Many of us living with chronic health challenges often find ourselves thinking that all our suffering stems from pain, fatigue, or physical limitations. But this is not the whole picture. As I have mentioned in other posts, much of our suffering is inflicted by the untrained mind.
An untrained mind leads us to get battered about and bullied by thoughts and feelings. A trained mind observes thoughts and feelings without getting hooked by them, simply observing them as if watching clouds float across the sky. This is very freeing, and it is a path out of unnecessary suffering.
Dedication and consistency are required to train the mind, and a committed, lifelong mind-training practice is essential. But the effort invested pays for itself many times over. It enables us, moment by moment throughout the day, to free ourselves from the emotional distress we have needlessly endured, and reduced emotional distress equals reduced physiological stress.
The first step to changing our mental patterns is to gain an understanding that these patterns are primarily responsible for our unnecessary suffering. We can address all of these causes of unnecessary suffering through mindfulness practice.
The acronym FEAR provides another picture of the elements of unnecessary suffering, and as you can see in the list that follows, it includes our familiar concepts of cognitive fusion and experiential avoidance.
- • F is for Fusion(cognitive fusion): As I’ve described previously
, this means holding our thoughts and beliefs to be real things as opposed to creations of the mind. This creates a kind of blindness that limits our ability to live with acceptance, authenticity, and choice.
- • E is for Evaluation: While the ability to evaluate our surroundings and circumstances is essential to our survival, it has an unhealthy side. We create enormous suffering for ourselves and others when we use this skill to judge people by their race, nationality, customs, beliefs, and even their hair or eye color. We negatively evaluate ourselves as well for an array of perceived transgressions, even for having certain thoughts.
- • A is for Avoidance (experiential avoidance): Most of us have learned to try to avoid what makes us uncomfortable, including our unpleasant thoughts and emotions. This tendency even extends to avoidance of healthy behaviors.
- • R is for Reason-giving: Thinking up reasons, explanations, and justifications for our behavior removes us from our present-moment experience and leads to experiential avoidance, inauthenticity, and considerable suffering.