Is “I” the cause of your suffering?

Avatar for Jagrati Malhotra By in meditation, yoga on 25/09/2023
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I’ve been doing Vipassana meditation for four years now and have learnt some yogic practices at the Isha ashram in India. I’ve also had the good fortune to work with some very profound spiritual teachers recently.

The following concepts are those that have intrigued me and have had a dramatic impact on my life.

The “I” we know of

From the moment we are born, we are feeding on information. A two-year-old child puts something in their mouth, recognizes the taste and has feedback for it. This feedback could be categorized into liking or disliking, which causes it to want the thing more or less or not at all. Thus forming a cycle of pleasure or displeasure.

Over time as this child is growing up, this construct gets accumulated over and over with the experiences gradually forming and solidifying a sense of “I” which is at the psychological level. This psychological identity is what we call the “I”.

Now this “I” has a notion that life must have certain outcomes that it has derived from the experiences and feedback it has had up to date. Food should taste this way, my life needs these items for my happiness, these feelings are “positive” and these are “negative”, this is the idea of “happiness”.

Such outcomes are what we start seeking essentially to fulfil the “I”. The absence of any of those outcomes makes life uncomfortable or in a constant need to accumulate them to “complete” life. That discomfort can be felt in various magnitudes, some of it even causing psychological suffering or accumulated psychological disorders.

This concept of “I” is condensed in Buddha’s learning into one sentence: “There is no I”. This means that the notions we accumulate growing up based on thoughts from the external world and conditioning by society are all that form our psychological construct. A construct we believe is the “I”.

The outcomes this “I” expects to be “fulfilled” “happy” or “complete” are all built around this psychological identity. That “I” should be loved, respected, wealthy enough, etc. Anything that is not in line with these expected outcomes becomes a cause of discomfort.

Understanding the nature of Suffering

The discomfort in life is constant if it’s driven by circumstances. Because the truth is we have little to no control over the circumstances. For example, someone behaving angrily with us or saying negative things about us will cause pain (in the form of sadness, stress, anger, anxiety, etc.). Pain or sadness is inevitable. But it is in the deep and experiential understanding that bliss and pain are the flow of life and peace of mind is regardless of it that the suffering drops off. They say, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice”.

So we will have pain but it will be devoid of suffering. It’s the suffering we are afraid of the most, not pain itself. If we remove ourselves from the circumstance, take a step back and look at the pain as it is, we can observe it and watch it pass away in the flow of a mindful life. The mistake we make is not the sensations we feel, but when we start playing the game of sensations. The game of pain and pleasure.

Naturally, there will be both of these entities in one’s life and we will feel the feelings. The key is to acknowledge the underlying truth of how the true “I” is not the outcome of those circumstances.

Breaking out of the cycle of suffering

As long as we have the psychological notion of “I”, there will be suffering. Suffering from both pain and pleasure. Pain, for obvious reasons. And pleasure because it doesn’t last. Nothing does. That’s why it’s a flow of life. Change is at the heart of it.

Every day cells are born and die in our bodies, but we see a constant body on the outside giving us the notion of a constant life. But underneath, the life process is born from birth and death, arising and passing. A river flowing gives us the notion of the existence of a constant river but every moment the water in a given spot has a flow of new water pushing forth the old one.

Such is the nature of mindful life too, at the body level, emotional or energy level. Such is the nature of life at the circumstances level around us too. We may have pleasure today, but due to the natural law of impermanence, it shall arise and pass. Similarly, we may have pain today, but due to the natural law of impermanence, it shall arise and pass too. So, looking at it in this rigorous logical manner, it makes no sense to get caught up in the cycle. Rather than experience them without experiencing the discomfort that is caused by the psychological identity.

So what is the “I”?

So before we were two years old, we were still receiving information. But our mental faculties weren’t developed enough to process that information. There was not much feedback system. We felt things and observed things but the notion of “I like this” or “I don’t like this” hadn’t developed. That place is what comes close to the real “I”.

Beyond the cloud of the “psychological identity” or the identity construct that we develop since the age of two/two and a half years, is a very restful state of life. A life that is happening and it can flourish if we let it. It’s in the dissolution of the psychological identity that we can come in touch with it. In this true identity, there is no discomfort in life. There is no notion of “I am yet to be”, rather just an “I am”…

They say peace of mind is not in having achieved some amazing attributes but in the dropping of suffering. It’s in the dropping of this idea of discomfort in life based on expected outcomes, that there is peace of mind in daily life too. When we say we are happy then, it is not caused by pleasure. But caused by this dropping of discomfort or unhappiness we tend to have in life. Then regardless of the circumstance, good or bad, liked or disliked, there will not be discomfort with it at any magnitude.

A mindful life is and will keep flourishing and thriving in its most authentic self, which by itself is peaceful. In a way, we are all enlightened beings, suppressed by the conditioning we accumulated in the society we live in. It’s this cloud that is blinding us right now from seeing it, that will lift away leaving true peace and happiness in daily life.

May peace be to all 🌸

Avatar for Jagrati Malhotra

Jagrati is an enthusiast of life and the spiritual/evolved ways of living it. She has been practicing yoga and meditation for the past four years. She has learnt from Vipassana, Osho, Isha foundation and other less famous but enlightened teachers of the East. She loves to express herself through music and arts.

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