Another way of looking at happiness is becoming free. When we look at what true freedom is, the bottom line is being free to be perfectly and completely happy. As with happiness we tend to look for freedom externally. But real freedom is the internal freedom to choose the best and the best is always to be happy. Once again real freedom is found regardless of external circumstances. It is freedom from suffering, or Nirvana in Buddhist parlance.
Most of the obstacles, difficulties and problems that we have in life, we relate to other people, events or circumstances. There is suffering arising from troubled relationships, personal or professional. We encounter difficult, hurtful and sometimes harmful people.
Sometimes we suffer because the people we love are hurting themselves or being hurt by others. Perhaps a close one is the victim of a great injustice or misfortune over which they have no control. We suffer in our personal and family lives, in our profession, business or even just trying to contribute something worthwhile.
For many suffering can become so pervasive that they slide into a deep depression. They lose all hope of being able to free themselves from this state.
However, no matter our suffering be great or small. Whether we are on the crest of a wave of happiness or have slid down to the trough of despair, we may reassure ourselves with the certain knowledge that any suffering, any obstacle, whether great or small, can be completely overcome. We can become free. All it takes is just a little knowledge, the understanding of the true source of suffering.
Inner and outer worlds
To properly identify the real source of our suffering we need to consider again the distinctions of inner and outer phenomena. Outer phenomena are the things of the external world. They are what realists and scientists consider the ‘real world’ which appears and presents itself to us through the senses. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tangible things, are the phenomena of the external world.
The way that we come into contact with people, events and circumstances is through the input of these senses. These sense inputs can occupy us almost totally.
They stimulate habitual reactions, feelings and mental commentary. One thought leads to the next, so that it seems as though the stream of thought never stops. It is as though our interaction with the external world is all that there is in life.
However, in reality the external world is less than half of life’s experience and a tiny part of a life rich in experience. Because for every external sight, sound and so forth, there is a multitude of internal responses. There are feelings, observations, insights, meanings, possibilities, impulses, emotions, intuitions and dreams. These subjective, internal phenomena, far outweigh and far outnumber the external phenomena which are their objects.
The more aware we become of these internal phenomena, the richer and deeper our experience of life. Our meditation practice and related mindfulness and awareness reveal to us ever more of this internal world. As meditators we become adventurers exploring the far reaches of inner space. We become conscious of what was once subconscious. The meditator is able to bring awareness into areas of which we were previously completely oblivious.
In meditation, we become able to work with mind at the deepest levels of consciousness. We gather the ability to utterly transform our habitual patterns and develop our mind to its greatest possibilities. Meditation takes the flatland of widescreen sense input and expands it to the utmost. It awakens us to the ‘whole world’ of full experience. We discover the multi-dimensional, fully nuanced depth of interactive objective/subjective, dependent relationship.
The actual source of our suffering
Our suffering is also a dependent relationship, it depends on both outer conditions and a multitude of inner components. We have
the other person who appears to be hurting us as the outer condition of our suffering. The inner condition is where our actual experience of suffering is found. It is the states of mind with which we connect to the outer condition.
Let’s take an example of someone who is being hurtful to us, perhaps criticizing, denigrating or shouting at us. This is the outer condition of our suffering. Our internal response is a bad feeling, internal pain, perhaps strong emotion and even anger. Our mental state can be turbulent and agitated or even withdrawn and depressed.
Where there is suffering there will be a strong sense of self, as in ‘I don’t deserve this!’ You may wonder in outrage ‘why are they doing this to me?’ You feel as though your very being is assaulted and damaged. It is the ability to observe both the outer and inner aspects which presents the vital key to dealing with suffering. It is the same key that can be applied to any problem or obstacle. This key opens the gate to spiritual growth and future happiness and peace.
The Key to Freedom
The key is to tackle the inner condition of suffering. This involves letting go your struggle with the outer condition, the other person or event. In truth there is little that you can do to change others, or to change external circumstances. The mere act of letting go of the struggle to do this allows your attention to come to the field of action. Here you can make dramatic change, and this is in the sphere of your inner world.
It is here that you have the power to completely reframe the suffering event. You can look on it as a challenging opportunity to learn and to grow. Instead of seeing a hurtful difficult person destroying your very soul, your view can be transformed. In meditation you come to see the event as a teacher showing you how to become more self reliant. There is a teaching of how to become more resilient and internally strong. It shows the way to be more patient, wise and compassionate. There is a call to become indestructibly strong. A call to develop your meditation and spiritual qualities until you achieve this.
The event can encourage you to learn how to handle the most difficult and painful people. You discover how they strengthen your ability to help them. As your meditation practice improves the depth of your inner awareness develops. You discover infinite ways of restructuring your internal space to radically change how you experience the world. It become immaterial whether the outer world is pleasant or unpleasant. You are always at peace. Always happy.
It is the practise of meditation which equips you to find freedom. You are free even in situations which previously always bound you in suffering and struggle. The more we meditate the more freedom we find.
A Great Invention?
A great Buddhist master once gave the illustration of the rough and harsh surface of the earth. He said that, if barefoot, there would not be enough leather to cover the surface of the earth so that we could proceed comfortably. However by merely covering the soles of your feet with leather you can comfortably go anywhere.
I don’t give this example to suggest that Buddhists invented shoes. The story illustrates that you can never remove all difficult people and unfortunate events from life. However by protecting your mind with meditation practice and positive states nothing can hurt you again.