How to Overcome Suffering
Much of our suffering comes from two sources: (1) the force of delusion that makes us identify with the material world and our physical bodies; and (2) our own karma, which is the effect of our past actions. Through the delusory attachment to our bodies we become susceptible to pain—physical, mental, and emotional—but there are things that we can do about it.
First we can learn to live in our bodies without thinking of them as ourselves. When you are feeling tired, don’t think to yourself, “I’m tired,” but rather, “This body is tired.” If you’re not feeling well, don’t announce it to others—that gives energy to the thought that you are unwell. Instead, simply admit to yourself that your body needs some care, but that you are fine.
Try to mentally separate yourself from physical pain. There are two techniques for doing this. First, if a specific part of your body is injured, try to sit quietly, calm the mind, and then mentally send light and energy to that part as we do in the Energization Exercises. Do this repeatedly with a focused mind, and you will find healing energy flowing to that body part.
A second technique to mentally detach from both physical and mental pain is to concentrate the mind strongly at the point between the eyebrows, the spiritual eye. By concentrating there, we can actually change our level of consciousness from suffering to our natural state of joy. To maintain this uplifted state, do this not just once but at regular intervals throughout the day.
We should try not to be identified with shifting emotions and mental states, or with unpredictable conditions of good health and fortune. Live in the thought of your eternal nature. By not allowing physical sensations to take control of our minds, by conscious use and direction of our energy, and by living our lives in longer rhythms mindful of our eternal nature, we can overcome the force of delusion that binds us to suffering.
The other major cause of our suffering is our own bad karma. The law of karma is based on the principle that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The kind of energy we put out into the world is exactly what will come back to us. If we offer the world love and understanding, we draw this in return. If, on the other hand, we live with hatred and indifference to the suffering of others, we will attract these qualities into our lives.
When seemingly undeserved suffering comes into our lives, it’s because at some time in the past we have set into motion the events that have brought about the present pain. But what can we do about it? We can’t undo past mistakes, but we can deal with our present misfortune by expiating our wrong actions, and without incurring more bad karma.
First we must accept responsibility for everything that comes to us. Try to have the attitude, “I have created this bad karma, and I can destroy it.” If we put the blame off on others, we will never see the wrong understanding that caused us to err in the first place. Use your will power to deal unflinchingly with whatever comes. No matter what happens to you, always feel that you have the ability to rise above it.
If you give up, or get discouraged, then the bonds of karma will triumph over you. If, however, you determinedly resolve to keep trying until you have passed through your difficulties, then you will find that even if you fail temporarily, you will ultimately win the battle of life.
Our own bad karma allows darkness and suffering into our lives, but with our will and determination we can overcome its power. Paramhansa Yogananda said, “Life is a struggle for joy all along the way. May I fight to win the battle on the very spot where I now am.”
We can’t be warriors all of the time. Sometimes in the midst of trials, it’s all that we can do to escape through sleep. However, try to see even these periods when we want to escape from our suffering as part of an overall strategy. Think to yourself, “I’m going to escape into the subconscious realm of sleep for a while, but only to renew my energy and determination to take up the battle again.”
Finally, the worst result of our bad karma is that it makes us forget that we are all children of God. By deep, regular meditation, we can renew our contact with God. When we begin practicing the presence of God in our lives, delusion and karma no longer have a hold on us. We can walk triumphantly through all of life’s difficulties feeling that God’s strength and protection are always with us.
Jyotish and Devi Novak are Acharyas (spiritual directors) for Ananda Sangha Worldwide. Jyotish Novak is also Spiritual Director of the Ananda Sevaka Order worldwide.
Other Clarity articles by Jyotish and Devi Novak are listed under “Nayaswamis Jyotish and Devi.”