The Buddha teaches that human life itself is an experience of suffering. In Buddhist philosophy, the illnesses of the human condition, with suffering (or duhkha), are thought of as a general state of inner human experience in which we sense that something about our life is simply, 'unsatisfactory'.
Those of us living with the aftermath of psychological trauma, know all to well this sense of living a personally unsatisfactory life. To face that reality, the suffering, is the reason I've learned as to why we bury away the story of our personal traumas inside. We hide away the truth, denying us the opportunity in doing so to actually feel the pain, on way to healing it.
The Buddha teaches that there are three forms that duhkha represents in the experience of distress in human living.
First, there is the suffering we experience as physical pain.
We all know what this pain is. When we suffer a physical injury, the brain signals the body with a response to the wound. The pain we feel serves an understandable purpose: to rest the wound. Over time, as the injury heals, the pain signalling slowly subsides and we eventually return to living without the constant reminder that an injury to our body has taken place.
Emotional pain, the pain we feel as a result of our trauma, is another form of duhkha described by the Buddha. This second type of duhkha, is the emotional suffering we experience that is brought about (in the Buddha's teaching) by any situation of change.
The Buddha says that all things in life are impermanent. If we resist this impermanence, we will suffer emotionally in the body and in the mind. This includes even the feelings directly related to this form of suffering, including the actual emotional distress itself.
This idea also includes our happy or blissful feelings and the Buddha also teaches that the actual reality of impermanence of all experience, applies to all humans universally in life. This concept too, is an easily accepted description for a cause of suffering in the human experience of trauma-the pain of which seems to not wish to ever end.
The third form that duhkha takes in the Buddha's teaching, is produced with our insistence that we are independent beings, unconnected to one another and to all that is. The 'I' we believe we are, does not stand alone in the Buddha's understanding. All things and all human beings, including what we might think about in terms of our being a separate and independent 'self' is not truth in the Buddha's understanding.
The truth, according to the Buddha, is that we are, in fact, interdependent. He further suggests that we must learn to accept this interdependence in order to achieve any end to the suffering we experience in our human experience of living and being in the world.
Western society, very much promotes this idea of individualized separateness from our fellow man. We live in North America very individual lives that dictate to us a form of human competition. We all individually seem to be on a solo, separated quest towards some unseen subjective prize.
In seeking the achievement of grasping hold of this symbolic trophy, whatever that trophy may be, we seem to need this competition to demonstrate our worth to our fellow man (in reality, to prove to the ego that we matter). We've learned in our culture to proudly state that it is for this reason, the personal achievement of whatever subjectively represents for us the individual prize, that our separate self is most important, somehow, in terms of us being and feeling alive.
In Western Culture: We learn best how to become humans 'doing' one-thing-or-the-other. Resting on accepting that we are, in fact, humans 'being' isn't something we've been taught to do all that well in the West.
We suffer in living this competitive life. Even before trauma hit me upside the head, I'd started to sense the meaninglessness of hoping to be some rising star that the world is to take notice of. We suffer too, when we feel, as we do in our experience of trauma, that falling-down in our lives is a symbol of failure in our society of the worst degrees. This is the stigma we live with in our illness, for instance, that is an internal sense of failure reinforced in the attitudes towards mental illness from the society in which we live.
For example, we see evidence of this angst in the homeless people now seemingly filling the streets of our inner-cities. Many in this population, suffer with mental illness and addiction, caused by the emptiness that our society has imposed upon their souls. These lives, broken and torn apart, are the direct result of individual humans, traumatized in unimaginable ways, being forced-out by the rest of society as assumed failures. Thus how these folks end up spilling into our inner streets of ultimate despair in cities.
In a society bent on individual competition, as we exist as humans in North America with the ultimate trophies being money, fame, status and/or power, we end up with these outcomes in people's lives. Outcomes where people are judged as winners or losers in the game of western life, not dependent upon WHO we are; but, rather, we are judged as 'good human' or 'bad human' in many ways based on what we do (for work) that allows us to WIN all these apparent prizes that are there. It's as though we've accepted that all life is a carnival.
A second example of the human competition we experience in North America, stands out in business. Concepts of capitalism have driven us, it seems, further and further apart from any sense of collective, human-harmony. There is competition in capitalist business. It's said that capitalism needs this competitiveness itself, for capitalism to stay alive.
The largest companies with the greatest mass of wealth and resources are the ones we deem most precious to us, in terms of societal achievement. Those at the top in these now globalized corporations are the one's too many of us admire the most, and strive to model-ourselves after.
The problems we are now experiencing globally, with environmental destruction of the planet we call home, stands as evidence enough to determine that all people in our society, individually and collectively, are suffering tremendously, with philosophies of competition and capitalism carried around as though they're biblical commands. Global warming of our climate, the ultimate symptom of this suffering, is proving itself to stem from the individual human activity we engage in practicing corporate competition.
