The Buddha said that suffering arises from craving — for instance, craving for more love, more possessions, more physical prowess or beauty. But sometimes I wonder if the truth is more akin to the reverse — that we crave our suffering. In other words, are we actually addicted to suffering?
In the past, I have occasionally mentioned my brother in my writing. He has suffered from mental illness all of his life and lives in an assisted living facility for the disabled in my hometown. I call him every Sunday. Some weeks are good, others are bad.
Yes, my brother has physiological reasons for his suffering, but he also tends to become unnecessarily mired in it. Because of his sensitivity, things that would seem minor to most of us can send him into a tail spin. Recently, relatively minor problems with his car freaked him out so badly that he ended up in the hospital for a day. Other days, an offhand comment or look from someone (who was probably just having a bad day, or perhaps meant nothing at all) can land him in bed for days. He often engages in negative self-talk and regrets. Simple day-to-day tasks for most of us, like bathing and teeth-brushing, are actually goals to be achieved for my brother. Some weeks he succeeds, some weeks it’s all too much.
I’ll admit that I can get frustrated with my brother’s suffering. But lately I’ve begun to wonder if it’s all just a matter of scale. After all, what may seem major to each of us might seem like a minor problem to other people. Haven’t you obsessed and suffered over a problem that weeks later is forgotten in the mists of time? How often do relationship woes that plagued you for weeks or months blow over when you realize it was all a misunderstanding or, if not, all for the best? And doesn’t it often seem as if the moment one cause for suffering clears up, we manage to find another? As a person who tends to be a worrier, I’ve really tried to catch myself when I find a new worry to substitute for another that has passed.
Why do we cling so much to our suffering?
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research in the area of self-healing methodologies. I have written in the past about the ideas and techniques utilized in Huna, a system of thought and practice based on Hawaiian shamanism. As it turns out, Huna is also fundamentally related to other systems such as hypnotherapy (check out this recent book by my hypnotherapist Alba Alamillo) and recent writings of people like Joe Dispenza (“You Are the Placebo”) and John Sarno (“The Divided Mind”) — though they all use different terminology and come from different world-views.
Many of these authors point out that our brains and bodies actually become addicted to habitual thoughts and emotions. In other words, our suffering thoughts and emotions may literally be ingrained as deep pathways in our brains. Moving out of these patterns feels uncomfortable, and given the chance, we’ll fall right back into these habitual ruts of thought, emotion, and behavior. In fact, we’ll tend to notice things that support our habits of thought and ignore things that don’t. For example, if we tend to worry about our health, we’ll fixate on comments or articles that support these worries, but completely ignore evidence that contradicts these fears.
Humans also tend to have a negativity bias. For example, if we hear a negative comment about ourselves (or hear negative news in general), we will fixate much more on it than if someone praised us or something good happens in the world. In the past, this bias helped to keep us alive. We had to pay attention if lions were seen in the neighborhood; the cheerful comment of our mate necessarily carried less weight. But today, our tendency to notice and obsess over negativity has gone overboard…
About the Author
Amy Lansky was a NASA researcher in artificial intelligence when her life was transformed by the miraculous homeopathic cure of her son’s autism. In 2003, she publishedImpossible Cure: The Promise of Homeopathy, now one of the best-selling introductory books on homeopathy worldwide (www.impossiblecure.com). Since then, Lansky has broadened her investigations to include ancient and modern teachings about consciousness, psychic phenomena, synchronicity, meditation, and our collective power to evolve and transform our world. The result is her second book, Active Consciousness: Awakening the Power Within, published in 2011 (www.activeconsciousness.com). Lansky was also featured in the recent movie about synchronicity, Time is Art. Her blog can be found at: www.amylansky.com.
This article (Our Addiction to Suffering) was originally created by Amy L. Lansky, PhD and is re-posted here with permission.