How to End Suffering

Many people seem to think that suffering is the same thing as pain. They ask, “If I didn’t have suffering, then wouldn’t I burn my hand on something hot?” In this case, pain is a sensation that the body uses to tell the brain to move the hand. What we call pain is just an intense sensation. When we resist pain, that is suffering. When we resist anything, including resistance, that is suffering.

Suffering is a desire, often subtle, for things to be different than they are, or a fear, often subtle, that things might change. When we take a good look at reality, we find that reality is all that is actually happening and that it is continually changing. To want anything else than reality is insanity.

Most of us are suffering all the time, although it might take a 10-day Vipassana retreat, without any distractions, to notice the depth and breadth of this suffering, to notice the continual and desperate attempt to escape from reality into some imaginary and better future (that doesn’t exist).

Many people will claim, “I don’t experience any suffering,” only to then complain about their partner, rack up more debt on their credit card, and down a couple of glasses of wine. We’re usually in denial about how much we suffer because we’re so attached to the complex web of concepts we hold about how we can eventually find fulfillment and peace: the promotion, the house, the relationship, the kids, the retirement, even death and entrance into heaven. It’s never going to happen that way.

Meanwhile, the wholeness that we long for is always present, staring us in the face. There’s nothing any closer to us than the freedom we seek and there never has been. The only reason we can’t see it is that we’re continually conceptualizing it as being somewhere else: when I get home from work, or on the weekend, or on vacation, or in retirement.

The key to the end of suffering is to allow everything to be just as it is. I don’t mean to allow the suffering of people elsewhere; I mean to allow the thought of people suffering elsewhere. I don’t mean to allow debt; I mean to allow the thought of debt. I don’t mean to allow the nagging partner; I mean to allow the thought of the nagging partner.

When we allow all the thoughts about what we believe is going on elsewhere, at another time, then those thoughts can let go. Yes, those are valid thoughts, as all thoughts are valid. Now, once we’ve stopped fighting with them and pushing them away, or grasping at them, they are allowed their place in the wholeness of everything.

As each thing is allowed to be what it is, without making a story about it, the natural perfection of what is occurring begins to be revealed. If there is a thought, “I’m not doing this right” then just let that be. If there is a feeling of resistance then just let that be. Whatever is happening is happening, without you having to do anything. It’s just happening.

There might be seeing happening, hearing happening, speaking happening, moving happening, visceral sensation happening, pain happening, joy happening, emotions such as fear happening, resistance happening, boredom happening, thinking happening. What is happening is happening, why struggle with it? But if there is struggling, then just allow struggling to happen.

Just for a moment, allow what is actually happening to just happen without needing to understand it and without needing to do anything about it. It may become clear that what is happening is absolutely whole and complete and perfect. If that doesn’t become clear, then that is what is happening, so just allow that to be too.

This is relaxing into reality as it is. This is allowing reality to do what it does. This is what Lao Tzu calls being in harmony with the Tao.

Maybe right now you’re sitting quietly reading and maybe it seems that this way of allowing is not generally applicable. In fact, this way of allowing can be carried into any situation: an argument with your spouse or children, an altercation while driving, a shocking surprise, getting a promotion, the death of a loved one, or paying bills.

This way of allowing can happen in the middle of a boxing match, or while escaping from a burning house. In fact, this way of allowing seems to kick-in more strongly during moments of survival, which might be why extreme sports are so popular.

In any situation, not just in life-or-death situations, the most adaptive way of being is to totally allow what is happening. When we allow what is happening, we are most able to see clearly what is actually happening, without filters, without concepts. The next action (also what is happening) flows from our bodies and minds effortlessly. This is what we have termed flow.

The end of suffering is always happening, and it’s always available right now. It only takes a very slight shift in perspective to recognize that everything is absolutely complete and whole just as it is. It may also be revealed that reality is always being absolutely allowed, and that it always has been. Flow is always happening. Freedom is always happening. Reality doesn’t need permission. What you truly are has the freedom to be anything, and it is being exactly and only this right now, always.