Look Deeply at the Source of Suffering

“When the cause of suffering has been seen, healing is possible.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

What makes you miserable? Do you see your problems being caused by things outside of yourself? If someone asks, “How ya doin’?” do you recount your travails. Do you tell them about the terrible traffic, the bad weather, those rotten kids, the government, the stock market, corrupt skating judges, your ex? As long as you perceive the causes of suffering as outside yourself, you are a victim of those forces. When you notice the source of your misery in your own thinking you begin to have power over the suffering.

If a dog bites a child, the painful experience may cause the child to grow up fearful of dogs, maybe hating them. The experience engenders anger, suspicion and avoidance. Not being open to meeting new dogs, the adult defines him or herself as a cat person, not a dog person, and remains closed to the experience of friendly dogs as well as biting dogs. Being fearful around dogs, the person may repeatedly create bad experiences with them, which reinforce the belief that the problem is dogs, and not his or her thinking about them or behavior around them.

For others of us, the pain may have been inflicted by parents, men, women, teachers, cops, society, the system, the church, or some other person or group of persons. As long as our anger and fear focus on what’s wrong with other people and the wrongness of them not changing to meet our expectations, we are going to suffer.

What to do? We can start by accepting that our suffering is caused by our own craving, aversion, ignorance, and misperceptions. Then we can loosen our grip on the thoughts and emotions that keep us unhappy. Letting go of the roots of suffering allows us to live more joyfully.


When you notice that you are unhappy, take time to reflect on your unhappiness:

Notice the suffering.

Drop your inclination to blame someone or something for your suffering and recognize that your unhappiness is a function of your own mental activity.

Calmly, look to the source.
What are you sensing/perceiving?
What are you thinking?
What are your emotions?
What are the causes of your perceptions, thoughts and emotions?
What conditions led to these experiences?
Look for anger, fear, selfish desire, or prejudice.

Consider if there might be a different way to experience your situation, one infused with wisdom and compassion. How might you view circumstances differently?

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© 2002 Tom Barrett