What Causes Us To Suffer?


I wake recently with a knot in my stomach. I take a moment to wonder about it. I realize it’s linked to the fact that I’m subbing a yoga class for a beloved yoga teacher and I’m worried about how I’m going to be received.

As I stay with the sensation in my gut, all the thoughts related to the knot start to show up, and they all boil down to one theme: If someone doesn’t like what I am offering or what I am doing, it means something bad about me. I didn’t do it right. I’m not competent. What I offer is not valued.  

I think you get the picture.

Miraculously, in the midst of all this going on, and all the techniques I am using to try and make this feeling go away, I hear the words, “The greatest cause of all your suffering, as well as the confusion you create in the world, is believing that someone else’s reaction to you, is who you are.”

In an instant, this Truth cuts right through to the very heart of it. Who needs techniques to try and make something go away when you don’t even believe in the so-called problem to begin with? Like a sharp blade this knowing cuts through all the mental, physical, and emotional attachments I have to the story that in order to be here, I have to make sure others never think ill of me.

Let’s hope it can last.

This personal experience reflects what I see when I look out into the world; especially since the times of co-vid, and especially since the inception of social media where our relationships have been commandeered by a kind of “false presentation, tell-all and then risk annihilation by the mob if they don’t like your brand,” set of rules. I see a life-depleting and dangerous arrangement that has risen up between us based on some fundamentally destructive agreements, tacit though they may be.

Specifically around, Do as I say, Do as I want you to. Or else. Or else you will be cancelled. Or else you will lose your job and the right to be with your family. Or else you will be labeled as a…(fill in the blank). There is a real sickness between us now that has got many of us walking on eggshells; fearing we will be banished, attacked or deemed uncaring if we choose to go another way.

To be sure our social connections can reflect back to us important codes of conduct that help inform us about how to behave with one another. But somewhere along the way a grotesque mob mentality has taken over with the mandate being to suppress and make wrong the full and unique expression of each one of us.

Our social groups lose more than can be counted when we are afraid to be ourselves. Afraid to express an opinion not in line with the ideology du jour. Afraid to act on our own behalf when the group has gone mad.

If you doubt this in yourself, if you don’t see the way you will diminish yourself to belong or the way you will confuse who you are with another’s opinion of you, watch yourself as you move through your day. How often do you say or agree to something that you do not believe in? How often do you smile, as if in agreement, when you definitely do not agree? How many of us took a shot we did not want because we felt pressured by the group?

And how many of us are seeing all kinds of things in the world that are pathological, but keep our mouths shut for fear of social retribution?

Who you are can never be reduced down to what another thinks of you. To spend your life adjusting yourself to keep anyone from ever not liking you or what you’re doing is to add more confusion to an already very confused world.