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In this lesson, I share the Buddhist concept of “suffering” (or dissatisfaction), and how we experience more often than we might think. The practice we’ll focus on is becoming more mindful of this suffering, so that we can deal with it more consciously.

I start this video sharing the scar on my forehead from a knife self-defense class I took this past weekend. I’m sore and bruised … which is a good way to start talking about suffering.

In Buddhism, there’s a term that is translated as either “suffering” or “dissatisfaction” … lots of people misunderstand it, because “suffering” seems like such a dramatic word, such a negative word, and most people don’t think of themselves as suffering. But in fact we are doing it all the time.

Let’s take my sore and bruised body … it doesn’t feel good. But the problem isn’t the physical sensation of soreness, though those aren’t necessarily pleasant sensations … the problem is that I don’t want the soreness. This is the suffering, or dissatisfaction we’re talking about … not wanting the way things are.

We see this when we’re frustrated with someone else — we don’t want them to be the way they are right now. Or when we’re frustrated with ourselves, or with traffic. Or when we are worried about something, feeling anxious, feeling sad, disappointed, angry … these are all forms of suffering, and in fact we’re doing some form of this almost all the time.

We’ll get into the cause of this suffering or dissatisfaction in the next lesson … but for now, and for the rest of the week, I’d like you to practice noticing suffering in its different forms … in your meditation sessions. Notice when it comes up, notice when you’re feeling uncomfortable, not liking the meditation, feeling self-doubt, feeling anxious about something, and just sit there with it … stay with it. Then be curious about it … investigate it … become interested, as if you don’t know what it feels like. Notice your tendency to want to avoid it, to turn to distractions.

Play with this repeatedly during your meditation sessions, then notice suffering in other parts of your day.


Please complete one of these exercises:

  1. Beginner: Every day, notice when you feel some sort of suffering during your meditation. It might come up as you check in with yourself at the start of the meditation, or as your mind wanders from you breath. Allow yourself to stay with this feeling of frustration, anxiety, anger, sadness, dissatisfaction, etc. Investigate it without judgment, with curiosity, as if you don’t already know what it feels like. Write about it in your mindfulness journal (see the previous lesson for more on the journal).
  2. Advanced: In addition to the above exercise, try to notice suffering in different forms throughout your day, and journal about what you notice.