At the root of suffering is a reaction to reality as it is in the present moment. Suffering ensues when something wanted doesn’t occur or an unwanted thing does occur and there is resistance or reaction to the present moment. If there was no reaction to it there would be no suffering.
Reality is a result of perception. Perception occurs through filters that have accrued within the mental landscape over the lifetime. The stack of filters—or mental constructs—through which life is perceived determines the hue of individual reality (that then contributes to the collective). That is why no two people have the same response to a situation.
These mental filters often operate in the shadows of the unconscious mind birthing storylines that are projected onto self and outward onto other and life. The storyline may read “something is wrong with me”, “something is wrong with the world”, “that person is bad or wrong”, or “I can’t trust life, myself, or other.” Storylines are buried within the blaming or shaming of self and other. They manifest as cynicism or sarcasm.
While storylines are often unconscious, they may be experienced as a contraction in the chest, a sick feeling in the gut, a tightness in the throat, or other physical manifestation that arises with sadness, grief, depression, anger, and other strong emotions. The discomfort is typically distributed to others because misery loves company. In this way personal suffering perpetuates collective suffering. Reaction feeds reaction as storylines are breathed into creation and woven into reality.
To work with the root of reaction is a journey that takes one deep within as this is from whence the reaction arises. Fear, anger, jealousy, rage, grief, sadness, and depression are not placed inside by external forces. They develop over the life in response to trauma or stress, and early in life as a means of survival. Research is convincing that they’re inherited through DNA. If the goal is to end suffering it is imperative to get to the root of suffering.
This journey requires diligent cultivation of awareness. The muscle of awareness must be cultivated to return to the physicality of the body and breath—the bridge to the present moment—if one is to emerge from suffering. When awareness merges with the present, storylines aren’t fed and healing occurs. Eliminating strong negative reactions and accepting reality is not complacency—on the contrary it allows the emergence of true power that is not a distortion of reality, and that is in alignment with the highest good for all.
Like physical muscles that are strengthened by exercise, awareness is strengthened when it returns from thought into the sensations of the physical body or breath. Every return of awareness from thinking to the framework of the body is like a bicep curl at the gym. What does the flow of breath feel like inside of the nostrils? How do feet feel on the earth? What is the felt sense within the chest or belly? How do lips feel before words are spoken?
The more we practice the stronger it becomes. The mind returns from destructive story lines preventing further cinching of negativity into reality. Perspective shifts, opens. Capacity increases. Perspective in a cave (of the mind) appears differently than perspective from the top of a mountain. The journey from cave to mountaintop requires remaining with inner discomfort that at times warrants fetal position. Strongly cultivated awareness is required.
The benefits of meditation have been experienced for millennia. It wasn’t necessary for science to validate it, but it has. MRI scans were performed on nonmeditators before and after an eight-week meditation program. In as little as twenty-seven minutes a day there were marked changes in the brain’s grey matter in areas associated with memory, learning, empathy, compassion, and emotional regulation. There was a decrease in grey matter around the amygdala—the seat of fear.
Awareness becomes a tool, a choice. To come out of blind reaction halts rampant perpetuation of destructive mental storylines and begins to dissolve the filters from which they arise. The practice of returning awareness to the present is a path of personal and collective healing that is so potent it changes brain structure in as little as eight weeks, ultimately yielding peace, contentment, and happiness.
Of all relationships impacted, the most important is relationship with self. This is from whence reality takes form. It costs nothing except for time. Twenty minutes twice a day is recommended, though something is better than nothing. One can practice while driving, standing in line at the grocery store, or lying in bed. A wise one once said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It also begins with a single conscious breath.