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Monday, 15 April 2013

The End Of Suffering: Explain It Like I'm 5

This companion piece to One Song was commissioned by Erik Blanchard.

There's a new way to live a life where you never have to be angry or sad. It's really easy, and you can test it yourself. And it works like this.

Much like a peacock's amazing, multi-coloured tail, the human personality has come to be. It's main purpose, just like that tail, is to be seen.

This is why suffering is so common in people and why so many people are so unhappy.

The thing is that sadness and anger can make a person extremely visible. If you're in a lot of pain about something that shows that you care about it. Your pain is seen and others are moved, and may think well of you. If you're in conflict you look (from one side at least) quite the hero. In this way sadness and anger light up a personality and make it more visible.

This can make life really bad. And it's so bad because it doesn't matter what happens on the outside. You can solve whatever problem it is that's upsetting you but you'll still be very upset, just about something else.

This isn't something that people do intentionally. It's not that everyone's sitting around working out how they can best display to others. This is far deeper than that. It's all part of being a person, and as a person this is just one of the things that happens. No-one's to blame because it's nobody's fault. It's just the way humans are made.

But there is a way to change this process. And it starts like this.

You know how a person who is very set in their beliefs can be 'blinkered'? How they can be blind to things they don't already agree with? It's a strange thing but you can see it clearly, particularly when people are very angry or very sad.

In those times the whole world seems nasty. When you're sad everything seems depressing. When you're angry everything seems wrong. When anyone gets into this kind of state they see the whole world through sadness or anger and everything you see is scary or sad or nasty.

This happens because when we are absolutely certain about something and refuse to question it, the whole world as we see it falls in line with what we believe.

Certainty is like the ground on which anger and sadness are built.

But there is something else as well. Whether or not you are angry or sad, if there is something you refuse to question then you trap yourself in that. Everything you see will agree with the thing you refuse to question and make it stronger. And the stronger it gets the more blind you become, and the more angry, and the more sad.

But there is good news. This works backward too. If you allow yourself to question all of the deep things that really matter to you then you cure the blindness. Your eyes become open to see things as they are rather than what you believe them to be. Life is new again!

It's being honest about what you believe. Nobody knows everything, and anything we think can be wrong. Even if our ideas are right they still aren't the final word because reality is much bigger than any idea. If you remember just that you will never get trapped, or become blinded for long.

So instead of trying to win every argument, instead look at things from the other person's point of view. Get right inside it. And get right inside every point of view you can lay your hands on.

And actually, you'll see some amazing things. Amazing things about how the world really works. About how people really work, what people really are and what you really are. There's so many things that are unseen about the world - so many amazing things that you can see.

And yes, some people might decide they'd rather be angry, or sad, because at least then they know who they are. But they live narrow lives, because they can't see anything outside of what they believe.

You get to live a different life. It's a life that's far rarer, and not at all common. But because of that it is far more precious. It's the life of someone who sees the world as it really is. Who sees amazing connections between things, and develops an experience of life that is rich and full of wonder.

But while this is wonderful, there's an even deeper thing you can do. And it's all about using this approach in a special way.

When you look at the world in this way, you see all sorts of amazing things. Connections and deep patterns that are the hidden fabric of the world. A fabric that is not apparent to most.

And when you see these things, sometimes they'll be so interesting that you'll want to hold onto them.

But then there's a secret to all the ideas you find and it is this. They don't last forever. All things that are born, die. This is very true of any idea you have. When you live like this, you realise deep things about the world and life. New perspectives that make perfect sense of everything if only you can hold onto them.

But the fact is that they will fade.

They will always fade. And that's ok – because if the idea is true, then it doesn't matter that the idea fades. The truth itself won't fade at all.

So when you get a really big idea and see some amazing element of what it means to be a person?

Remember this – no matter what it is, it will fade over time. Yesterday's earth-shattering breakthroughs are tomorrow's normality. And this is ok!

Many people don't like this, and they try to hold on to these ideas. They try to keep themselves thinking a certain thing, or believing a certain belief.

