28 – Suffering
The outcome of identifying with Personality
‘You are in prison. If you wish to get out of prison, the first thing you must do is realize that you are in prison. If you think you are free, you can't escape.’ – G.I. Gurdjieff
Jez: There are basically two types of suffering. The first is suffering that arises from being human. To be human is to feel, and life throws all kinds of experiences at us. Some of these are painful to our psychological system or physical body and cause feelings that are so intense they become a kind of suffering. I’m talking about what happens when your lover leaves, someone you love dies, you’re seriously ill or you have an accident. No one escapes this kind of suffering; it’s unavoidable, and why should it be any other way? To experience life in all its manifestations is part of what makes us human.
Also, this kind of pain can carve us out; it makes us look at life in a more mature way. There’s an African proverb: ‘Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors’. If you look back at the hardest parts of your life, when the seas were roughest, you might find that those were the times that you learned the most.
Matthew: As you said, everyone knows this sort of suffering; so tell me more about the other kind, the Suffering that comes from the Personality.
Jez: In the Relative Level, in this phenomenal plane of existence, there is action and reaction, there are events and consequences. This kind of Suffering is a consequence, an outcome of identifying as Personality. To use Indian terminology, you could call it ‘karma’. Will you look up the definition of that word?
Matthew: It says here: ‘Karma is the spiritual principle of cause and effect where the intent and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual.’
Jez: The word ‘karma’ can be applied in different ways. It’s found its way into Western vocabulary, and here it’s usually taken to mean the practical interplay of cause and effect: You work hard to get a promotion, you get the job, it makes you feel good. You put off getting your car serviced, your car breaks down on the motorway, you feel bad. We put it down to karma. But the word has a spiritual root – when they use the phrase ‘influencing the future of the individual’ in that definition they really mean it! Eastern religions that believe in past lives apply it to the idea of ‘earning good karma’, which you’ll be rewarded for in your next life.
Matthew: What do you think about that?
Jez: It’s a belief; all beliefs come from Personality. It’s an Eastern spiritual version of ‘When I get this I’ll be happy.’
Matthew: But you do believe in karma in the more practical sense?
Jez: I don’t believe in it; cause and effect is an observable fact. No belief is required to see it’s true.
Matthew: I’ve heard some Non-Duality teachers say that there’s no such thing as karma.
Jez: I can only presume they’re talking about the Absolute Level, which is prior to, and therefore beyond, the arising of opposites such as cause and effect. In Oneness there are no opposites; that would involve the arising of ‘two-ness’. However, cause and effect is a fundamental law of nature in the Relative Level. I suggest if any teachers of Non-Duality dispute this, you carry out this simple experiment: Try gently stepping on their toe as a cause and observe if it has any effect! (Both laugh.)
Matthew: That doesn’t sound like a very ‘spiritual’ thing to do! (Laughs.) So you were saying that Suffering is a consequence of identifying as Personality; it’s an example of karma.
Jez: Yes, let’s go back further to where this all began: As children we experience cause and effect in all sorts of ways, mostly as a result of interaction with our parents. When Lucy was a baby being bathed, her skin flushed and became wet in the warm water, and her temperature rose. This is an example of a cause that has minor, short-lasting effects in her life. But there’s one significant cause that filters down into all our lives from our parents and, as we get older, has a deeper effect on us. And that’s the fact that our parents are identified as Personality.
Matthew: I’ve asked you this in a previous talk: You’re saying this is the case for everyone?
Jez: It’s possible it’s not, but I’ve never met or even heard of anyone who grew up with a parent who wasn’t identified as Personality. So, for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s true.
Matthew: So the effect of this is passed onto us?
Jez: Yes, eventually their unhappiness, their Suffering, is experienced in our lives in the form of their Emotions: fear, sadness or anger. At first, when we’re still in the Natural State, it doesn’t make much difference. But once that state has slipped away, our parent’s Suffering – a ‘cause’ – has its devastating ‘effect’ on us: the Wound.
This effect can last for the rest of our lives, because it creates and underpins the whole architecture of Personality. It creates our beliefs, Emotions, the Mask, the Shadow, the arising of desire, the need for Distraction, the location of ourselves as the mind and so on. All of these collectively add up to the experience of Suffering.
Matthew: You called the first type of suffering ‘natural human suffering’; are you saying this Suffering of the Personality isn’t natural?
Jez: Let’s look at how the dictionary defines ‘natural’.
Matthew: It says here: ‘Existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind.’
Jez: You could argue that humankind is nature; I presume what they mean is ‘not made or caused by the mind of humankind’. By that definition, this kind of Suffering isn’t natural, because it arises from the mind, from the Personality of mankind.
We all start out in the Natural State, we’re in the Original Relationship to Life, which means, in the words of Lao Tzu: ‘We are nourished by the great Mother.’ We receive everything we need to live: We have a body that breathes, a stomach that digests, eyes that see and all the other gifts that are bestowed upon us. Simply living what we are fulfils us and causes us to feel Joy. The Natural State is so called because that’s how we come into the world; it’s not caused by man’s mind.
The Suffering that comes from Personality isn’t natural in that it’s not how we’re made; it’s not how we enter this world. We don’t arrive here with neuroses, worry, heartache, anger or grief; we come with Love, Stillness, with an innate ability to abide in Oneness.
Matthew: But to lose that is normal?
Jez: Yes, exactly; I’m drawing a distinction between what’s normal and what’s natural. Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s natural; it doesn’t mean that’s how it has to be. This is why Suffering is avoidable; our early childhoods demonstrate that being a victim of it is not the only way this life can be lived.
It’s only after we’re identified as Personality that the problem begins – the Personality is a machine of Suffering. That identification can create Suffering out of anything. You once told me, before we started these conversations, that failing a scholarship exam was a devastating event in your life. Remind me what happened.
Matthew: When I was about 11 or 12 our headmaster walked into my classroom and read out six names, including mine. We were walked to a private room and told we were joining Upper Six A – the scholarship class. This was my dream: recognition that I was a member of the school’s elite. If I passed the exam my parents would save a significant sum in school fees and my name would be immortalised in gold lettering on the scholars’ board in the assembly hall.
Jez: So your sense of security and love was resting on you passing that exam, proving to your parents and peers that you were ‘intelligent enough’. But your name didn’t make it onto that board; you failed the exam. What I’m suggesting is, your Personality turned this event into a story of Suffering.
Matthew: Can you explain that?
Jez: What made failing your scholarship so painful was your need to prove yourself to your family and peers. If you look at the history of the Group Personality of your family, it’s easy to see where this came from. Both your parents pulled themselves out of modest backgrounds by gaining a good education.
Matthew: It’s true; intelligence is very highly valued in my family.
Jez: Seen objectively, the exam was simply a practical event in the workings of the school: just a qualification. You turned it into a solution for your need for acceptance and brought that Emotion of fear of failure to it. Had you not aligned your sense of security with that exam then failing it wouldn’t have been the cause of Suffering.
This happens for all of us; it’s not our fault. You were young; you’d lost the Original Relationship to Life! You were set up, destined to react in this way by fact that you’d been trained to lose the Natural State.
So my point is that identification with Personality creates Suffering not just by making us addictive, neurotic, full of Emotions, subject to the internal dialogue of our minds etcetera. Life brings all sorts of events our way and Personality can turn them into Suffering because it comes from a basic sense of insecurity. The Personality is ‘a machine of Suffering’ because it actually creates it.
So no Personality is immune the unhappiness of Suffering – everyone has to deal with it.
Matthew: It seems to be a very negative picture you’re painting. I can’t help thinking that you’re demonising the Personality, making it the bad guy. Isn’t that just creating more duality?
Jez: That’s a really important question. It may sound that way, but I’m simply describing the function and appearance of Personality. Describing the reality of how something is doesn’t mean that you’re putting a negative judgement on it.
Matthew: What do you mean?
Jez: The Personality is just a phenomenon that arises in this play of the Relative Level. Put simply, it’s an identity that’s built around the idea of separation. It’s a phenomenon that only occurs in human life, because it requires a developed mind to create that idea and then identify with it.
We think we are the Personality. This is what we’re taught to do, that inclination to identify as it is passed on to us in childhood through the Group Personality of mankind.
The Personality becomes a psychological entity; it’s not passive, it has its own volition, its own will to survive. In order to survive, it has to keep your identification with it intact. It’s so clever, so strong, it can shift shape, it can keep you unaware of its operation, always staying one step ahead of you by making you avoid anything which is going to expose its functioning.
Matthew: You’re talking about Personality Awareness?
Jez: Yes. But it’s possible to go beyond Personality Awareness and experience Choice-less Awareness; then you can actually watch the Personality. You can see under the hood, you can observe it doing its thing. There’s no demonising of it, but there’s no misconception either about what it is. You realise it’s an amazing phenomenon, but one that has a serious consequence: the obscuring of your Being. As long as we identify with Personality and take on its belief that we’re separate from the whole, then Suffering enters the experience of human life.
Matthew: So it’s quite a big consequence!
Jez: You could say that! We’re born in the Natural State, in the ongoing perception and living of Love. Personality develops; gradually we identify with it and lose the Natural State. That’s the normal story of human life.
Matthew: But if you’re right, and identification with Personality has the outcome of divorcing us from our Natural State, that is a ‘negative’ consequence, isn’t it? And, if it is so negative, isn’t it reasonable to cast the Personality as a bad guy?
Jez: It’s all a matter of perspective. From the Relative Level you could definitely say that. From the Absolute Level, the Personality is simply a formation of energy arising in the psychology of man.
Matthew: It seems kind of flippant to say that.
Jez: Not from this perspective – if you take away that ‘relative’ viewpoint you see things differently. Imagine an artist painting the sky: He’s admiring the clouds drifting by, watching them refracting the light, taking on different colours and changing shape constantly. For him, the clouds are a positive. However, for other people, the consequences of those clouds being there could be called ‘negative’: A golfer trying to enjoy his game will get wet, a holidaymaker won’t get her suntan. That doesn’t mean there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the clouds – they’re not ‘bad’ clouds. Looking at it from the wider perspective, they’re just a manifestation of moisture particles in the sky.
Matthew: So, applying this metaphor, you’re not saying clouds are wrong, you’re just saying you might not choose to live under them?
Jez: Yes, in a way, but now the metaphor has reached the limit of its practical use: The comparison falls apart because it’s hard to ever really escape bad weather but, my proposition is, you can escape identification with Personality. You don’t have to live with the Suffering which identification with it brings – there is another way to live this life. But before we consider that possibility, there are more outcomes to identifying with Personality that we need to discuss.