The nature of emotional pain and human suffering
Teachings I learned from Don Miguel Ruiz
What I learned from don Miguel Ruiz is more than can be fit into the internet. (Unconditional Love gets lost in the digital translation) Before meeting Miguel, life changing experiences happened only a couple times in my life. With don Miguel profound life changing experiences would often happen several times a week. Most people know Miguel Ruiz through his books The Four Agreements, The Mastery of Love, and The Voice of Knowledge. What few people know is that these books contain only a small fraction of his wisdom and profound way of living life in love and happiness.
I share here one particular insight he opened my eyes to. It may shed some light on the focus of his teachings and what I now focus on as the principle means for a permanent shift to happiness.
Curiosity to see with new eyes
I was with Miguel at his home several years back visiting for the weekend. One evening I pulled a book from his shelf and flipped through it. It was about an extraordinary Swami in India. In it were wonderful stories of miracles and physical healing's. It raised in my mind some questions about the different approaches to spiritual teaching.
The next morning as I sat with Miguel at breakfast, I had a great curiosity for why he focused his teachings on the topics that he did. He rarely concerned himself with things like healings of the physical body in his talks or practices. Even though I had witnessed extraordinary things in the past he didn't spend time on it anymore. As I reflected back on the book I thought he was missing a great opportunity to share with people such gifts. Not only in a way to help them physically, but more importantly in a way that would help them break old limiting paradigms of what is possible.
As was often the case around Miguel, we were both silent. He doesn’t care to engage in idle chatter. I continued to hold my attention on him with an intent filled curiosity as I ate my eggs. At a certain moment my desire and intent merged and I was peeking into the perspective of his mind. It seemed that way because my point of view and understanding jumped to such a new and different paradigm that I would not have described it as my own. This kind of experience happened many times with him so it no longer surprised me.
What clarified for me in an instant were both the cause and the cure for human suffering.
To understand how I saw human suffering we must separate it from our authentic experiences of emotion such as grief upon loss of a loved one. Our emotions that we feel without any story behind them or belief associated with them are generally authentic. These “story-less” emotions generally pass quickly. They are experienced in the present moment with no story about the past, or the future. While the emotion is passing the mind is in the present moment. Once the emotion has passed, which may be seconds or days, the mind is still in the present moment and returns to one of equanimity. This temporary emotion is what I would call authentic, and does not constitute emotional suffering.
Human suffering is also separate from the condition of physical pain. Physical pain does not generate any emotions. Our mental interpretations and stories about physical pain can generate emotions. By the power of belief in the stories, emotion is generated. This is emotional suffering. It comes from the belief in the mind, not from the physical pain.
We can have physical pain without emotional unpleasantness. If you have ever had part of your body in pain over something silly you may very well have bee laughing at yourself even though your body was in physical pain. Perhaps you hit your thumb with a hammer trying to put in a nail. I had an experience like this when I completed a group fire walk. After the fire walk we returned back to the house where we were staying to discover just about all of us had burned our feet. We began to laugh at ourselves for being so foolish as to walk on hot coals. Picture if you will 30 people doubled over laughing at doing such a silly thing as to walk on hot coals. No one told us we had to. If they had we certainly would have laughed at them. But no, we did it on our own. What were we thinking? After all, they were hot coals we were walking on. Nobody tried to hide the fact that they were hot. They told us up front, plenty of warning. Then knowing all this we threw away common sense and walked on them anyways. Frankly it was just over the top ridiculous. That was why we were doubled over laughing hysterically. At the same time my feet were blistering in a physical pain I was joyously laughing It took a while to notice the disparity in what I was feeling. It was a shocking awareness to be so happy emotionally while being in so much pain physically.
I realized that emotional pain and physical pain are completely separate.
I clearly understood that emotional suffering could be completely exclusive of what the physical body was feeling. I knew because I was doing it. We are use to our mind associating them together, but we don’t have to.
Physical pain for the body is inevitable during our lifetime. The emotional pain does that is generated by believing a story in the mind does not need to happen. It is the investment of our belief in these thoughts that generates needless emotion. Not only needless, but usually painful emotion. This needless emotional pain that we generate ourselves is what I call emotional suffering. It was this specific pain that I was having clarity on.
Through the gift of Miguel’s eyes I saw that the principle cause of pain that humans experience in their life is the emotional suffering part. The physical pains and the authentic emotional experiences are a real part of our life experience, but these make up a small percentage of our unhappiness. It was the emotional pain created by believing stories in the mind that could be completely done away with.
Emotional suffering is born out of believing the stories in our mind that are not true. The difficulty with this is that we don’t recognize them as “not true.”
