistakes to be a better person and lastly because it is the only form of self-help that this website actually offers; for you to benefit from reading about the stories and struggles of others like yourself, see how they handled it, and take away from that anything that seems useful in your own life. Extremely long sentences aside, that's pretty much what this website is. So here goes:

Informally speaking, I would summarize the Buddhist perspective on suffering that it is a part of the human condition. It's usually about attachments because even if we are happy about anything, ultimately deep down we have anxiety about losing it. The more attached to it we are, the harder the loss (this doesn't mean we shouldn't love other people just to avoid the pain of losing them - read on). So even if you are having the happiest moment of your life, some part of you is worried about when the moment will end.

They say you can be grateful or thankful for your suffering for three reasons:

1. It reduces pride. It keeps you from getting too full of yourself and makes you more humble.
2. It allows you to have compassion for other who have suffered in a similar way.
3. It keeps you out of trouble and inspires you to behave in a manner that is kinder, more just, more tolerant and more helpful toward others.

The fact is that no one can escape suffering. Not only that, but pain and pleasure come from the same source. If you love someone, you experience pleasure. When they die, you experience suffering. When you are hungry, you might eat chocolate and it gives you pleasure. If you eat too much chocolate, you will have a stomach ache and suffer.

Suffering is caused by three different things:

1. Physical suffering  is like the flu or a broken leg or cancer.
2. Most suffering is a result of change - moving from a state of happiness to sadness generated from the same source.
3. There is the suffering that is caused by the "human condition." This is like the conditioning you receive starting from childhood. I will talk more about this when I talk about the Four Agreements. But basically, your parents were raised from generations of parents all telling them what to do as children and they pass that on to you for better or worse. Most of us with Borderline Personality Disorder or Bi-Polar Disorder come from traumatic backgrounds. So this "human condition" is often all the trash and the pain we picked up along the way - that which shaped our myths and beliefs about ourselves and others.

Most people think this third kind of suffering is unchangeable. It is the path of our life. There are a plethora of ideas, religious and philosophical to challenge this. But I'll get to that later.
According to Buddhism, the point of all suffering is compassion in action. Since suffering isn't personal, it's a shared experience and the idea is to reduce the suffering of everyone through compassion. The Buddha said that the way to reduce suffering is to welcome it. Greet it like a friend. Seek it out.

Seems crazy, right? Well maybe not so much. I think about my experience in martial arts. I spent 8 years of my life learning Tai Kwon Do. It is a "hard" form of karate. You punch, kick, block. You need lots of pads so you don't get hurt. Then I spent 2 years learning Kung Fu. It is a "soft" form of martial art. When someone punches you, you basically smile and welcome them and then let their own energy roll back against them. Kung Fu teaches you how to find and manipulate someone else's energy minimizing and controlling your own. It always made so much more sense to me.

Another way to look at it is when someone is very angry at you and they walk up to you and begin yelling, expecting you to yell back. But if you say, "You're right. I'm sorry," Poof! The wind is taken out of their sails. All the tension dissipates. After a short time of confusion, what more is there to do except smile at one another.

So, now that we know what suffering is all about and accept suffering in our lives and begin feeling compassion toward others, all we have to do is sit back chanting "Ohm," telling everyone how much we can relate to their suffering and soon we'll be great Buddhist teachers, right? It turns out that just because you can understand suffering and experience compassion for others, while it is a great start, there is still all that pain and baggage that you're carrying around. Unless you can have perfect love for yourself, you don't have the resources to be the teacher. You need to deal with your own inner demons first.

Fortunately, doing so doesn't involve some great test of strength or moving off to a monastery for years of contemplation. In fact, it doesn't involving "doing" anything at all. Quite the opposite. It involves non-doing. Observing.

Whoa! This is starting to sound like DBT Mindfulness. It's actually the other way around. Mindfulness comes from Buddhism. It's no secret. Marsha Linehan states in her book, "" that "."  To that point, for most of us, it is our suffering that lead us to DBT and to where we are today.

Thus to reduce suffering, from a Buddhist perspective, doesn't actually mean to do something special as it is to increase awareness and see where it leads.  When you feel triggered by an emotion, instead of acting out, you use a skill, you observe the results of using that skill and you mark it in your DBT diary. You have just increased your awareness. The more you increase awareness, the less suffering you experience and the more compassion you feel for others.

But I didn't lead you down this path just to prove that it all comes back to DBT. Because what I have learned in this process goes a little beyond the skills. It adds a few more tools that have helped me to manage some very difficult situations ALONG WITH DBT.
What I didn't know before that I just told you about in this summary and that helps me to look differently at my circumstances were:

1. I didn't know that pain and pleasure came from the same source and that the most common cause of suffering was this change from one to the other (although I certainly could relate to it).
2. I didn't know that this third kind of suffering defined in Buddhism is the same thing that I had identified in different ways (especially "The Four Agreements") and by understanding this, it made many of the other concepts about Buddhism and suffering that had confused me make more sense (lessening my angst about it).
3. I wasn't aware of the singularity of purpose of Buddhism: to reduce the suffering of the world through compassion. As I so often do, I figured I was missing something.
4. I was kind of hoping that I would get to be a guru just by understanding it all and feeling compassion for everyone. It was a little disconcerting to learn that I had to love myself as well. Not that I hadn't read about it all over the place in Buddhist literature or that I had even participated in groups focused on mindful healing. I just didn't want to believe that I had to so completely deal with my own issues.

One thing I did know was that dealing with my own issues did not mean "doing" anything. It meant experiencing your emotions. I knew exactly how difficult that could be sometimes. But that's for another day.

This ends part 1 of this series.

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