Suffering is Optional: Three Keys to Freedom and Joy (Keep It Simple Books, 2000)

An easy-to-read Zen Buddhist perspective on releasing suffering. This book is written in large handwritten-style print and offers a practical approach to being more aware of our thoughts and how this leads to more freedom and joy in our lives.

This book is based on material from one of Cheri Huber’s classes, with the style of stories, questions and interactive responses with her students. The three keys to freedom and joy she offers are: pay attention to everything, believe nothing, and don’t take anything personally (not even death).

Cheri talks about suffering as not getting what we want. In short, she says “We shift our focus from clinging to the content of our suffering to observing the process.”  For me, this has been an essential practice. Observing myself rather than believing the content of my thoughts.

Here’s one quote from the book that addresses looking at our inner and outer worlds without the habit of judgment or trying to intellectually find what is “right” or valuable. To me, it’s a practice of being with What Is:

Always I encourage people simply to notice. No right. No wrong. Just notice. What happens when this? What happens when that? We’re so conditioned to believe that we have to figure something out so that we will have the correct information and then we will know and then we’ll be okay. If we practice noticing for a while we notice that getting the ‘correct information’ does not make us ‘okay.’ Perceiving ourselves to be okay makes us feel okay. Period.”

I really resonate with much of what Cheri shares and proposes. I recommend this book because I believe she gets at some of the most typical causes of inner struggle, and shares simple practices to move beyond this space into one of compassion, acceptance and joy:

We are conditioned to believe that life has to be a certain way for us to enjoy it. We are trained to live for the big moments, the special events, the times that are inherently enjoyable. What we find with practice, though, is that every moment to which we are present is joyful. Presence itself is joy-full; the content is irrelevant.”

Yes, when we are in the middle of painful moments, it may be unlikely to recognize the joyfulness. But Cheri guides us through new ways to create significant shifts. In the book, she offers specific exercises to get at these concepts:

If we simply pay attention, if we just quietly observe, then how the suffering is held in place will be revealed and we will stop doing what we are doing to hold it in place. It will simply fall away.”

I have experienced this as very helpful in my life. When we no longer hold on to thoughts that we think are real, when we stop believing they are true, our awareness can begin to shift.

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