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Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

SENTIMENTALITY

          I have learned that there are many sources of misery and suffering in this world. It seems that every belief system has its pet theory. Buddhists believe that desire causes all suffering. Other religions claim separation from God (sin) causes suffering. Others believe that rejection of what is happening at any given moment causes suffering. Yet still others claim that fear causes suffering.  I offer the case of sentimentality as a major cause of suffering.

          When I say suffering and misery, I am referring to mental and emotional suffering. Physical pain as the result of physical trauma is unavoidable and actually the sign of healing. Mental and emotional suffering is the result of emotional trauma. While mental and emotional suffering cannot be seen, it certainly can be felt and often causes physical symptoms such as depression, illness and chronic conditions.

          Sentimentality is the result of attachment. We can be sentimental about people, things and ideas. This is often confused with love, and causes all kinds of emotional trauma when the object of the sentimentality changes. When we become attached to something or someone, we do not want to lose it. When we do lose it, and we always will because that is the way of this world, we suffer. It requires a higher level of consciousness and enlightenment to understand that everything changes; including people, and what we once became attached to is only temporary.

          When we talk about sentimentality, the most obvious object of attachment is “our stuff”, especially money. We believe that our stuff brings us comfort, security and power. This is an illusion. Many times we learn in history that the wealthy and powerful die penniless and isolated. Lottery winners oftentimes lose their wealth and dreams of security. We can lose our most prized possessions and lose any hope of joy and happiness along with it. I once owned a large house that was fully furnished with valuable collectibles. A business colleague persuaded me to rent it to her daughter. The daughter was addicted to crack cocaine and stole every item of furniture and art to sell for her addiction. At first I was outraged, but later could realize that it was a tremendous gift to show me how I was sentimentally attached to “my stuff”. When I let go of the sentimentality, I stopped suffering.

          People are also a great source of suffering. I cannot begin to count the number of people I have met who pine for their “soul mate.”  Even others, thinking that they have found their soul mate, suffer tremendously when these objects of affection and sentimentality change or leave. Suffering is great when those we depend on for happiness and security do not behave like we want them to behave. Having been a divorce lawyer for many years, I have yet to meet someone who wants to divorce that “bitch” or “bastard” who did not attach some affection or sentimentality to the relationship. When someone we have sentimentally attached to dies, great is our grief and suffering. We do not understand that these are the rules and everyone dies. We attach great emotional pain to the fact that we have been abandoned by those we “loved.” Again, it takes a great deal of consciousness and enlightenment to accept the inevitable and rejoice when someone we love dies.

       Another object of sentimentality is our beliefs. What we believe in oftentimes is utter nonsense, but try to convince someone of that. I have often said to people that we can be right or we can be happy, it is difficult to be both. The great philosopher Bertrand Russell said “I will never die for my beliefs, I might be wrong.”  We attach to our beliefs and will defend them to the death, or at least until we are convinced that we are wrong. Unfortunately, the more we are attached to our beliefs, the more difficult it is to be happy. The great conundrum is whether this is true if we believe we are happy. That question really makes my head hurt.

          The key is to remember that happiness has nothing to do with any of the above. Happiness is the result of our connection to our higher self, our higher consciousness, spirit, source, creator, or God. It has nothing to do with what we own, our beliefs or our relationships. Happiness is a symptom of the ultimate realization that everything is an illusion so we might as well have fun. The way to happiness is to serve others, live simply, and be humble. If you have the bad karma to have lots of stuff, a relationship with your soul mate, or a set of well reasoned beliefs, best of luck with that. Sometimes it is our struggles, misery and suffering that brings us to the realization that it is all an illusion and distraction from our true purpose, which is to be of service.

          So the next time you are upset, miserable or suffering, look at what you may be sentimental about. Is it something you have lost or something you want and can’t have at this time? Fear is simply a symptom of being sentimental. Be aware of your sentimentality and it will change. Be aware of your beliefs and they will change. Be aware of who you are and you will change. What fun!

