14 Reasons Why We Suffer

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The root of suffering is attachment. ~ Buddha

Everyone suffers. It’s part of the human condition.

Yet suffering can be the doorway to your personal evolution, to growth and expansion, if you choose to shift your thoughts and perceptions.

The bad news is:

We are the creators of our suffering.

The good news is:

We are the creators of our suffering.

We can stop our own suffering by understanding the root of what causes us to suffer and then taking action, whether it’s shifting our inner dialogue or doing things differently.

I’ve noticed some common reasons why we suffer. When you know what the cause is, you’ll discover that you can change suffering into awareness and find peace and happiness.

Suffering is caused by…

1. Resistance to impermanence.

You want everything to remain the same. You don’t accept that everything is temporary. Life moves in cycles generating new life and yes, death, and nothing will stop that universal movement. Accepting that everything that exists is only temporary allows you to release your attachment to things, people and even to your definition of yourself. This is how you continue to learn and evolve.

2. Seeing yourself as separate and disconnected.

We are all made of stardust. All life is connected like a giant network that may appear different but at its core is made of the same elements as the earth, the stars and all living beings. If you consider the concept of impermanence, you can see how it applies here also. Life is connected and impermanent because the atoms that compose it are always moving and being rearranged, between living to decomposition (or death) which feeds other life. You see this in nature most clearly. When you experience this deeper connection to all of life you will feel the sacredness of all things and beings and you will never feel loneliness.

“All our personal and collective problems arise from the illusion of separateness. If we embrace our inherent unity our problems will cease.” #aliciaisms

3. Clinging to your identity.

When you choose an identity, whatever that is when you say “I am….”, you immediately create a limitation and an expectation of who you are. That’s a mental process not necessarily a reality. You are more than a title or a word. You may call yourself names that diminish you (weak, lazy, not enough, etc) or you may find your self-worth in the identity you choose (CEO, competent, parent, etc) and anything that challenges your sense of worth then becomes a threat or an insult or a conundrum. You suffer because someone may suggest that you are not who or what you believed yourself to be.  

4. Wanting reality to be something it’s not.

This one is big. Anytime you want or even demand that your reality be different than what it is you suffer because of the desire that it were different. You resist what is in front of you and suffer. Only by accepting what is can you take action that can change your situation. Your desire to have it be different is only useful if you consider it as an aspiration and take action to bring you closer to that aspirational state. That will only succeed if you start exactly where you are. 

5. Listening to outside forces instead of listening to your own truth.

Lao Tzu said, “He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” When you base your sense of self on what others say about you, you’ll never realize your true potential. You’ll buy into their story of who you should be and how you should live. Your energy goes into an inauthentic life that causes you stress and possibly illness. Only by aligning your life to what is true for you can you be happy.  

6. Living a divided life.

What is a divided life? Parker Palmer says that a divided life is “a life in which our words and actions conceal or even contradict truths we hold dear inwardly”. He goes on to say, “And yet our culture counsels us to do exactly that.” If the way you lead your life is incongruent with what truly matters to you and what you believe in, you will suffer. This divided life will eventually catch up with you and you’ll find yourself looking in the mirror and no longer recognizing the face that stares back at you.

7. Living from the outside in.

Socrates famously said that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. If you spend no time in reflection, in the deeper conversation with your Self, you will never find your true purpose or acknowledge the wonderful being you are. You’ll spend most of your life comparing yourself to others and always criticizing yourself for not being “enough”.

8. Choosing fear over love.

You have two choices around how you lead your life. You can choose fear or love. Fear produces thoughts that cause a contraction in our hearts, minds and bodies. You restrict yourself, you protect yourself from life itself. There is no way to achieve fulfillment and potential when you live out of fear. You are constantly hiding. Only when you choose to live from a place of love can you generate optimism and courage and compassion.

“When you live from love everything becomes possible”. #aliciaisms

9. Seeking security and certainty in an uncertain and ambiguous world.

Life is dynamic and ever-changing and unpredictable. You must learn to dance with whatever comes towards you. You will suffer when you seek the illusion of safety and security because what you are seeking out there can only be found within. Trusting yourself and what you stand for, in that moment, is the only way to ground yourself in groundlessness.

“Dance with whatever comes towards you.” #aliciaisms

10. Living in the past or future.

Being anywhere but the present keeps you from enjoying your life now. You might enjoy your memories more if you aren’t attached to having it be the same now as it was then. You can aspire to the future if you accept it as a possibility not a certainty. By paying attention to your life right now you can notice the beauty that is there and experience gratitude for your life.

11. Playing the victim.

Each time you play the victim or you blame someone or something else you abdicate your power to live your best life to the whim of circumstances. You experience yourself as having no power or agency over your life. You build resentment, fear and anger that saps your energy and limits your potential. When you empower yourself you use your inner wisdom to choose what serves you in creating a life that is in harmony and flow.

12. Seeking comfort over growth.

Humans don’t like being uncomfortable. When you choose comfort over growth you become a prisoner to your comfort. You were meant to be free. Freedom comes from being all you can be and courageous enough to live fully. Those challenging obstacles will become the doorway to opportunities when you engage them despite your discomfort.

“You were meant to be free.” #aliciaisms

13. Not choosing for your Self.

When you choose things that compromise your health, wellbeing and spiritual growth you deny the very things that you need to be happy and healthy. You know what you need when you listen to your inner voice and intuition telling you how to choose. How often do you dismiss this voice and instead choose a momentary pleasure or comfort that compromises the true nourishment your soul needs? Next time, listen and transform the act of taking care of yourself into something sacred and significant that can help you also care for others.

14. Denying parts of yourself.

You have a shadow or darkness within you. Everyone does. There are always things we don’t like about ourselves. There are always traumas that need to be healed. When you run from your shadow those parts of yourself can never be reconciled and forgiven and healed. They will always haunt you, waiting to emerge when you least expect it through self-sabotage, unkindness to others, anger and unhealthy relationships. Coming to terms with the difficult emotions you feel means being compassionate with yourself, loving yourself just as you are. Running away from those parts you deny will cause you to suffer. Acceptance and forgiveness generates appreciation, self-love and compassion for yourself and others.

Summary

Carl Jung claimed that “wholeness for humans depends on the ability to own their own shadow” because he recognized that only by finding understanding of our dark side could we end our underlying insecurity about our fundamental goodness and worth as humans and, in doing so, make us ‘whole’. 

Our suffering comes from our denial of our divine nature, our lack of appreciation of our connection to all things, our resistance to impermanence and our addictions and attachments to things that only bring temporary relief.

Wholeness comes from the acceptance of all parts of ourselves as individuals and as humans so that we can transcend the pettiness of our human condition and elevate our consciousness to levels that can indeed change our world for the better.

Suffering will always be present but if we offer our suffering to something worthy of our pain and grief we will transform not only ourselves but eventually our world.


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Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash