To Avoid Suffering

We all have habits we wish we could avoid. In the Shambhala teachings, this web of habits and neurosis is called the cocoon. It is a safe place that we retreat to so that we can avoid the suffering caused by the world. The irony is that the place that we retreat to is causing us even greater suffering. It traps us, ensnares us, it is claustrophobic and smelly. Yet it is OUR stink and OUR home and since it is OURS it is good.


Yet we suffer still. This is the underlying cause and effect. The Buddha awoke to this first truth of existence. That we suffer. No matter what. Good things cause us to suffer, bad things cause us to suffer, even just the simple avoidance of suffering causes us to suffer. It is almost inevitable, Strangely enough, most of us prefer the suffering than the freedom from suffering. Why? While I am not a scientist, doctor nor stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night, I cannot tell you the minutiae of the why, but as a human being, or rather as a recovering alcoholic this my thought.


To change is to suffer. Even if we know that the change is “good for us”. Even if you are not an alcoholic, we all suffer from addictions great and small. From the smartphones in our pockets to the ideas in our heads. We are addicted to these people, places, things, and thoughts. All these experiences inside and out are translated into chemical reactions in our brains and those chemicals in our own head becomes our own private drug store. Even my depression becomes somewhat enjoyable.


What I have noticed for myself, within myself lately, is my own subtle desire to avoid suffering. I want to avoid suffering even at the cost of long-term suffering. A piece of chocolate cake (this is just an analogy – so pick any action, thought or thing) today sounds better than the problems it causes tomorrow. But that’s not really the truth of the moment. At that moment I am not thinking about tomorrow’s suffering. There is the pleasure to eat the cake now. True it will not bring me lasting happiness, this the Buddha tells us. But most of the time I am ok with that because to not eat the cake is suffering. This is the problem. This is where I fold and eat the cake.


Pick your poison. I want to change my behaviors to avoid suffering but I keep forgetting that the change itself will be painful (or uncomfortable at least) at first. This I know to be true, with the direct experience to tell you that a life without alcohol is much easier than my life with alcohol, yet before I found recovery I would have thought you were crazy. So today, I am noticing my tendency to want to change, not necessarily without the effort but without the pain of changing.


If I want to avoid suffering in the future (and in countless futures) I need to endure some suffering today. Falling somewhere between spiritual bypassing and magical thinking, my ego tells me to keep up the struggle between “not eating the cake and feeling bad about eating the cake” because it has convinced me that that pain is less, more bearable than just not eating the cake. As a friend tells me “one sounds great, but one hundred is not enough” and yet, I think that only applies to big things like drugs or alcohol.


I want to change without the pain of changing, which is not possible. I just do not want to see that each step out of the cocoon will relieve the pain of suffering here and now, but I need to suffer a bit to get there.