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

PEELING THE ONION

            Anyone who has been on the spiritual path or seeking anything in this lifetime has probably heard the term “peeling the onion”. There are many possible interpretations to this metaphor. The onion is a vegetable that has layers of edible goodness that can be peeled, diced, sliced or julienned for baking, frying and sautéing. I happen to love onions. I digress, back to the metaphor. Getting to the root of our psyche and the causes for our emotional issues and mental traumas is often called “peeling the onion”. We peel away layer after layer of memories, perceptions and traumas to get to what mental health professionals call “core issues”. Core issues are thoughts, memories, or beliefs that color our perception of the world and create suffering. Often buried deep in our subconscious minds, we may not even be aware of these core issues. Many times they are only discoverable by the symptoms that surface into the conscious mind in the form of fears, phobias, prejudices and beliefs.

            There are as many different ways to peel the onion as there are therapists and patients. Peeling the onion can be specific to the person whose onion is being peeled, or it can be more general to help groups operate more efficiently and cohesively. Generally people start with what they know, and follow a path deeper into the core of their personality and belief systems until they find their core issues that are causing suffering in their lives. It could be a childhood event that took on distorted importance in their memories or a thought or belief that causes suffering.

            I want to suggest one way to peel the onion that can be beneficial to just about anyone that can be honest with themselves. We can lie to therapists and our friends because we don’t want to be rejected. We can’t lie to ourselves because we know at some point what the truth is. So as long as we don’t try the useless exercise of lying to ourselves, this works just fine.

            The first layer of the onion that needs to be peeled is the belief that we need someone to make us happy. A large part of the suffering I see among spiritual seekers is the angst of being with someone that is making them miserable or not being able to find that person that will “fulfill” them. We have to let go of the desire, the lust, or the need for someone else to make us happy. Let me be clear, this does not mean that we have to be a hermit or shun companionship and friends. It simply means that we need to let go of the feeling that something is wrong if that perfect “someone” isn’t living with us. Look at it this way, if we are peeling the onion to find out who we are, it is almost impossible to continue along this path if we are focused on people outside of us. To outsiders, they may not even know you have given up the need for a companion/soulmate. They may observe that you are a lot more relaxed and peaceful.

            The second layer of the onion that needs to be peeled is the belief that we are victims. We are not victims. Life does not happen to us. We are simply experiencing the end result of our decisions, thoughts and behavior prior to this moment. All we need to do is clean up our act and we will start enjoying life rather than suffer it.

            The next layer of the onion that needs to be peeled is our negative emotions. When negative emotions arise, and they will, we have to let go of them and not dwell on them. If we feel afraid, angry, jealous or other negative emotions, these are being caused by something deeper down and show us that we are on the right track. We have to sit with these emotions until we understand why we are feeling how we are feeling. The peeling process is simply the acknowledgement of the feeling and going deeper to the root cause. We do not resent the emotion; we do not fantasize about why we should feel this way, we simply say, “oh, I am angry. What is causing this?” and go look.

            The last layer to peel is judgment. Judgment causes most of our suffering. We judge something as good or bad, right or wrong, like or not like, and depending on how we judge it we either feel pain or pleasure. It is probably the hardest layer to peel, because it is the basis of who we are and how we perceive the world. If we let go of judgment, we don’t have to do anything, we just are. Once we let go of judgment, we will find ourselves in a very peaceful place. It is almost like we are floating on amrita and experiencing a joy we never thought possible. If you look at an onion, you will discover that when you peel away the last layer, there is nothing left. This is the perfect metaphor for your spiritual journey. When we let go of who we are, there is nothing left but the divine.

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM

            Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story called “The Pit and The Pendulum” that was a classic horror story. It described a man who was tied down in a pit and forced to watch as a pendulum with a sharp blade descended upon his abdomen. Back and forth it went, lower and lower until…well, read the story and find out for your self. The relevance of this story is that we experience life in much the same way, on a pendulum that swings between pleasure and pain and life feels much like a roller coaster. We go through the highs of pleasure and then through the lows of pain. It is only an illusion of time that it seems that the pleasure is only momentary while the pain goes on forever. The truth is that it is only our perception that makes it this way.

            All of the self-help genre is finally getting on board with the notion that what happens is not as important as how we think about what happens. The irony of that is we can’t control what happens, but we can certainly control what we think about. Only the mentally ill or lazy would disagree. If you can focus for any amount of time on a thought, then you have the ability to control your thinking with enough practice and discipline. Obviously, we have to have the training and desire to control our thinking, and that is not a common thing. Only a small percentage of the population is willing to let go of victimhood, fantasy and delusion. It seems that everyone is hanging on to those deadly three concepts because that is how we are trained to think by those who profit from us thinking that way.

            The other relevance of Edgar Allen Poe’s story is that we torture ourselves by being addicted to pleasure and terrified of pain. The truth is it is all the same, it is only our programming that makes us think one is good and one is bad. A higher perspective would show us that we learn the most from what we think is pain and we stop growing when we wallow in pleasure. Life is about growth, evolution and enlightenment. If we stop growing, we die. So we might as well learn to excel at growth. Now I am not advocating self-inflicted pain. There seems to be enough pain to go around without looking for it. What I am saying is rise above the self-pity and be grateful for whatever you think is pleasure and whatever you think is pain.

            If one thinks about it, the most chaotic point on a pendulum is the bottom end that swings the furthest. There motion is constant, going between the best and the worst. With a small change of thinking, we can transcend the chaos up to the top of the pendulum. At the center, there is peace and calm. There is joy and equilibrium. At the center is the divine. The divine has been described as the limitless center of a circle with no circumference. To get there is not as hard as you may think.

            Sit comfortably and breathe deeply until you are completely relaxed. Empty your mind of worry and anxiety; the boundary of the divine is fear. If you let go of fear, the divine will reach out and embrace you. Imagine that you are looking at a soap bubble that is ginormous. You reach out and touch it. It is soft and slippery. Take a deep breath, and ask the divine to let you in. As you go through the membrane, you leave all of your limitations, your anxiety, your doubt, and your fear behind. You are nothing but pure love and joy. Once you are inside, you feel nothing but the pure energy of love. You float; because you are fully supported. Your body morphs into the body you have always wanted. Your thoughts are positive, joyful and grateful. There is no want, fear or lack. You are complete. As you get to the center of this huge soap bubble, your thoughts expand until they no longer exist. You are simply joy and happy now. And you stay there as long as you want. When you are ready, you can come back into your body, knowing how you are designed to be.

            This is the top of the pendulum of life. There is no pleasure or pain at the top, only joy and bliss. There is no worry, anxiety or fear, that all exists at the bottom of the pendulum and is the sharp blade that tortures us and then kills us. Where we live on this pendulum is our choice. Simply meditate on going through the membrane that is in reality the illusion of life. Find your truest self and escape the pit and the pendulum.

 

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

RIGHT VS WRONG, GOOD VS BAD

           One of the most difficult concepts to let go of as we trudge the path of happy destiny are the notions of right and wrong and good and bad. This goes even deeper to the act of judging what we perceive. We perceive an event, and our mind/ego jumps to assumptions or conclusions that judges the event as “right”, “wrong”, “good” or “bad.” This can be a major cause of confusion and suffering, especially when someone challenges our judgment.

            When I was a trial lawyer and someone came in for a divorce, the first question I would ask is “would you rather be happy or right?” Luckily for my pocket book, most of them wanted to be right, or at least to prove their spouse wrong. Being right is an expensive proposition and many times does not result in happy endings. I also used to have a framed cartoon on the wall in my office that depicted a naval officer clinging to a piece of flotsam with ships sinking all around them. His fist was in the air and he was yelling, “We’ve won! We’ve won!” The only divorces which I recall being successful were the ones that the couple had already decided on how to split their assets and agreed on a parenting plan for their children. They only wanted me to put it in writing.

            People who can’t agree on major issues or come to a mutual resolution of major issues are in for much pain and suffering. The biggest impediment to a successful dissolution of a partnership (of any kind) is the fear that someone will not get what he or she deserves. It is amazing to me how shortsighted people can become when they are experiencing fear. They want to fight over everything and don’t want to compromise. That is fine with lawyers and exactly what they want to hear as they collect their large retainers and start billing by the hour.

            The only solution is love. Think about what the other person needs before your own needs. When I was divorced (for the second time), I was bound and determined not to make a fight out of it and give my spouse whatever she wanted. The problem sometimes is that is not enough. Every offer was rejected without a counter offer. As a result, we went through five years of litigation and she eventually got less than what I offered. Sometimes we just have to be brave and send love to people who can’t feel it and not resent their ignorance.

            When we feel like we have to fight to be “right” or “good”, we probably will at some point question the wisdom of that position. Sometimes we don’t have a high enough perspective or enough information to understand that we are fighting for an illusion. History teaches us that point in tragic ways. Germans still harbor huge guilt over the atrocities of WWII. The Middle East continues to create orphans and catastrophe after catastrophe over who is right. The United States has made a battlefield out of the world in the name of national security.

            The biggest problem is we have delusions about what is right and what is wrong. Bertrand Russell once said, “I will never die for my beliefs. I might be wrong.” The perception of what is right and wrong is constantly changing. I am sure that in the far future people will shake their heads over all of the pain and suffering the battles over marital rights, race, religion and abortion have caused in this country. It was not too long ago that belief about right and wrong regarding segregation caused bloodshed and death.

            I hope that one day we can open our hearts and minds to the proposition that there is no right or wrong or good or bad. There is only karma. We eventually learn what is best for us, even though it may take a few hundred years. These days karma seems to be coming quicker and the consequences of our actions hit us almost immediately. No one is getting away with anything anymore. Even the illuminati will have to face their karma at some point.

            I don’t want to be right. That is a double-edged sword that could mean that I am wrong. I want to be kind, considerate, loving, compassionate and patient. I want to embrace everything. I want all people in all of the worlds to be happy. The first place to start is to eliminate judgment and increase compassion. I hope it is in time.

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

THE PAST IS OVER

            If our minds are focused on the past, we cannot see the present. If our minds are focused on the future, we cannot see the present. So it is of paramount importance that we live in the present, not the past or the future. We have the unique ability to plan for the future. I am not aware of any other animal that consciously alters its behavior in order to accomplish a goal or strive for a result. This is a blessing and a curse. When we do not judge the past and make positive plans for the future, we can manifest our dreams. However, if we regret the past and fear the future, problems will arise and we will suffer.

            We regret the past when we have negative emotions around what we remember. Most people do not understand that our memories are subjective and many filters including our emotions and thoughts at the time color what we remember. Many studies have shown that memories are not accurate and even change over time depending on how we feel about what happened and subsequent events. If our underlying beliefs change, this will also change our memories. So, many times we suffer and regret events that didn’t even happen, we just think they did. It is most impossible to change our minds about a memory. Some of the most heated arguments I have witnessed involved people remembering the past differently. Even if they both witnessed an event, their memories will be different and each will be convinced they are right.

            The only solution to this phenomenon is to choose not to judge past events and to not regret them. Although we are taught to forgive others, and ourselves; forgetting is better. So the idea is to not let the past affect your life. We developed memories to enable us to transcend the past, not be enslaved by it. We beat ourselves up over events that may or may not have happened the way we remember. We often have euphoric recall, and remember things in the best light for ourselves. We also have limited perspective, we may blame ourselves for events that we were not responsible for and would have happened with or without us. In our arrogance we think we caused events to happen, but many times dozens of precursors came together resulting in the event. Nothing happens in a vacuum and we are never the sole cause of anything. So we need to forget anything that limits us and causes us suffering. If there is a lesson to be learned, we will get the lesson over and over again until we learn it. We do not have to live in the distant past and beat ourselves up.

            As we use our unique ability to plan for the future, we have to learn how to let go of the results. When we plan for the future and expect certain results, eventually we will experience disappoint when those results do not occur. We certainly don’t expect to get sick or experience financial difficulty, but even the best-laid plans do not avoid our karma. So obsessing about what will happen in the future is no good either. The worst of all worlds happens when we project the past onto our future and expect the worse case scenario to happen. Fear will always raise its ugly head when we expect tragedy based on what has happened in the past. Life is what happens when you have something else planned, so much of what we worry about doesn’t happen. Life just doesn’t work that way. So many times we suffer about what might happen, and it never does. So we have spent all of our effort to make sure that we continuously suffer. We are not at peace with our past, and we suffer needlessly about what will never happen.