In fact it is sadder than this. Many of people are holding onto ideas so tightly that they can never have any new ones of their own. These people rely on the ideas of others and never really see life for themselves. They live their whole lives just arguing about ideas other people had instead of living and seeing the wonder that life offers freely.

But no matter how much anyone holds on to an idea, the original idea always fades. Nothing can stop that. So the people who try to hold onto ideas make copies of them, and these copies are never as good as the original. And when those copies fade they make a copy of that copy. And so on, until there's nothing left of the original power.

It becomes an imposter. But because so many people do this the imposter ideas have a lot of support. And other people attack those imposter ideas. But they make the same mistake of holding on to the idea behind their attack and so they become imposters too. And all you get in the end is imposters fighting imposters.

And they all look very grand, and the people who do them often wear very impressive clothes just to underline how grand they are. But there is no heart there anymore, and the brilliance of the original idea has been lost.

There's only one way out of this.

What you do is let it go. Any new and brilliant idea. Have it and enjoy it. Experience it in full. See all the wonderful things it has to show you. And when it starts to fade, let it fade.

Ideas fade anyway. Let them go. Just remember that no matter how special or amazing an idea is it's never going to stay forever. But that's ok, because if it's true then you won't need to hold onto it for it to stay true.

Have faith that the truth isn't going anywhere.

Here's a story about a man who had that kind of faith.

There was an old man once, with a wonderful name. He was called Galilei Galileo. He used a device called a telescope to look far into the night sky. What he saw made him realise that the world was a very different place from what a lot of clever-sounding people in impressive clothes thought.

And those people took him, and were very nasty to him. They threatened to hurt him if he didn't take back the things he'd said.

And do you know what Galileo did? He did take back all the things he said. He let the people in impressive clothes have their way.

But don't be sad – because Galileo knew something. Something that all those people in impressive clothes didn't know. Galileo knew that it didn't matter what he said. It didn't matter what he believed, or what he left behind. The truth was still the truth, and nothing could touch that.

Nothing did.

Today, Galileo is remembered as one of the greatest men who ever lived. All those people in impressive clothes have been long forgotten. When they are remembered it is only for their shame.

This is the power of faith in reality. Faith in the truth of things.

And this power can change your life completely. And if you ever do let something really deep go, in this way, what you'll be able to see is amazing. And it's this.

The reason that pain and anger and sadness are able to stick is because they always say they're true. There's always some reason they give and it is always compelling.

But if you let go of really deep, really true ideas – the wonderful stuff that amazes you – what then becomes apparent is that any truth, whatever it is, can be released and let go.

It's not just wonderful ideas that fade. It's pain as well. Once you let go of the important truths that move you, and let them fade away, you suddenly become able to do that with anything. Any emotion or thought.

But the thing is that sadness and anger are both forms of grasping. They aren't just side effects of grasping at truth, they're the main effect. And so if you release your grasp on truth, sadness and anger just automatically fall away.

This isn't to say that there isn't any truth. There is. And that's why it is so tempting to hold onto it. But if you really believe that any of your ideas are true, you can let them go. And the suffering goes with them. But the truth itself isn't going anywhere and it will always be there.

You're still able to see all the amazing things. In fact you get to see even more of them because when you aren't grasping at things your vision opens up.

You're not fighting the pain like it's this terrible enemy you need to beat. You're not fuelling the anger by provoking yourself in an attempt to win. You're doing something else, something that goes right underneath both anger and sadness. It works on any sadness and any anger and anyone can do it right now.

Thoughts and feelings rise and fall as they should. As they do anyway – just without that painful grasping to keep the good stuff, and painful fighting to beat the bad stuff. Both the good and the bad will fade, and that's ok – because the truth remains.

And what is the truth? When you get right down to it, there's so much to see and you should really see it for yourself. And underneath everything, the deepest truth is the lovely experience of being alive. That wonderful feeling of life and love that just is, all the time.

That's how you can live, in this place. And yes, anger and pain may rise again, but every time they do, they'll be less, and it will be even easier to let them fade. And one day you'll be amazed that you were ever sad at all.

