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Not identifying with our suffering

By Matthieu Ricard on July 24, 2009

We usually identify completely with our suffering and become one with it. Yet, even when they torment us the most, we are not our suffering in the same way that we are not the sickness when afflicted by some ailment.

To achieve fulfillment in this life, it is most important to understand that suffering is an illness that affects us all to various degrees. Yet, something at the core of our mind remains unaltered. We must therefore develop an awareness of what aspect of experience is affected by suffering and which aspect of our mind remains unaffected by it.

What burdens us is a succession of sensations and thoughts that leads to isolate one aspect of reality that is then allowed to become our sole preoccupation, thus giving it undue importance. To cast off this burden, we must better understand what remains untouched by suffering within us.

Beyond the sensation of pain, there exists a simple, peaceful and alert presence at the core of our experience. This presence is not a mysterious entity. Rather it is the most fundamental quality of our awareness, which allows us to experience the world and ourselves. If we choose to turn towards it and dwell within it, this open presence will act as a balm on our torments, allowing us to regain inner peace.

When confronted by powerful emotions and sensations, our mind often finds itself robbed of free will. A thorough investigation of the mechanisms of happiness and suffering and a better understanding of the workings of our mind, combined with a methodical training of this mind can gradually help us towards freedom.

Events and the behavior of others remain largely beyond our control. We can however always influence the way we experience them. By overcoming our self-centered experience of suffering, a multitude of constructive projects can be undertaken in life, such as putting ourselves at the service of others.