            So we need to forget the past, plan for the future and let any attachments to future results go. In other words, we need to focus on what is happening right now. When we do good works in the present, that is the best assurance that good things will happen in the future.

            Finally, we have to focus on the positive. We have to find the pearls in the mud, the diamonds in the sand. If we are breathing, that is a reason to rejoice. Life is too important to be taken seriously, Oscar Wilde once said. We have to find and keep our sense of humor. Make it a habit to think about something funny when we first get up in the morning and kept that in our thoughts through the day. Have a mantra that uplifts you in your mind at the start of the day and keep it in your mind for the rest of the day. When we can focus on humor and uplifting thoughts, the past and the future will fade. We can’t keep two thoughts in our minds at the same time. When we focus on positive and uplifting thoughts, negative and depression will fall away. It really is our choice.

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

THE ART OF PREMA AGNI

            Many times we have conflict with people or ideas that make us suffer. Due to the fact that we don’t know how to properly respond to these conflicts, we suffer even more. We beat ourselves up because we don’t know what to do.  When we take action to avoid suffering and we don’t get the results we want, we suffer more. The path to enlightenment is concerned, in part, with the discovery of how to respond to conflict and adversity in a conscious way. We become aware of the thoughts that produce suffering, and how to deal with those thoughts. When a thought arises that causes suffering, the proper response to the thought is to love the thought. We can’t stop suffering by hating the suffering. This negative response only causes more suffering.

            The conscious way to deal with suffering is to contemplate the thought that is causing the suffering and to let go of it and all attachments to it. The thought might be that we are unworthy, unlovable, stupid or variations on those themes. The thought might be about how others are compared to us. The thought may be about how life is unfair or that God has abandoned us. We become attached to these thoughts and they become engrained in our subconscious. As long as they stay in our mind, we will suffer. When they surface into our conscious mind, we become enmeshed in the emotions that these thoughts cause and forget to deal with the thought itself.

            Thoughts are not real, no matter how attached we become to them. We are not our thoughts. When we can detach from our thoughts, we can let go of the emotions they create and stop suffering. When a thought arises, we need to be able to look at it as simply a thought and nothing more. It is an illusion, a neuron flashing on and off in our brain. It helps me to compare a thought to a cloud in the sky floating across the blue sky. The blue sky is my true self, the observer, and blissful awareness. The clouds that separate the mind from the blue sky can be wispy or hurricane forces depending on the nature of the thought. In all cases the thought is not the sky. When I do not allow myself to become attached to the thought, eventually it will float away like a cloud.

            Whenever I have a thought that causes suffering, such as judgments or critical thinking, I can either obsess on it or allow it to float away. When I obsess on it, it will stay in my consciousness for much longer periods of time, causing suffering like a radioactive isotope buried in my mind. There are ways to consciously remove these thoughts from my consciousness. One way to let go is to replace it with a pleasant thought, such as “cancel, I send love.” Every time a thought arises that causes me pain or suffering, I simply override it with “cancel, I send love.” This is a highly effective way to let go of thoughts.

            I like to use another technique as well, the technique of placing the thought, and the object of the thought, into a fire of purple and pink flame. I call this the Prema Agni flame (Prema Agni means “fire of divine love”).  I imagine that these flames burn and destroy the thought and what ever the thought was about. The flames are pleasant to the touch and do not hurt the thought or the object of the thought, simply removing them from my awareness and consciousness. I may have to do this repeatedly for a thought or an object that is particularly painful and is deeply engrained. However, eventually the thought will disappear and the suffering will be eliminated. For example, if we have to deal with an unpleasant person, or someone that is creating conflict, we can put that person in the fire of purple flame. Eventually that person will stop being unpleasant, we can resolve the issue or that person will disappear from our awareness. This technique is truly magical.

            I recently had an unpleasant encounter with someone that caused me to doubt myself and dislike that person. I put that person and all of the thoughts I was having with that person into the fire of Prema Agni flame and watched it all go up in smoke as an offering to the universe. In a relatively short period of time I was able to stop thinking about that person, think positively about myself and get over it.  I was amazed at how quickly this happened because I normally would obsess over this for days. Instead I processed these thoughts in a matter of minutes. Whatever suffering I was experiencing quickly stopped and I was able to return to a state of grace.

