Identity and suffering

This has been in the foreground over the last few days…

There is the field of seeing/seen arising, with no inherent center anywhere.

When something arises in this field, and there is an identity, and what arises is outside of this identity, there is suffering. It can be a very mild form of suffering, or more noticeable, but it is there.


So if there is an identity of someone who enjoys quiet, and there is noise, there is suffering. Without the identity, or the attachment to the identity, it all just arises as part of the field. There is noise, there is this personality, and they are just part of the field as it happens right now.

If there is an identity of someone who wants to be free from pain, and there is pain, there is suffering. And again, without this identity or the attachment to this identity, there is just the field arising of various sensations, of pain and personality, and that is it. It all arises as the field.

If there is an identity of someone who likes beauty, and there is not beauty, there is suffering. Or someone who likes beauty, and beauty is here, there is suffering because it may and will go away. And so on.

Struggle within the field of form in the foreground

When something arises that is outside of the identity, and there is attachment to the identity, the separation and discrepancy comes to the foreground. The two aspects of the field of form, the trigger and identity/reaction, are in the foreground and apparently opposed to each other. There is a sense of discomfort and struggle.

And there is an impulse to make this discomfort and struggle go away. This is a very healthy impulse, coming partly from knowing – intuiting, sensing – that it does not have to be that way.

One solution is to reorganize the field of form, either by removing or changing the trigger or the personality/reaction. It may or may not work, and even if it works to some extent, it is only a temporary solution. The patterns are still there, waiting to come up again. And no matter how much we work at it, and how sophisticated we become at it, we can’t quite control either the wider world or our own personality. It will always be unpredictable, live its own life.

The field itself, as a field, in the foreground

The other solution is to shift the center of gravity out of a segment of the field, from the personality/human self, to the seeing of it, or even better, to the field as a whole, to the field of awake emptiness and form, inherently free from any one center, personality, a sense of I, or any other aspect of what is arising.

Now, the field itself, as a field, as awake emptiness and form, is in the foreground. And any aspects of what is arising, any triggers and personality/reactivity, arise as this field. They are all just aspects of the landscape, threads in the overall tapestry, current flavors of the field, they all blend into the field as a whole although they can also be discerned and focused on if need be.

Identity is suffering

Identity not only leads to suffering, but is suffering. It is the field taking itself to be just a segment of itself, filtering itself through a sense of I and Other, creating a sense of struggle within itself.

And the only real resolution to this is for the field to notice itself, as a field, as the field of awake emptiness and form, and all forms, including triggers and personality/reactivity, as awake emptiness, as flavors of the field, threads in the overall tapestry.


More accurately, it is an attachment to a particular identity that brings suffering. A seeing of an exclusive identity as an absolute truth. An belief in a set of thoughts that make up an identity, from the idea of I to man/woman, young/old, liberal/conservative and so on. It is a way to know how to divide the field up into I/We and Other.

Even after the field awakens to itself, there is still a conventional identity left for this human self, used just for practical purposes. The main parts of this identity are the basic ones, such as name, gender, occupation, address, phone number. In addition, there are the flavors of this personality, the likes and dislikes in many areas of life, and these are now seen as amusing quirks and flavors, not taken very seriously.

The coin of ignorance: exploring both sides

In Buddhism, they talk about three (greed, anger, ignorance) or five (greed, anger, pride, envy, ignorance) poisons, or roots of suffering.

All of these can be collapsed into one: ignorance.

One side of the coin: ignorance of what we already are

And this ignorance can generally be seen as ignorance of what we really are, as Big Mind, Spirit, emptiness and form, Headless, absent of any I.

Other side of the coin: ignorance of the mechanisms of samsara

At the other side of the coin, this ignorance can be seen as ignorance of the mechanisms of Samsara. What, specifically, is it that happens when there is a mistaken identification. When Big Mind suddenly takes itself to be only a fragment of itself, as a part of the seen or as the seeing itself.

What is it that is really happening, and how can I explore that, over and over, in my own experience, so there is a gradually deepening familiarity with this process, eventually leading to a natural release from it.

Exploring the coin

There are many ways to explore either or both sides of this coin.

The Work: exploring both sides of the coin

Through The Work, we explore – in quite some detail, one way of looking at the mechanisms of samsara. What happens when there is a belief in a thought, when an abstraction is taken as truth itself? What are the consequences of this, in the many areas of my life? How does it unfold?

Towards the end of the inquiry, in question four and the turnarounds, we get to see who or what we are without this belief.

By doing this, over and over, on whatever beliefs remain and come up, we learn not only about the mechanisms of samsara but also what we are without beliefs. Gradually, there is more and more of a taste of and emerging into Big Mind.

Other approaches

The Big Mind process is another way to explore both sides of the coin, to almost infinite detail.

Headless experiments may not guide us through the terrain in the same detail as The Work and the Big Mind process, but they certainly set the stage for it by allowing us a taste of what we really are. From here, we are free to explore on our own, in as much detail as we want.

Aspects of Suffering

There are several aspects of suffering…

  • It is Existence manifesting. It is Existence, God, Buddha Mind, experiencing itself in one of the innumerable ways it is experiencing itself through this evolving universe. It is perfect as it is. Nothing is missing.
  • It comes from a case of mistaken identity. It emerges when awareness is exclusively identified with – or temporarily caught up in – the small self. This causes awareness to believe in thoughts, and function in a dualistic way – seeing the distinctions but not the seamless whole.
  • It is one of the mechanisms through which awareness is encouraged to awaken to its own nature. It is the whip, while the bliss of awakening is the carrot.
  • It is that which motivates awareness, even while exclusively identified with the small self, to be actively engaged in the world. This helps the self develop, the species to evolve, and Existence to unfold in always new and rich ways.