Denying our interdependence with one another, with the earth, with the universe and all that really matters, is destroying us individually, collectively, and is impacting life as we know it in dangerous ways today. With environmental evidence to the negative piling up on us, I've personally had to wake up to the reality that we are killing the very planet we call home. As we continue to kill the planet, we threaten the life of every bit of life that lives with us. At the end-of-such-a-game, we see the most tragic, potential outcome of all now staring us right in the eyes if we're not afraid, or in denial deep-enough to look:
We're threatening now the life of the human species, us, itself.
Add traumatic experience to this already somewhat sick way of life, and we experience the pain of western living, beyond any magnitude that we can explain. Many in our western culture, thrive in feeling the power and wealth when these prizes are actually won. When these trophies are not achievable?
We suffer. This is what the Buddha says-we suffer because we desire too much. I'd argue that we desire actually many things we don't even actually need.
We seem to need, though, to continue to do our very individual best to find ways dominate anyone we feel is getting ahead of us. "Keeping up with the Jones'", it's called. Whoever the hell these 'Jones' folks are that we're in some race with them, I've no longer much of an idea.
Vulnerably expose ourselves in our society as a failure?
Oh, my, can we judge.
We judge and condemn the visibly homeless for instance, through very cloudy eyes. I've sensed personally in Canada that we're now lacking any sense of compassion for our fellow-humans at all. We've lost, it seems, near every bit of energy to that interdependent living, and understanding, may have in the past opened us up in terms of social conscience. "It's all-about-me" it seems. I admit, I couldn't see this when life was working for me-when I could still live the competitive life as motivation to live at all.
Will we learn to accept the Buddha's advice? Will we choose a new way of life in western society? Will we learn to abandon this concept of individualized and corporate success based on prizes of wealth, status and power as the ultimate measure of our individual worth?
Will we come to learn the value of interdependence and draft for ourselves a new way of life?
It would seem, we must. Those of us living with trauma on-board, with the illnesses of traumatization seeming to control practically every thought: I'm beginning to accept that the Buddha has much to offer. I view him as perhaps the worlds historical first, and best, perhaps, therapist.
Suffering can end, the teachings of Buddhism suggest. The Buddha's teaching to us is the truth: All life is interdependent. Getting back to knowing this truth, could make all the difference for North American Society in the years of increasing warming of the planet which we can't any longer deny is what the human species will face in the not-so-far-away future that lies ahead.
In healing our experiences of trauma, I'm getting how important is is that we learn to resist our sense of individualized failure and pain. What I mean here, is that the judgments that stigma adds to our suffering: Have NO PLACE at all in terms of being included in our recovery journeys. Stigma is so lacking in truth, anything stigmatization has to say deserves no attention, in my view, any longer at all.
By coming together in our experience and sharing a collective sense of hope, we can engage in an individual and collective healing-which is a huge part of why I choose to maintain this blog. I want to be as open as I can, sharing my personal journey, so that any others who might find the site, at the very least, will learn how not alone we are in this experience we share.
By moving away from the isolation of individualism (says the Buddha); and by forming collective human tribes, compassionately engaged in healing, others suggest:
We can find mutual understanding and support. For it is in this interdependent sharing that we can move out of our individual modes of simply wanting to survive, over time, moving into a common, more collective goal, of helping one another to truly be . . . . alive.
Please accept this challenge, coming into our Easter Season.
Reflect upon this diagnosis of suffering as defined by the teachings of the Buddha. Give it some serious thought. Consider, not becoming a Buddhist (unless that intrigues you enough, of course, that you wish to get all-the-way-into tackling your trauma issues via "The Eight-fold Path".
Next month, I'll discuss the suffering of the the Christ. I'll share my take on that subject, as means to perhaps understanding, even more fully, our experience of suffering through our personal healing of trauma:
According to the story of the Christ-God knows exactly what human suffering is.
How 'not alone' does that make a mortal-trauma-infused-human feel?
If even God knows human suffering: To me, that suggests: Nobody is ever truly alone as we work said suffering out.
For A Quality Read That Represents The Healing Value Of Considering the Buddha as a Teacher: Her's a link to "Buddha's Brain", written by Rick Hansen, PhD.
I've enjoyed learning more deeply about the Buddha and Buddhism with these two courses available on Coursera:
Buddhism and Modern Psychology
Tibetan Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World
For Some Readying From Robert Wright, Professor For The Buddhism and Modern Psychology Course: Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.
Thank you for stopping by.
Be Well . . . . .
Darren Michael Gregory, Curator, The Trauma Recovery Blog
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.
(Currently Needs Renewal).