Kauai has lots of chickens. Lots. They’re everywhere. The roosters like to crow. It’s their job, and they do it well. They do it all day long. I’m not even sure how much they sleep because they even do it at 1 a.m. It’s apparently a very important job. Now, let’s just pretend one night I’m happily sleeping away, dreaming of angels and whatnot, and a rooster crows right outside my window at 3 a.m. It is a piercing, startling sound. How am I supposed to sleep now? Intense irritation arises inside of me. Why won’t that damn chicken just shut up? He crows again. And again. And again. He’s still right outside my window. I am so angry now I decide to take matters into my own hands. I run out the door, screaming and waving my arms like a mad woman, and chase the horrible little bird far away from my window. Now I feel a little better. That rooster sure got what was coming to him!
Let’s look at what just happened here. What happened is pretty much a lot of nothing, except for suffering on my part and a startled chicken wondering about that crazy lady. In my case, my suffering took the form of anger and irritation. Let’s examine the very beginning of this incident. What caused my irritation to arise? Was it the chicken? No, not really. What caused my irritation to arise was an unconscious resistance to what was happening in that moment: a chicken was crowing for about one second outside my window. Big deal. But to me in that moment, it was a big deal, wasn’t it? My reaction was automatic and unconscious, meaning I didn’t think it out like this: “Oh, a chicken just crowed, and it was loud. I don’t like loud, piercing sounds. I think I’ll get pissed now.” No, I just got pissed automatically. What was happening is some unconscious part of me thought it was not at all okay for a chicken to be crowing at 3 a.m. right outside my window. That part of me then produced irritation in order to affect my behavior, in order to motivate me to do something about what I thought was the problem (the chicken). Now, it felt like I had some measure of control over the situation. After all, I chased the chicken away, didn’t I? Peace and quiet abounded (until the next chicken comes along, which is within the next minute or so).
But what if the irritation never arose in the first place? What if I were perfectly happy with a rooster crowing right outside my window at 3 a.m.? Then I wouldn’t have suffered at all, and neither would’ve the chicken I scared to death with my crazy arm waving, 3 a.m. madness. There would have been no “problem” then, would there? There would have just been a rooster crowing, and a happy woman in bed enjoying the rooster crowing. What caused the problem was my unconscious resistance to what was happening. In this case, that resistance (=suffering) took the form of irritation. Do you see what that means? It means I created the problem. The rooster had nothing to do with it.
When you think of it like that, it becomes clear that the real problem — the suffering itself — is phantom-like or not quite real. I mean, it was real for me in that I suffered: I felt irritated, ran outside like a crazy woman, and scared a chicken. But really what happened is I created a problem inside of myself (suffering) by resisting what was happening, scared a rooster who was just doing his duty as a rooster, and then finally came back to planet earth feeling quite accomplished because I had figured out a clever way to get rid of the problem… yup, the problem I just created myself. It’s a whole bunch of hand-waving (literally) and quite exciting, but wouldn’t it have been nicer to just enjoy the rooster and go back to sleep? No problem created. No suffering created. Happy me, happy rooster.
This is true for more than just irritation arising when a rooster crows. This happens all the time. Unconscious resistance arises whenever something happens in the world that we have learned to define as something that shouldn’t be happening. It arises when whatever is happening doesn’t fit our concept of how things should be. The range of this resistance is enormous… it goes all the way from slight disgust, such as when my hubby drools on my pillow yet again, to feeling horrified at the slaughter of millions in mass genocide. In all cases, the problem for me is arising inside of myself — that is, I am creating my own suffering by resisting reality. The reality is, for example, my hubby just drooled on my pillow and there is mass genocide taking place. If I don’t think those things should be happening, resistance (=suffering) arises within me in various forms such as anger, sadness, despair, horror, etc. A problem is created inside of me, and I suffer. I’m not doing it consciously, but I am doing it. The truth is, I would not suffer if I didn’t resist reality.
What most of us are doing is going around doing all sorts of things to try to get rid of “problems” we created inside ourselves. We think that our horror and worry and disgust that arises when we witness something like mass genocide is actually caused by that circumstance, but that’s not true. Those feelings arise due to our own resistance — due to the fact that we learned somewhere along the line that mass genocide shouldn’t happen (as an example). We mistake those feelings as being caused by the outside circumstances, and so we do not know that when we take action to “help,” we are doing so primarily to relieve the discomfort — the suffering — inside of ourselves that we ourselves created. It’s just like the chicken. It’s an illusion — not quite a real problem — although it’s real to us in our suffering. But it wouldn’t be real if we never resisted in the first place. I’m not saying that mass genocide isn’t real or that we should simply put our feet up and let it happen. I’m saying the problem inside of us would not be there if we didn’t resist. We ourselves would not be suffering.
A couple questions might come to mind after pondering this:
- Where would my motivation to act in the world come from if I wasn’t motivated by a feeling that something should not be as it is? Why would I take action to change anything if I accept everything as it is? Sure, I’d be happy as a clam, but what about all those people out there being slaughtered in wars or otherwise enmeshed in horrific circumstances? Why would I care about doing anything to help them? Or on a more personal level, what if I have pain or disease in my body? Why would I want to do anything about that — to try to heal — if I just accepted it as it is?
- Okay. I can see how I am the one creating my own suffering. But how do I change my unconscious, automatic responses, the key words here being “unconscious” and “automatic”?
Good questions! Stay tuned for Part 2 for my thoughts on this. In the meantime, maybe the answers will come of their own accord as you watch yourself and notice what’s happening.Have fun noticing!