            There are other ways to deal with unpleasant, painful thoughts, but these two are the most effective way of dealing with them. When we practice these techniques, they will start to engage as soon as a thought flashes into our consciousness. This automatically avoids melodrama and suffering and allows us to respond in love, not react in fear. When we can stay grounded in these teachings, our lives become less stressful, chaotic and painful. When we can focus on these teachings, we begin to experience the nature of enlightenment. Enjoy!

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

THE MOST TRAGIC ADDICTION

             In my experience and observation the most tragic and insidious of all addictions is the addiction to suffering. The clinical definition of addiction is “compulsive repetition of a known behavior with adverse consequences.” In other words addiction is repeatedly engaging in actions that knowingly cause adverse results. There are two persistent issues connected with addictions, (1) what is causing the addiction and (2) how do we stop it?

            The reason I believe the addiction to suffering is the most tragic is because many people do not even know they are addicted to it. They live their lives of silent misery oftentimes believing that is how life should be. Many religions promote suffering as necessary and a part of life. The most ironic of all ironies is that the one thing we all have in common is that we all want to be happy. Yet we all suffer from this addiction to be miserable. The lucky ones are the ones that realize that suffering is optional and they do something about it.

            Suffering sometimes is difficult to identify. Oftentimes we experience periods of time when we are not in crisis mode and we are getting what we want. We think that we are happy. In fact, what we are experiencing is low-grade anxiety, not happiness. Happiness has nothing to do with getting what we want. The feeling that we experience when we get what we want is pleasure, not happiness. When we are experiencing pleasure, there is always the underlying fear that it will not last and we experience constant stress. In fact, suffering always follows pleasure. It is part of life.

            It would appear that the addiction to suffering begins at an early age, when we learn that we can get our parents’ attention and the attention of loved ones when we engage in forbidden or negative behavior. This is known as “negative attention”. When we are “good”, and follow the rules laid down by the authority figures in our lives, we sometimes only get occasional attention. We quickly learn that we can get attention by breaking the rules, defying our parents, and engaging in anti-social behavior. It seems that most people believe that they can only get attention by being the best at something or being a pest. It doesn’t matter that engaging in behavior that results in punishment actually is painful, it does have the desired effect, and people pay attention to us.

            Ironically, many times we are not aware we are engaging in this type of behavior. We mistakenly label life as unfair and ourselves victims, when we have created the behavior that has the adverse consequences. Then we suffer, stop making any effort to take responsibility for our actions and become drama kings and queens. Think of the people in our lives that live with the most melodrama, the most adverse consequences, and often view themselves as the ultimate victims in an unfair world. Both the behavior and the complaining about the adverse consequences is subconsciously calculated to get attention.

            Many times this addiction is underlying a more visible addiction, substance abuse, sexual abuse, or criminal behavior. When society has had enough of this behavior, it simply locks these people away with others with similar addictions. We can attempt to recover from these superficial addictions, but end up miserable and self-defeating because we are not aware of the underlying addiction to suffering. AA has a saying, sober up a horse thief and you have a horse thief. You do not become happy by becoming sober. This is why so many people relapse.

            So how does one recover from this addiction?  As with other addictions, the first step is awareness and taking responsibility for what we do. When we admit to ourselves that we are unhappy and want to change, that is half the battle. We have to stop lying to ourselves and saying that we are happy when we are not. The suffering only increases when we lie to others and ourselves. We have to identify the cause of our suffering, which is our thinking. When we are completely honest and admit that it is our thinking that is causing our suffering, not outside circumstances, and then we have a chance of becoming happy.

            You cannot stop thinking. That is humanly impossible. The only solution is to realize that our thinking is not who we are. In other words, we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts are the byproduct of millions of electrical biochemical events every second in our brain. Awareness is not thinking. We can be aware of our thoughts if we detach from them and realize that they are not real. So the addiction to suffering can also be described as the addiction to thinking.

