Why We Suffer

Dr. Habib Sadeghi
May 23, 2019 · 13 min read

Creating clarity in a time of crisis

The longer I live, the more I realize that the quality of my life experience isn’t dependent on how many things and experiences I can acquire and hold on to, but how good I am at letting them go.

When a personal crisis occurs, the the context we place it in has as much to do with how we experience loss, as the circumstance itself.

By realizing that we are able to choose how to define, and ultimately experience, a personal crisis, we gain a greater sense of control over our lives — and at a time when it’s easy to be lulled into inaction by feelings of powerlessness.

The first noble truth of Buddhism tells us to live is to suffer, but suffering through a tragedy isn’t the same as being immobilized by the pain of the experience.

It doesn’t matter what the crisis is — a surprise divorce, the death of a loved one, a shocking diagnosis, or financial devastation — we can improve our quality of life during the event by making the choice between pain and suffering.

Of course, we must first be aware that we even have this choice. Once we are aware, however, we can clear out the chaotic thoughts that cloud our thinking and decision-making during a crisis and create mental space for deeper realizations about how and why the situation occurred.

This awareness is what I call clarity and discuss at length in my book, The Clarity Cleanse: 12 Steps to Finding Renewed Energy, Spiritual Fulfillment, and Emotional Healing. It’s also the psycho-spiritual process I go through with all my patients who are dealing with a serious health crisis.

For most of these patients, I’m the last stop — they’ve already been to the most prominent medical centers and specialists in the world, usually for advanced stage cancer, neurological conditions, and auto-immune diseases.

Understandably, they’re immobilized by the pain of their experience, but they soon come to realize that their best chance at any level of healing requires their active participation, which means that they must redefine their circumstances and empower themselves by finding meaning in the situation.

This can only occur as a result of changing their perspective — through finding clarity.

Painful Polarity

If we think of a single dot, we know that it’s a one-dimensional entity with no height, width, or depth. When we enter a crisis unconsciously, our stress response is triggered, and our thought process becomes chaotic and one-dimensional — like the dot.

We collapse into a negative state of being in which everything about the situation is bad, and nothing is good. We’re the victim of someone or something else, and we don’t know why this is happening to us. It’s so unfair, and we just want it all to go away.

Because our pain has no meaning outside of our own victimhood, we’re not easily comforted. We often find ourselves reaching to things outside ourselves for temporary relief or distraction from our upset.

In Buddhism, this is referred to as the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, the place where the soul cannot be satiated. It’s as if we could eat the whole world and never be filled up.

It’s also the place where addiction resides. I call this way of being the judgmental realm because of the concrete and rigid way in which it defines experiences: when we don’t get what we want exactly how we want it, the result is great pain. We cannot consciously act from this state of mind, but only unconsciously react to our circumstances.

The only way out of this subconsciously inflicted pain cycle is the willingness to consider that there might be some benefit for us amidst all the upheaval, even if we have no idea what it could be.

Just being open to that possibility expands our consciousness from that of a dot to a flat circle — which has a circumference and surface area.

We now have two-dimensional thinking which, while still polarized, can at least allow us to consider that the situation might not be all bad. It’s the beginning of peace of mind and relief.

I often demonstrate this progression for my patients by scrunching a deflated balloon down into a tiny ball to represent the dot, then flattening it out like a pancake to take the shape of a circle.

Dimension & Definition

The final transition occurs when our thought process goes from being two-dimensional to multi-dimensional, or from the flat circle to a sphere with height, width, and depth.

We can think of it as finally blowing the balloon up to create a three-dimensional object with space inside to hold a deeper understanding. In this state, we have the ability to think through our feelings as we experience them in real time. This way we will not be subconsciously controlled by them. We can simultaneously be in both the head and the heart as we begin to work through and make sense of our experiences.

In this open state of mind, we can create sufficient space for new realizations about our circumstances to arise.

This is what I refer to as the state of clarity: the ability to free oneself from the polarity of a problem and remain open to the deeper answers as to why this situation has appeared in one’s life.

When we have these answers, our previously senseless pain transforms into suffering, which is loss defined by meaning.

When our pain has meaning, we can suffer it with courage and peace of mind because even though we may not be able to fix everything, we know why it’s happening and understand that it holds something good for us.

Here, we are open to all possibilities the situation may hold. This is why I define this level of consciousness as the imaginative realm, where we are capable of imagining and holding in mind other outcomes, instead of only the worst-case scenario.

It’s often in this state of being that people shed their victim label and begin to feel increasingly empowered — even though they are in the midst of great suffering, and though none of the details of their situation have yet changed.

Once they are able to see the gift their crisis has brought them, gratitude often leads them to want to be of service in some way regarding their crisis.

An example of this might be someone using the opportunity of being diagnosed as HIV-positive to speak to young people about safer sex prevention practices.

Others use their experiences to greatly improve relationships, or even completely change their lives and start following their passions.