And no matter how big or how nasty, old grudges or old sadness just start to seem so very silly, and very small.

But life doesn't. Life is wonderful – or at least, it can be.

Now go and find that out for yourself. And I hope you choose to tell your friends, because I hope you think that everyone deserves the chance to discover this.  And if you do tell your friends, and they tell their friends, maybe one day, everyone will know, and the world will be a newer, and far happier place than it is right now.


  1. I dig it.

    Yeah actually, I have noticed a decrease in the amount of times I've been sad/angry these past few weeks. There are several possible confounding factors, but the "bedrock" of life (guess love's a good word for it) is more apparent than before.

    You mention sadness and anger, but I'm curious as to how you think this relates to irrational anxiety. Both types: the fear of doing something, and the fear of something happening.

  2. This is the best thing you have ever written, friend.

  3. Thanks Kevin.

    Hicquodiam - well, think of it like this.

    The peacock's tail is incredibly complex, and very sophisticated. It has many colours. But it is still, when you get right down to it, just a tail.

    Suffering is like this. Human grasp is the core structure of the suffering self, and no matter how complex, or sophisticated, or whatever colours that display is painted in, it's still, when you get right down to it, just grasp. Anxiety is just one colour. Sadness and anger are others. The fundamental reality of what is happening is identical - these are just the contingent expressions of it.

    Anxiety, chronic worry, or fear, is holding on to this issue or that, this problem or that, this worry or that. And the worries are always (just like anger, just like sadness) really vivid, and sound really important. They need to be attended to now. As in, right now. You have to worry about it now, you have to get the answer to these worries now. Nothing else will do.

    Now, the common response is to try to find increasingly clever or emotive ideas that solve the worry, and try to convince yourself of those.

    This doesn't work. And it doesn't work because ideas themselves are grasp. The mind itself, and all thoughts and seemingly rational processes - including all the possible reasons why you shouldn't be afraid - are the problem you're trying to solve.

    So instead of this, just clean let go of the issue you're worried about. There is a very simple way to do this, and it works like this.

    I call it 'Manana' which is Spanish for 'tomorrow'. I spoke with a (perhaps slightly racist) woman from London who had gone to live in Mexico City. I asked how it was, and she said it was a big culture shock. In London, everything is really important and needs to get done NOW. In Mexico City, she said that there's a culture of Manana. As in "I'll do it Manana. I'll do it tomorrow."

    This is a brilliant, highly practical and very effective approach to chronic anxiety. It also has very powerful traction on sadness and anger too - because it's striking suffering way deeper than the form it takes. It's striking right down to the bones of it.

    Whatever you're worrying about - you say "If it's worth worrying about today, I'll worry about it tomorrow."

    That's the angle you hit. You're not arguing with the worry - and indeed, you're actually using how important it seems as the 'fuel', if you will, to put it off for later.

    Can you see? You're not saying "It's not worth worrying about." That doesn't work, you're just arguing with yourself. Instead you're saying "If it is really this important, it will be this important tomorrow."

    And if it's not that important tomorrow - then it's not that important at all, is it?

    This isn't magic, but what it does is open up that space. It gets you the distance on the anxiety that allows you to get some actual perspective going.

    That's one application of Manana. There is a deeper one. Having at least one day every week where you literally do this with every single mental event, worry, anger, sadness, excitement, opportunity - everything - is very potent.

    You literally just spend a day doing that with everything. It'll probably take a couple of hours at it before you really start getting a serious degree of space opening up, but when you do? Then you've got the whole rest of the day to just continue to open it up.

    It's a very potent thing - and indeed it is my suspicion that this process is the underlying purpose of the Jewish 'Sabbath' tradition, which is quite different and significantly older than the Christian version of that.

    So - Manana. Flip the script. If it's worth worrying about today, it'll still be worth worrying about tomorrow. I'll do it then.


  4. was going to post yesterday and decide to do it tomorrow, which is today, guess it was still important to say 'thanks'