            In order to recover from this addiction — the addiction to thinking – we have to let go of our attachment to thinking. Thinking actually is good; it is what gets us dressed in the morning, accomplishes goals, live in society and helps us survive in this physical dimension.  However, we have to recognize the difference between “I” as a self-aware life force and “I” as a collection of thoughts. The former is naturally happy; the latter suffers. The more we focus on the former, the happier we are. The more we fall into the trap of believing that we are our thoughts, the more we suffer.

            Instead of believing our thoughts, we can look at the sunset, we can observe what is going on around us without thought or opinion, we can enjoy just “being.”  Since we are human beings, we are going to lower ourselves into the hell of thinking from time to time, but it doesn’t have to be all of the time. If we remember that thinking is an addiction that causes suffering, perhaps we won’t do it so much and enjoy life more.

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

CAIN’S LAMENT

            There is a story early in the Old Testament of the Bible called the story of Cain and Abel. This is a multi-layered story that explains much about human suffering. The story goes that two of the original humans in the Judo-Christian tradition (Adam and Eve) had two children after getting evicted from the Garden of Eden.  The children’s names were Cain and Abel. Cain grew up to be a farmer, and Abel was a shepherd.  Both were brought up by their parents to worship the Jewish God and to sacrifice a portion of their crops/herd to God in gratitude of their prosperity. Abel was faithful and sacrificed the best of his herd while Cain was a little more frugal and only offered the remnants of his crop.

            Abel prospered and Cain did not, purportedly because God was pleased with Abel and not pleased with Cain because of the quality of their respective sacrifices. Out of jealousy and victimhood, Cain killed his brother. God came calling and asked Cain where his brother was and Cain said the famous words “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God cursed Cain and sentenced him to a life of suffering.

            At first blush this sounds a bit harsh for those looking for compassion in their lives, but this story is rich in explanation of so much that is happening in our lives and correctly identifies the source of all suffering. It is based on an ancient cosmic law, which is that for every action there is a reaction. In Buddhist terms, it is known as karma.

            The story is man’s attempt to explain why suffering happens, but it is also divinely guided and much deeper than the surface level. It is actually an explanation of the origins of the split between Jews and the rest of the Middle East. And like most apologetic literature, it blames the split on God.

            However on a deeper level the story explains the concept and consequences of a spiritual concept called Separation Consciousness. In modern spiritual thinking, separation consciousness is the illusion that we are separate from each other and what we think, do, say or feel has no direct effect on other human beings. According to Buddha, this is the cause of much suffering for ourselves and for those we don’t think we can affect. The story of Cain and Abel echoes this teaching.

            To understand this deeper level of the story, we need to use some different labels. Instead of Cain, use “mind or intellect” and instead of Abel, use “heart” and see where the story goes. The story line would read that when the mind kills the heart, we are cursed. I believe this explains every aspect of human suffering. The intellect is always seeking to analyze, get a better deal, compare, judge and condemn. The heart only loves and does not care about material possessions.

            So on an individual level the story admonishes us to love and not be consumed by our mind’s inherent need to compare ourselves to others, to judge and feel victimized. The answer to “am I my brother’s keeper” is Yes! Not only do we suffer when we ignore the principles of love to material success, so does everyone else. When we look at the rich people of the world, they are not happy, they only desire more and more. As a result, resources are misallocated and the whole world suffers. Our heart constantly cries for us to help others and to sacrifice ourselves to the greater good of the world. That is our natural way of being. Another way of looking at it is that we are our brother.

            If you don’t like the word “sacrifice”, use the word “share”. If you don’t like the word “God”, use the word “world”. Scientists are beginning to find scientific evidence that even thoughts can change the molecular structure of things. When the world comes and asks the metaphorical question, “are you taking care of each other”, and we have been killing each other with hate, revenge, pollution and selfishness, we will be cursed. History has proven that to us time and time again, and we still do not learn the lesson.

            The moral of the story is that we are responsible for each other. No exceptions. When we give our best, we will be rewarded, no matter what it is we are giving. This is Abel/heart’s gift. When we give resentfully our leftovers, we will suffer. So when was the last time you spent time with your family, both biological and community? When was the last time you gave something to someone you didn’t know?  When we are giving, we are in our heart. When we are taking, we are in our heads.

