The #1 Cause of Suffering

The gun made a loud click and the magazine slid out into my palm. I checked the chamber again. Yes, I did get that bullet too. Only one more day. I can do this.

I had to move quickly; I didn’t know when he might wake up. Where can I hide this? Where won’t he look? Maybe the best thing would be to keep all the pieces separate… I moved around the house stuffing the empty gun into my yoga props, the clip on the floor under the back of the couch, the bullets in the garage.

In the morning we drove north, silence thick between us. At the office, all the paperwork was filled out. Relieved he was finally facing his addiction, I returned to the car and drove back south. For the first time in years I felt free.

Free of the weight of feeling responsible for another. Free of the shame of this hidden secret. Free of the urge to try to get him to see, to change, to do something —anything!

I was also sad and alone.

That was the end of our relationship. Too much tangled history to find each other again. I gutted myself trying to make it work and had nothing left to give. He needed the radical shift of being alone to stay sober.

After 6 years, he still is sober. And I’ve had much time to reflect.

What I know now is that my suffering in the relationship was complex. There was a lot going on. But the root of the suffering was ignorance.


They say ignorance is bliss. The proverb suggests that not knowing something ensures we don’t worry about it. But it doesn’t remove the deep spiritual confusion we inherently experience in life.

I thought if I just tried hard enough I could get him to wake up. I thought I had the power to fix him, to help him. I was confused by his actions and thought it was because I wasn’t good enough or that I could do something to make it all better.

Ignorance, or avidya in Sanskrit, is the root of all suffering. It isn’t your garden-variety of ignorance, but a total inability to see things clearly. We misunderstand what is real and what is not. We confuse what is eternal and everlasting with those things that are fleeting and always changing.

We identify with the little me of the ego and forget the Soul within.

This is a pattern in human consciousness. It’s in this field of misunderstanding that all suffering and all other misunderstanding arises.

Sometimes, the confusion is like a knife in the heart. We see it and feel it, but fear pulling it out will cause us to bleed to death. Other times, we can see the Truth but doubt it and doubt ourselves. All of it creates a paralyzing fear.

Once I realized that his addiction had nothing to do with me, I knew I was in the wrong place. But I doubted I had the ability to make it on my own. I didn’t think I could support myself. I was afraid of what other people would think or say about me if they knew. And so I stayed.


Seeing something through the misperception of avidya leads to misaligned actions. After years, misaligned actions become samskaras, or built up patterns and habits. These patterns pull us back in, again and again, even when we’re super mindful and very conscious. It takes time for them to develop and takes time and devotion to tear them down and transform them into something else.

New Patterns

The practice of yoga is about reducing the size and pull of the samskaras. It’s about making new patterns. Practicing and practicing until we aren’t just overriding old patterns but return to a state of natural freedom.

We practice pranayama to calm the mind, so we can recognize the Truth and begin to see more clearly. Through asana we build courage and strength to go from inaction to motion. Not just any motion, but aligned and purposeful motion.

Through his inaction I saw that there was nothing I could do. I knew he, and only he, could take responsibility for himself. Despite my terror, and only after I saw him check into the safety of rehab, I walked away. It was a better choice for me to face my fears and start to build new patterns. Ones more aligned with my Truth.

The samskara is still there. I still doubt myself. I still want to help others — sometimes to my detriment — and am a hopeful optimist. I think people will figure it out and do the right thing. But only if they do yoga…