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Marieke van Vugt

Curling yourself up into your suffering

I was this past weekend at a retreat with Sogyal Rinpoche. One of the most striking things he said was that we tend to load a lot of suffering upon ourselves by identifying with our suffering, our doubts, our pain. And meditation practice is designed to really help you let go of this tendency. It helps you to dare to let be, to hang loose, because in some sense that is the essence of meditation. How does this work?

Sometimes, when we're in a difficult situation, we actually feel kind of good there, in some weird way, because at least it's familiar. For example, when a meditation practice during a retreat takes a really long time and I am hungry and my knees are hurting, then some part of my mind just cannot stop thinking about that--although lingering on this experience is really not going to help at all. It's not going to make the pain any less, or the hunger go away--in fact, it makes it even worse. And caving into this kind of "I'm miserable" state can really feel quite good, because it makes me feel worthy of attention. It's some kind of martyrdom. For example, feeling "I'm exhausted" makes me feel good because it "proves" I am working so hard. Letting go of this, on the other hand, is often kind of scary. Because what will happen then?

I feel that meditation helps me to take the leap to investigate what happens when I try not to identify with my suffering, and to instead just enjoy whatever presents itself. Every practice is a chance to investigate what actually my habits are. Exactly when I feel stressed, miserable, in pain, and so on, is where the greatest chances for transformation are. Sogyal Rinpoche said during the weekend that actually meditation is not about feeling good, it's about transforming your mind. And that includes seeing how you tend to take suffering as your identity. For me, it is sometimes shocking to see how much mental power I waste just being concerned about my health, my sleep, whether I have enough to eat... And sometimes, when I am able to let go of all that--what freedom!

Maybe this is why compassion practices can make people feel so good and reduce stress. If you practice compassion, then automatically you tend to be less engrossed in your habits. Obviously freeing yourself of your identification with your suffering is a really slow process, but I think it's worth it!