In many cases, these people — including many of my own patients — often end up saying that what they previously saw as a crisis turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to them.

That’s multi-dimensional thinking, or clarity: when our choices are no longer based on reaction, but on realization.

A Universal Journey

When we’re born, our mental processes naturally function in a multi-dimensional way.

All our experiences are integrated holistically into our development. We don’t judge anything as good or bad, but live in the fullness of each experience without resisting it, processing the totality of its emotional impact. We see our world as full of possibility instead of just consequence, which is essential to learning.

Yes, we may touch an open flame and experience the pain of being burned, but the experience isn’t all bad because we’ve learned not to do it again. So we process the temporary emotional upset, receive the gift it contains for us, and move forward effortlessly.

This is how we’re created to process experience.

By the age of nine, most people have lost the ability to live consciously within an experience this way.

Judgment from parents, teachers, caregivers, and friends collapses our spherical, holistic way of experiencing the world into a two-dimensional and sometimes one-dimensional ways of thinking. We’re constantly told, “Don’t do that” or “That’s bad,” and we quickly learn to interpret the world in strictly black-and-white terms, in which if something isn’t the way we want it to be or feel it should be, then it’s all bad.

We no longer experience our parasympathetic nervous system response, in which all is based on rest, rumination, learning, and play.

Eventually, our sympathetic nervous system takes over, and we find ourselves in a world full of judgments, limitations, and boundaries, most of which we didn’t create for ourselves — yet still feel constrained by.

This is similar to the loss of innocence John Milton speaks of in Paradise Lost, in which the purpose of our life’s journey is to find our way back to that holistic way of being — fully integrated with our world and experiences.

In a way, it’s a return home to our original psycho-spiritual state.

This is why we love characters like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, E.T., and Nemo in Finding Nemo. Their journeys are symbolic struggles to come home again, and restore their original ways of being.

From the Prodigal Son to Willy in Free Willy, what draws us to these kinds of archetypal characters in endless stories is the subconscious recognition that the journey back home to oneself is our journey as well, too.

Continuum of Consciousness

When I draw the simple images of a dot, circle, and sphere to demonstrate this transition of awareness for my patients, I always put dual direction arrows between the images because at any time in life, we can move forward or backward along this continuum of consciousness.

While we may be able to maintain clarity over the loss of a job, perhaps the loss of a marriage causes us to handle that situation quite differently and collapse into a rigid, judgmental way of interpreting the experience.

Self-awareness in all areas of one’s life is essential to prevent this from happening. Even so, some people can reach clarity with some issues in their lives and not others, while some spend their entire lives and only get to the second stage of two-dimensional perspective.

My wife, Sherry, and I teach the clarity process when we consult with couples who are breaking up and want to consciously complete their marriage instead of experiencing a traditional, adversarial divorce.

We call this process “uncoupling with clarity,” and it is the subject of my next book.

We share with these couples the tools they need to prevent anger and resentment from contracting their consciousness back into a dot. It helps them maintain higher priorities during the separation process and avoid the antagonistic and self-righteous attitudes that too often destroy health, family, and finances along the way.

It keeps them aware of the fact that there is something to learn and even be grateful for in the experience of completing their life together, and that it’s their job to come to those realizations for their own sake and the welfare of the family.

In the situations where two people can maintain clarity and think through their feelings during the difficult separation process, they often end up having a better relationship than they did during their marriage.

Resisting Resistance

Loss of any kind can quickly lead us into a collapsed state of consciousness. The key to avoiding becoming trapped in this narrow perception is to stop resisting whatever it is that’s happening.

Stop wishing it would go away, get fixed, or that someone would rescue us from the situation.

Stop trying to figure everything out.

Just let the situation be and abide whatever emotions it brings forward. We must be aware of what we’re feeling and at least be willing to consider that there might be some good that can come out of the situation.

Making that single transition expands the dot into a circle and provides at least two dimensions from which to view the situation. Accepting emotional upset for its own sake at the moment opens a doorway to eventually creating an experience with more depth and meaning.

Through proper self-discovery, we continue to evolve our understanding of the situation we’re experiencing.

That eventually creates more space, or volume, to contain a greater consciousness of ourselves and what’s happening. It’s within this mental space — the spherical, multi-dimensional perception of our circumstances — that understanding is achieved and healing can happen.

This kind of transformation is an ontological experience that requires the development of a new language with which we can redefine our life circumstances and guide ourselves out of the state of collapsed consciousness.

The goal is always to create mental space: a psycho-spiritual sphere or even womb where we can come to the necessary realizations and give birth to our newly evolved self through each experience.

Hinduism tells us that our purpose in life is to give birth to our true selves, and we do that progressively through the clarity we gain from life’s most trying situations.

No real change is possible without actively engaging in this cyclical, spiritual rebirthing process.

With this approach, we come to discover that bad things don’t really happen to good people because we can find good in all things. When we realize that suffering plus acceptance leads to meaning, we realize that everyone’s pain has a purpose.

Biography Becomes Biology

If we choose not to take this internal journey and remain in a collapsed state of self-involvement, ME-ness, and judgment, we place our lives in a holding pattern where nothing changes — because we’re not changing.

By clinging to our resistance of the situation — which always pushes back against us, preventing us from making any progress — we become like a tiny bird flying into a wind tunnel, expending furious effort and energy, but ultimately remaining in the same place.

Over time, the negative emotions of these contracted states, such as anger, resentment, and fear create chemical changes in the body that alter its physical terrain, making it more vulnerable to illness.

This is the mind-body link in health, in which one’s biography eventually becomes their biology and demonstrates the high corollary relationship between the psyche and the soma — the body.

This is why, when our consciousness collapses in a highly emotional situation, the eventual collapse of our health is virtually certain — unless we can fully process what we’re going through and achieve clarity for ourselves about the issue.

Almost all of my patients with terminal or degenerative diseases have had some kind of unresolved personal issue in their past that has kept them emotionally and consciously contracted in one way or another. The contraction eventually manifested in their bodies as illness — a chronic emotional dis-ease that developed into a physical disease.

Reverence for Suffering

In his book, Answer to Job, Carl Jung examines the Biblical character’s life of near constant tragedy and how he chose to respond to his challenges.

Throughout this work, Jung tells us that the key is to maintain a level of reverence for suffering, to respect it and not fear it, to expect it and even welcome it in when it arrives.

When I was diagnosed with cancer as a student, I took a year off from medical school and discovered for myself what it means to surrender to suffering. I explored every area of my life where I knew or suspected I might be harboring unresolved emotional issues and created a process by which to finally realize and released those experiences from my mind-body. That process is what has become The Clarity Cleanse today.

I recall discovering that I hadn’t fully processed the emotions of being burned over 70% of the left side of my body at the age of four. I was in the hospital for six months on a morphine drip for intractable pain. A team of nurses would hold me down while the doctor would bend my left arm to break up the keloids that would have otherwise severely limited my range of motion and mobility.

I remember screaming until I lost my voice and nearly passed out.

During my healing work, it was these kinds of experiences I finally permitted myself to suffer for that tiny boy, not just for the physical pain, but for everything I lost as a result of that tragedy. By giving myself the dignity of my own emotional process, I was able to fully release the contracted unresolved negative energy patterns related to that experience and other past experiences that had contributed to the breakdown of my physical health.

Once I healed emotionally, my body began to respond physically.

Full Circle

It is in the open mind, the sphere of our expanded consciousness, that spirit comes to meet us and we receive the answers that reveal us to ourselves. The search for clarity is the path to existential maturity and allows us to take personal responsibility for everything in our lives.

In return, while we may not be able to control all the situations in our lives, we receive the ability to choose how we will experience them, and thus, create a much greater quality of life — regardless of what happens.

We get to reorganize our way of being with ourselves and interacting with the world that creates a model for personal growth that’s independent of our circumstances.

As a sphere, the earth rotates on its axis, and the hemisphere that’s experiencing darkness will always turn to face the sun once more. In the same way, expanding our thinking into multi-dimensional, spherical form ensures that the dark times of our lives will once again be bathed in the rising of the light.

The Persian poet, Rumi, described the place in the mind where spirit meets us as “a field out beyond right doing and wrong doing.” Out beyond black and white, good and bad, out beyond the judgment of the contracted dot consciousness — he says he will meet us there. That place, that field, is clarity, and it’s where I ask all my patients to meet me, too as the first step in of their healing process.

As an instructor, I encourage all medical students to explore the idea of clarity and the increasing role it will play in mind-body medicine in the future, because patients are far more than a dot, number, diagnosis, lab result, or piece of tissue.

To be a true healer, they must learn how to help patients give meaning to what they’re going through.

This is more than psychology; it’s psycho-biology and plays a legitimate role in how patients respond to treatment and to what degree they experience recovery.

This is why the person who has the disease and their psycho-spiritual background is just as important as treating the disease itself. The ability to master this technique — being able to usher patients through the process of healing, while creating an internal space that holds love and compassion for their struggle — is what makes the difference between a physician and a meta-physician.

Taking this journey with each patient and go the distance, while witnessing their courage and strength, has been the greatest blessing of my career.

It has provided me with realizations about life, death and the human spirit that have brought my understanding of health and healing full circle.

For more health and inspirational insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit Behiveofhealing.com to sign up for the monthly newsletter, check out his annual health and well-being journal, MegaZEN, or for messages of encouragement and humor, follow him on Instagramand Twitter @beingclaritynow.

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Dr. Habib Sadeghi

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Dr. Habib Sadeghi is the founder of Be Hive of Healing, an integrative medical center based in Los Angeles, and author of The Clarity Cleanse.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

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