            The beginning of the story was that Adam and Eve had children immediately after being evicted from the Garden of Eden. That was because they ate of the Tree of Knowledge. So the whole metaphor is concerned with the consequences of the competition of intellect versus intuition, head versus heart. 

Spiritual and relationship expert, teacher, counselor, advisor, speaker, and writer James Gray Robinson

CHANGING SUFFERING

           Many times we have conflict with people or ideas that make us suffer. Due to the fact that we don’t know how to properly respond to these conflicts, we suffer even more. We beat ourselves up because we don’t know what to do.  When we take action to avoid suffering and we don’t get the results we want, we suffer more. The path to enlightenment is concerned, in part, with the discovery of how to respond to conflict and adversity in a conscious way. We become aware of the thoughts that produce suffering, and how to deal with those thoughts. When a thought arises that causes suffering, the proper response to the thought is to love the thought. We can’t stop suffering by hating the suffering. This negative response only causes more suffering.

            The conscious way to deal with suffering is to contemplate the thought that is causing the suffering and to let go of it and all attachments to it. The thought might be that we are unworthy, unlovable, stupid or variations on those themes. The thought might be about how others are compared to us. The thought may be about how life is unfair or that God has abandoned us. We become attached to these thoughts and they become engrained in our subconscious. As long as they stay in our mind, we will suffer. When they surface into our conscious mind, we become enmeshed in the emotions that these thoughts cause and forget to deal with the thought itself.

            Thoughts are not real, no matter how attached we become to them. We are not our thoughts. When we can detach from our thoughts, we can let go of the emotions they create and stop suffering. When a thought arises, we need to be able to look at it as simply a thought and nothing more. It is an illusion, a neuron flashing on and off in our brain. It helps me to compare a thought to a cloud in the sky floating across the blue sky. The blue sky is my true self, the observer, and blissful awareness. The clouds that separate the mind from the blue sky can be wispy or hurricane forces depending on the nature of the thought. In all cases the thought is not the sky. When I do not allow myself to become attached to the thought, eventually it will float away like a cloud.

            Whenever I have a thought that causes suffering, such as judgments or critical thinking, I can either obsess on it or allow it to float away. When I obsess on it, it will stay in my consciousness for much longer periods of time, causing suffering like a radioactive isotope buried in my mind. There are ways to consciously remove these thoughts from my consciousness. One way that has been suggested to let go is to replace it with a pleasant thought, such as “cancel, I send love.” Every time a thought arises that causes me pain or suffering, I simply override it with “cancel, I send love.” This is a highly effective way to let go of thoughts.

            I like to use another technique as well, the technique of placing the thought, and the object of the thought, into a fire of purple and pink flame. I call this the transforming  flame of love. Imagine that these flames burn and destroy the thought and what ever the thought was about. The flames are pleasant to the touch and do not hurt the thought or the object of the thought, simply removing them from my awareness and consciousness. I may have to do this repeatedly for a thought or an object that is particularly painful and is deeply engrained. However, eventually the thought will disappear and the suffering will be eliminated. For example, if we have to deal with an unpleasant person, or someone that is creating conflict, we can put that person in the fire of purple flame. Eventually that person will stop being unpleasant, we can resolve the issue or that person will disappear from our awareness. This technique is truly magical.

            I recently had an unpleasant encounter with someone that caused me to doubt myself and dislike that person. I put that person, the entire experience and all of the thoughts I was having about that person into the Flame and watched it all go up in smoke as an offering to the universe. In a relatively short period of time I was able to stop thinking about that person, think positively about myself and get over it.  I was amazed at how quickly this happened because I normally would obsess over this for days. Instead I processed these thoughts in a matter of minutes. Whatever suffering I was experiencing quickly stopped and I was able to return to a state of grace.

            There are other ways to deal with unpleasant, painful thoughts, but these two are the most effective way of dealing with them. When we practice these techniques, they will start to engage as soon as a thought flashes into our consciousness. This automatically avoids melodrama and suffering and allows us to respond in love, not react in fear. When we can stay grounded in these teachings, our lives become less stressful, chaotic and painful. When we can focus on these teachings, we begin to experience the nature of enlightenment. Enjoy!