When I started on ‘my spiritual journey’, I had no idea it was a spiritual journey. I never even thought about the phrase, or what a spiritual journey meant.
It was simple, I was suffering, and I wanted to put an end to that suffering.
Just a side note, this concept and story is discussed in this podcast EP 31 – Why the ‘Spiritual Journey’ WILL NOT Reduce Your Suffering
Meanwhile, let’s continue.
I was at the lowest point of my life; I found myself sat in a busy shop doorway crying. My wheelchair had ground to a halt, the tyre split with a wire wrapped around the axel, and tears were running down my face as the security guard walked over and put his hand on my shoulder. His silent calm reassurance was perfect.
I knew what I had to do; I just didn’t want to do it alone.
Yes, I am a man, and I cry.
I don’t only cry; sometimes, I bawl my eyes out when things get on top of me. I feel things deeply. Whether it’s an emotional movie, music or even a TV advert, I feel the emotion of the situation.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s laughter, sadness, or tears of joy – the tears are a friend of mine. My name is Steven, and I will not apologise for showing my emotions. Anyway, back to it.
I was miserable, continually suffering. But why was I suffering so much?
It was not my broken wheelchair; that had happened many times before.
My finances were in a terrible position. I couldn’t pay my bills, and the government had just cut my benefits. Yes, that was difficult, but it wasn’t that either.
The spiritual journey is just around the corner!
Being single, alone, broke and severely paralysed all sucked. However, it wasn’t any of those things. At some point in my life, all of those things had been present.
It was the many little things (with a few large ones thrown in) that had piled up on top of me, and the weight was too much. For many months I had been holding it together, juggling all my problems and reacting when new ones presented themselves. It seemed like everything I was touching or involved with was going wrong.
There was no way I deserved this.
I had spent many months pointing fingers, blaming others while trying to eliminate that one thing that was causing all my pain. Doing everything I could think of just to alleviate my suffering.
I spent so much time feeling tired and awful that I would consistently do things that just pick me up that little bit. Meanwhile getting in more debt, yet spending any money that I convinced myself was spare. I would pay the minimum payment on my credit card then almost immediately max the credit card again just to feel a little better.
Spending hours browsing Facebook, messaging almost anybody online. ‘Hey, how are you?’ Many of them didn’t reply. I was being sociable, connecting with friends! Who was I kidding? I was lonely and unhappy and clutching at anything that might give me a few moments of joy.
I was doing anything that might bring me a little happiness and reduce my suffering, yet I was becoming more miserable.
Every self-help book would blame me!
- My fault I couldn’t pay my bills?
- Was it really my fault the wheelchair broke?
- My fault my paralysed body was in constant pain?
Well, the short answer is… Yes.
Maybe not entirely, but yes, a large part of all my suffering was down to me.
The loose wires on my wheelchair that I had ignored, finally rubbed a hole in the tyre and wrapped around the front axle until it finally broke.
The bills were going unpaid because I was spending money on things I did not need.
My body was suffering because I was eating takeaways, and although everything in moderation, my body needs nutrition and some healthy foods to repair and stay in shape.
Most of my suffering was due to me. Yes, even my wheelchair grinding to a halt was my fault.
Were others making me angry?
No, I was choosing to get angry because while I focused on that, I could avoid the other parts of my life I did not want to face.
I was suffering badly, and I was making it worse. Getting next to no sleep, suffering from heartburn, my health was far from good. I was eating junk, watching endless YouTube videos. I wanted to be happy with no idea what would make me happy.
To get some sleep, I would drink Southern Comfort, then I would wake up a couple of hours later, and the suffering would begin again.
I had suffered enough.
I searched online for different ways to alleviate my suffering and read endless blogs of ‘3 quick ways to find inner peace’ or similar.
Everywhere mentioned meditation and spiritual journey – you should do this type of meditation! Forget meditation; you should do mindfulness exercises! You should combine mindfulness and meditation! And don’t forget the endless courses, webinars and weekend seminars that just promised the most amazing incredible life ever.
Well, it all just added more suffering in the long run.
I was replacing my need to reduce suffering, with the need to become more spiritual. Continually jumping out of one lane of traffic and into another.
I started to believe that I had to be on a spiritual journey, the pilgrimage. Constantly comparing myself to others.
I wanted to reduce my suffering, not add to it. Guess what?
The spiritual journey must be the answer, but…
I was adding to my suffering. I began to spend my time focusing on what I did not have and what I needed to achieve to become happy. This new suffering was not as terrible as my rock bottom. However, I was still suffering again. I started competing with others. Are they more enlightened than me? Are they more awake than me? Does my teacher think I am awake? How much, what scale are they using?
