Overcoming suffering

We can stand apart from our stories, our identities, and just be aware. Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

Many humans exist in a state of loneliness, feeling separate from the rest of existence.  Their universe seems cold, hostile, and out of control.  It appears to them that everything is conspiring against them, to create their suffering.

Some animals have less need to feel like this.  They simply drift in and out of fight and flight, not really making a big story in their minds out of it.  They may still suffer, but the suffering isn’t the kind of suffering that can be caused by a wider view of the universe as cold and hostile.

Humans seem to be able to generate whole stories of themselves, whole identities, arising from fear and insecurity.  We seek stories which replace our loneliness, and give us a place in the world.  We identify with our nation, or our family, or our partner, or our business.

But these things are only temporary, and not really fixes.  Sooner or later, we will discover that our messy minds have created an illusory world around us, an illusory reputation, a delusionary belief in our own ‘name’.  We label ourselves, and believe the labels.

We then spend years defending this ‘name’, this identity, this reputation.  We become prickly when we feel it is attacked.  Remember, our identity was created, in part, to defend ourselves against loneliness and hostility.  It feels like it is all we have got.

Soon, we find ourselves in constant battles, challenging anyone and anything that pierces our illusory security.  Instead of feeling secure, we feel constantly fearful.  We have constructed an identity to defend us, and we end up defending it.

This is a waste of energy.  Eventually, we may realise that our suffering arises from a defence of a self that doesn’t exist.  We examine this life we are leading, and we realise how much time we use up in reactivity instead of attention.

When, however, we attend to ourselves, and examine this ‘self’ we have constructed, we discover that we have become a ‘messy consciousness’, trying to control our lives, haunted by inner conflict, howling at the world.

Gradually, mindful of this ‘messy consciousness’, we stop being it.  We merely become aware of it, attending to it.  We stop trying to control everything.  We stop trying to do pointless things out of fear.  We become stable, non-fearful awareness. 

In this state, fear and anxiety subside.  We are attending, instead of defending.


For an hour-long discussion on insecurity, identity, and attention (involving a therapist, two scientists, and a spiritual philosopher) see this link.

The whole thing is really interesting (and it’s part of a series of discussions).  But if you want to hop to a salient point in the discussion, try 37:50.