The nature of suffering and how to overcome it

The first step to solving your problem, is to admit that you have a problem. So, here it goes: My name is Radha Vinode, and I have a lot of problems.

I was born into the bhakti yoga way of life, but just because I’ve always been on this spiritual path, doesn’t mean that it was all sunshine and rainbows. I feel like I’ve been suffering my whole life, but, we’ll get into that a little later. I think that the second step to approaching your problems, is to realize that in life, there’s no escaping them. In the sacred texts from India, three types of suffering are described: adi-atmika (from the mind or senses), adi-bhautika (due to other living beings) and adi-devika (natural causes). So let’s explore these a little deeper…

The suffering from the mind and the senses is especially pertinent to my life, as I’ve been blessed with a mood disorder since childhood. I know, better than anyone, what it’s like to have mental health disorders and challenges. My initial diagnosis was a manic, psychotic episode, which led to the discovery of a cyst in my brain, which led to me being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 1 and traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. This was all coupled with the lows of depression and the hypervigilance of anxiety. I’ve been on medication ever since, and most likely will have to be on medication for the rest of my life.

Now let’s talk about the suffering from other living beings. I believe that most of my episodes have been triggered by my relationships with people. I am the kind of person who puts my whole heart into what I do, and am disappointed and heart-broken by people who don’t do the same. I’ve been betrayed by my best friend of ten years. I went through a breakup with someone I was with for five years. These people left a long lasting impact on my heart. It’s tough to accept that this is the reality I am living in, but all in all, I’ve learnt that people are temporary, and with everyone I meet, they each have a lesson to bring.

Onto the last and final category of suffering, natural causes. These are usually described to be earthquakes and tsunamis, but I think the biggest natural event that’s affected us all, is the Covid-19 pandemic. 2020, the year lockdown started in my country, was the same year that I, quite literally, lost my mind. Being at home 24/7, while having a strained relationship with my parents, was not conducive to having a healthy emotional or mental well-being. It got to the point where I had to deregister from university and be admitted into a psychiatric hospital, for the first very first time.

Living in this world, it is said that there is danger at every step. It can be scary. With my anxiety, even the most basic of things are terrifying for me. So if you think you can’t face whatever is out there, then just know you are braver than you think. One thing I took solace in, is that there is a divine, higher power, or God out there, who has your back. The universe works in mysterious ways, and if we seek out this higher power we begin to see how it acts in our lives. It is in the most difficult times which we find mercy, we just have to look. When we are facing the shadows, it is difficult to see the light. But when we face the sun, all our shadows fall behind us, and if we face the sun we start to feel the warmth on our skin and in our hearts. In all honesty, it’s impossible to really escape the sufferings of the material world. But, we can change our outlook on it. There is a saying that life is not what happens to you, rather what happens for you. All that happens is ultimately for the best.

Have you ever heard of people who always see the glass half full? Who are always preaching about being happy and looking on the positive side? This is not what we teach. Spiritual knowledge certainly helps in understanding difficult situations, but it does not negate material emotions, which we all experience. To go through happiness and distress is a normal part of life. In the Bhagavad gita As It Is, it is described that in winter, people in India still have to take a bath in the cold river, and in the heat of summer, they still have to cook over a fire. Bhakti yoga teaches us to tolerate our circumstances, because after summer, winter will always come again, and after winter, summer will return. By having faith in this knowledge, I certainly feel comforted, at least to some extent.

In my experience, riding the rollercoaster of life is the easiest way to get through it. We have to go with the ups and downs, because the fact is that we can’t get off the rollercoaster while being seated on it. Another way that life is like a rollercoaster is that when we are born again, the rollercoaster changes. We have a completely different ride, with a variety of new people sitting beside us, in front of us and behind us.

Bhakti yoga has come a long way in helping me get through my difficulties in life, especially kirtan. Kirtan is the congregational chanting of the holy names of Krishna, or whatever divine power you believe in. This 16 word maha-mantra has changed my life. Many people meditate on this mantra on beads, but sometimes that is very difficult for me to do. When I was a young, rebellious teenager, I didn’t want to chant. But I loved listening to music. So around the age of 14, when I was excessively crying on the floor of my bedroom and wanting to harm myself, this kirtan gave me hope.

The beautiful thing about the holy names, is that I had no attraction for chanting it, singing to it, or even learning or reading more about it. Regardless of my disregard towards it, it was still so merciful to me. In short, this holy name saved my life. Mantra meditation is one of the best ways to overcome the struggles in life, be it in kirtan or by chanting of beads. Something else that amazes me about the holy name, is that it is non-different to the divine energy. God, the Divine, or whichever higher power you believe in, is fully present in these names. In fact, it is a call to the most compassionate living being, to show us kindness in this harsh world. It is a call to the most attractive, and one who will bring the most happiness into our lives.

My final piece of advice to all of you reading this, is to remember that this situation is only temporary. The sufferings of our mind and body, people around us, and natural devastating events, all have one thing in common – they are material. The material world is not going to last long, and neither is our life here, if we look at the grand scheme of things. The sun will one day run out of energy, the universe will eventually collapse, and more universes will be created. We are not our mind, the people around us are not going to be here forever, and natural events will come and go. This is a PSA (public service announcement) that we are the soul, we are not this body. We are above our suffering and we shouldn’t let it define us.

Previously, I would introduce myself by saying that I have mental problems. I always felt the need to put it out there, to warn people that I’m a little bit crazy. But honestly, I need to stop doing that. Yes, my mental health is a huge part of my life, but I’ve come to realize I am worth so much more than that. I want my life back. I want to chant, sing, and dance in kirtans, and progress on my path in bhakti.

So, people who feel like they can’t find a way out of the maze that is the material world, I hope you find some comfort in the way of bhakti. You are not alone in your struggles. They are only temporary, and at the end of the day, we become stronger than we were walking in. Also, as someone who wanted to escape from this life when they were 14, look at them now, 10 years later, writing this article in hopes of inspiring others. There is hope and help out there, and when we are genuinely invested in getting the help we need, then we’re already half way there.

This article was composed by Radha Vinode

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