The Way out of Emotional Pain
From Miguel's perspective I saw these stories came from two different parts of the mind that don Miguel refers to in his book “The Four Agreements.” The two parts of the mind are the “inner judge,” and the “victim.” These two characters of the mind form opinions about everything. It is in believing the interpretations of the victim and the judge that we create our emotional pain.
There it was, plain as day, the opportunity for humanity to be free from almost all the emotional pain in their lives. Simply do not believe the thoughts of the inner judge and victim in your mind.*
As simple as this was to see and say, I knew it was a challenge to accomplish. At the same time I also knew that it was achievable. Don Miguel had done it. At that point years ago I had almost completely done it. There were only small occasional lapses and they were becoming more infrequent. There were also other people studying with him that were well on their way.
It became clear that the focus of don Miguel's teachings was to not believe opinions based in judgments and victimizations of the mind. While he taught many different techniques, systems, methods, ceremonies, and traditions, this was always central to the point. I had seen this focus before as a common theme. What I hadn’t seen before was that don Miguel was fighting human suffering at its source.
The Challenge to Not Suffer
With this clarity it was obvious that to not believe stories in our mind required two core characteristics. The first was awareness, and the second was personal will power.
Awareness would be required to catch ourselves before we haphazardly believed our thought, opinion, or what someone else said. This conscious acuity had to be developed to the point that a person could not only observe the words, and meaning, but also what point of view it was being spoken from. Was it flavored with a judgment or victimization in the attitude or underlying meanings? To be aware gave a person the opportunity to not believe the multiple meanings that words can convey.
But this wasn’t all that was required. Ideas are more seductive when they come with emotions to form dreams in our mind. Even when we are aware that ideas are not true, we can lose our attention to those dreams. To overcome the pull of these dreams would require personal will power.
Many times we may be aware that we are in a “story” of judgment or victimization but we can’t seem to stop. This doesn’t mean that we are a failure, or are destined to never get out of it. It just means that at that moment we do not have the personal will power to break free. To break free in this case means to shift your perception out of the paradigm of judge or victim. To free ourselves from emotional suffering it is not enough to be aware or “knowledgeable” of where we are and where we want to be in our mind. We must also have the personal power to make the movement of perception happen in our mind.
In other experiences with don Miguel I realized the importance of the experience of Love in this process. It was more than the result of dissolving suffering. The experience of Love could help dissolve the stories of suffering. It could do this by moving our point of view out of judgment and victimization.
After my experience at the breakfast table, I asked Miguel about what I had seen. He confirmed that the intent of his teachings was towards alleviating the emotional suffering of humanity. He was providing teachings of awareness and methods for people to deal with the inner judge and victim in their mind. The result of this would facilitate the happiness of humanity.
To be happy is not complicated. It is actually very simple, just don’t believe the voice in your head. While simple, this may not be immediately easy. Today we can stand up and walk and say it is simple. But when we were just learning we fell down many times. Overcoming our own thinking and belief paradigms requires us to get up from our falls many times. With persistence we stand up again, and take the steps to get where we want to go on our path.
If we endeavor to end the emotional suffering in our lives, then the requirements are simple but they may not be easy. Learning to not believe what you think goes against the grain of how we grew up. If you find this doubtful, then consider not believing only half of what you think and believe. Test this reality out and then see if you want to go the rest of the way.
"If I can do it, then you can do it" is what Miguel Ruiz told me many times.
Now I share with you, If I can do it, then you can do it too.
** In the quote at the top, the term knowledge refers to our beliefs that our inner judge and victim use. In the Four Agreements don Miguel refers to this knowledge as our "book of law".
* Some of you may find the possibility of changing your point of view to be without judgment and victimization hard to believe. You may doubt how we can free ourselves from suffering. I suggest start by doubting this opinion story.
There are a some well known examples out there that we can look to for example of possibility. Read “A Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela and understand that we can be imprisoned and not suffer emotionally. Without judgment and victimization we can have compassion for our captors. Study the works of the Dalai Lama and understand that his country and his people were run over by a foreign army. He didn’t lose his mind to suffering thoughts. Watch the movie Gandhi with Ben Kingsley, and walk with a man who faced oppression without being victimized and without judgment.
See the movie “Passion of Christ”. Consider that Christ viewed what was happening to him from an emotional state of Love. Not that he loved what was happening to him, but that his point of view was without judgment or victimization. This is a Master of Awareness, Love, and Personal Will Power. Read “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albon and see death can be faced as a celebration of Life, not an event of suffering. (It is also available as a movie.)