Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

This Is How I Suffer

A deep and honest dive into pain

When I suffer, it is because I am not identifying with myself, apparently splitting myself in two. For example, when there is pain in my body, and I believe the thought that “I am in pain” or even “I have pain” and stop there, without recognizing what is actually happening, then I suffer. “This is my pain” cascades into beliefs that say things like, “I don’t want this pain,” “What can I do to make this pain go away,” and “What if this pain never goes away.”

In reality, there is just something happening inside my body, an experience that I am labeling “pain.” Pain is a word, a concept, a label for something that is alive and real. Instead of being caught up in a cascade of concepts about pain, I sometimes find myself exploring the experience that I have been labeling “pain” directly.

When I explore an appearance like this directly, it’s very clear that it is not happening to anyone. The story that “I am in pain” or “I have pain” is false. There is just pain, and there is clearly no one that the pain is happening to. In that moment, the false identification with the bag of concepts that I imagine to be “me” instantly vanishes, and all that is left is this experience that was labeled as pain.

As the phenomenon that has been labeled pain fills awareness, there seems to be a cycling between the pain and a sensation inside my head, a sensation behind my eyes. First there is an appearance of the pain, and then there is an appearance of the sensation behind my eyes. This referencing back-and-forth is crystalized by the thought “I am up here and my pain is down there, in my leg.”

In reality, the sensation that seems to be happening inside my head is just what is appearing to happen, and then the sensation that seems to be happening inside my leg is just what seems to be happening. It’s not possible to know, without referencing concepts, when or where these two sensations are happening relative to each other.

How come I keep moving between my head and my leg? Am I little creature that can move around inside my body? When I look at the keys on the keyboard, each one in turn appears in the field of awareness, and, without using concepts, it’s clear that there is no one seeing them; there is just seeing. So then, am I a little creature that moves around in space and time? Can I move anywhere? It seems like I can move anywhere, but it’s clear that none of the experiences are actually located anywhere relative to each other. In itself, what is arising in awareness is appearing nowhere.

Most of the time, the awareness seems to be going wherever it wants to, without any kind of control. However, when I pay attention to where the awareness is going, it seems as if I am choosing where to place it, but this not true in experience (it’s only a concept). In fact, even when I pay attention to the focus of awareness and notice how it changes, it’s clear that nothing is causing it to move. It just seems to keep on moving. There might be a concept that “I” am doing that, but in reality nothing is doing it. Even the attention on attention is not controlled by anything. Yes, eyeballs seem to be moving, and I’m sure there is some kind of mechanism in the brain that is causing proprioception to be focused, but there is not a real entity that is deciding to do that.

Simpler still, the field of awareness itself is static; it’s not moving at all. Even though awareness itself is not changing, what is appearing in awareness seems to keep changing its form. Even though it seems completely crazy to suggest this, what appears to be happening is continually morphing within a static field of awareness.

So it seems that perhaps I am this non-changing, non-moving, totally still, non-reacting, transparent thing called awareness in which ever-changing phenomena occurs.

Even when the story says that there is chronic pain, the pain arises and passes away continually in the field of awareness, if only because of what we usually conceptualize as the attention moving. Even when what is called “pain” remains in the field of awareness for what seems like some period of time, it still keeps changing.

Even the sense that there is a field of awareness in which phenomena are appearing is based on the concept that there is something being aware of something else. In fact, it’s clear to see that whatever seems to be happening, including what I label “pain,” is all that’s happening. It is not inside something, and there is nothing inside of it. For example, when it seems that awareness is moving into the pain, what’s actually happening is just apparent change, but change nowhere and with no witness. There is just ever-changing phenomena.

I could say that “I am pain,” but that would not be true because pain is just a label for something that seems to keep changing. As soon as I can call it “pain” it is “forehead” then “sunflower” then “keyboard,” an apparent sequence of experiences including what we label feelings and thoughts. What I am, then, must be that thing that keeps changing its apparent form.

I suffer when I create a story about how I am not what I am as “pain,” but I am what I am as “pleasure.” I am over here and “pain” is over there. I am over here and “evil” is over there. I am over here and “wrong” is over there. I am over here and “salvation” from all of that (what I am) will one day appear as me being “salvation.” Meanwhile, I keep showing up as everything (including suffering). Until I don’t.