I would read books I did not enjoy because I thought they would bring a more profound knowledge that would free me from my suffering. I found myself trying to prove that I was enlightened and awake. And within all of that, I was becoming more miserable.
The feeling that I had to have something to be happy meant that I was not happy. You see, you cannot want something and have something. Just by wanting to be happy, it already means you are unhappy.
It’s okay to have desires. They only become problematic if you feel you need to fulfil the desire to be happy.
For example, if you believe you need a specific dress to enjoy a friend’s wedding. If you do not have ‘that dress’, you are less likely to enjoy the wedding. Well, what if that dress is similar to enlightenment? Enlightenment is not a place you can get to, hold or own. It doesn’t exist in that way. I see enlightenment as a state of presence when you choose a wise action. Take a hammer and a nail. The ‘action of swinging the hammer to hit the nail’ is something that happens. You cannot grab hold of, take with you or become the action – it is an action that you take in a fleeting moment. And similarly, enlightenment is something that you do, not a place to get to.
So, after all that, how do you reduce your suffering?
Instead of embarking on ‘spiritual journey’ or setting a goal of ‘waking up’ think about why you suffer.
Focus on how you can reduce your suffering.
My big breakthrough.
I hadn’t read any books after I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was in junior school, however, things were desperate, and I needed to try something. I found a book on my iPad, and I started reading. It kept my mind busy. It had one piece of wisdom that hit me like a brick.
I was not my thoughts.
I was not my thoughts!
So, I have a thought, and that thought is not me.
Ever since a young age, I like to understand things. Break things apart, work out how they work. So I wanted to work out how my thoughts worked. Not from a neurological point of view, just in regards to where did they come from and if they are not me, then who are they?
I originally thought I could not meditate because every time I sat down to quieten my thoughts, they would instead increase tenfold. I believed meditation was not something I could ever do. But I wanted to understand my thoughts, so I just sat down to observe them. I thought if I watched my thoughts, perhaps I could understand them more.
And that’s what I did. The impact it had on reducing my suffering was quite profound. Having that increased knowledge and awareness of my thoughts arising meant I would have a choice whether to go with the thought or not.
I like analogies. It helps me make sense of complicated things.
So – my thoughts are like trains, they keep coming. And if my thoughts are like trains, they have to arrive somewhere. And that would be the train station. So if my thoughts are arriving in the train station, then I’m sat on a bench witnessing them arrive.
There I am, sat waiting. And boom, a thought-train arrives.
What kind of thought? It could be about my food later. It may be a pleasant or unpleasant thought. Perhaps it’s to do with the future or something from the past. Perhaps to do with the present moment. A thought about an itch on my skin or something I can see, smell, or hear.
But I have a choice now – do I go with the thought or not? To continue the analogy, I can allow that train to pull out of the station without getting on it.
For me, this was profound, and the difference it made to my suffering was huge. I started to consider whether this worked with not only thoughts but emotions? Are they just the same? Can I choose to go with my emotions or not?
If you’re on a spiritual journey to suffer less, forget about the spiritual journey. Forget about enlightenment, waking up more any of the other concepts that people tell you about. If you get attached to any of those, it will lead to more suffering. It may be subtle, but you will keep flip-flopping between your aversion to suffering and your attachment to enjoyment.
Just sit, become aware of your thoughts and choose which ones to get on. By doing this, you will slowly influence your subconscious mind to give you the thoughts that you enjoy, rather than the thoughts that you would typically go with.
We often hear how some people tend to be more positive than others, and this is because of the influence over time they have given to their subconscious mind. Whether you tend to be a positive or negative thinker, is really down to which trains you choose to get on. In the past, you just jumped on every train that came along because you didn’t know you had a choice.
You can check out my video about the negative bias here:
A simple task you can do right now, is just to bring your awareness to your breath and watch your thoughts. Watch them with amusement, as if you are somebody else watching them come and go. You could even label them. Positive, negative, happy, joyful, loving, or something different.
For the moment, try to put aside any spiritual journey, thought of enlightenment or similar. Just sit, observe your thoughts and witness your emotions coming and going.
Do this for a few weeks a couple of times a day for five minutes. You could join me on my live meditation daily at 2 PM UK on my Facebook page.
When we welcome our thoughts and emotions as objects separate to who we are, we then have control over them. They then work for us, rather than us trying to avoid them.
Your subconscious mind is a terrible driver, but an excellent sidekick.
And this poem is one of my favourite that explains how we should observe these things coming and going.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Translated by Coleman Barks
by Jalaluddin Rumi
Some links that you might find useful: