There are two types of suffering. One is the result of circumstances, like when we lose someone, having health problems, or being treated badly at work. Such experiences elicit a fairly instinctive/automatic response and there isn’t much we can do to re-think them. We must just be kind, seek support from others and try to find rewarding and enjoyable activities to do for ourselves. In time, wisdom can make us more resilient, able to make the most of our ‘lot’ or develop strategies to manage life’s challenges.
The second type of suffering is subjective. It can be low-level melancholy; so subtle that we live with it and don’t even notice. This subjective, or self-generated, suffering derives from certain beliefs about the way the world/people work. But these beliefs are faulty. They are poorly-aligned with reality so leave us feeling disappointed or empty. They inform our expectations and aspirations, driving us; the choices we make; our behaviour; our interpretation of ourselves and others; our internal dialogue.
How do we know if our beliefs are poorly-aligned with reality? Because they bring us suffering. In our dogged quest, we are left feeling sad, inadequate, judged, frustrated.
Obviously, the first step here is to admit that a lot of the time, your own thoughts are making you suffer. For instance, seeing a beautiful couple who look happy; someone who seems very confident or someone looks like they are successful at work. This is emotional baggage in the most literal sense; automatic negative feelings which rush like a wave into your mind. Articulate exactly what they are and what triggers them.
You are now starting to have a conversation with yourself. Take pen and paper and talk it through. Define exactly how the thought makes you feel bad. Try to see the situation from every angle. And the point is that you’re trying to identify a truth that will trump your negative thought. These truths are the wholesome and meaningful things about life – like how life is valuable in all its forms; like how rewarding generosity and kindness are, instead of meanness and selfishness; like how even cruel people are suffering in a way.
It isn’t always easy – you might find that you’re looking and looking for that truth but you can’t find it. But it IS there, you just haven’t found it yet. And of course, if you have helpful people to talk with, they might help shed some light on the mystery, offering an alternative perspective.
You may find that your own mind resists relinquishing these false beliefs. We get hooked, addicted, and maybe our egos also get in the way. But if you really examine each scenario, you will see that even if you did accomplish x, y, z, these things in themselves do not fulfil. Contentment comes from appreciating the small things in life and from self-sufficiency.
Finding truth about is seeing the bigger picture and recognising the things that really matter in life. The minute you see it, and recognise how important it is, you will feel free. It might take some practice. You might need to watch yourself and observe the thoughts as they come. Then remember what is real and good and slowly the waves of negativity will relent.