4 Oct 1999 –13 Nov 2003 Victoria, BC –
from Transcript of Audio Recording of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Commentaries on:
Living Presence by Kabir Edmund Helminski

So essentially – and this is where so much of the Buddhist teaching has worked – as long as you are trying to derive your identity from that whole egoic feedback loop, unnecessary suffering will be the consequence.  Now granted, it may not be as dramatic as the grossly distorted suffering of the false self programs, but it’s still in there.  And you will still encounter things where you feel quite innocently that life has made a victim of you and it “wasn’t fair”.

Okay, one other aspect of this imaginary suffering syndrome, if you want, has to do not so much with egoic consciousness or “Who suffers?” but the other aspect is “How do I process?  How do I think?”  And way, way back in the 4th century, one of the great fathers of our Christian psychology, a fellow by the name of Evagrius began to warn us about a certain way that the human being thinks that results, inevitably, in useless suffering.  And [to] that process he gave the word logismoi which basically means “thought trains”.  Thomas Keating has translated them well as “commentaries”.  In other words, an image or a fantasy or an idea will pop into your head.  And without any sort of thinking, you’ll immediately start thinking it; just because it’s there, you start thinking of it.

So, say you’re driving home… let’s just sort of imagine that your marriage was a little unstable, if any of you even have marriages anymore, (laughs) and you’re not sure and you’re feeling a little anxious about your spouse, and you’re driving home and you get to thinking and a thought pops into your mind, “He hasn’t called yet.  I saw him leaving the building with a blonde.”  And then the next thing you know, it starts spiralling.  “Well, what was she doing?  And what was…?” and before you know it you’ve worked yourself into this whole thing and you’ve constructed in your head this whole mental scenario.  And commentaries start kicking in and feedback starts kicking in, and after a while and pretty quickly on, you begin to trip what’s called by Evagrius “the passions”.  In other words, the emotions start getting riled up.  And your whole being is in a stew, and you can’t make yourself stop thinking of this.  And then you’ve got this kind of self-reinforcing mechanism that the more you think these thought trains, the more your emotions get stirred up; and the more your emotions get stirred up, the more you think these thought trains.  And then before long you’ve gotten yourself into a full rolling boil and you just can’t get out of it.  And your body is engaged and the adrenalin is pumping into you and your tears are welling…

So essentially what the traditions have said that the reason this happens to us is that we have no control of our thinking.  We get hooked by fantasies and imaginations and then we immediately start doing the commentary.  We don’t know how to just say no to a thought train, even if we know exactly where it’s going to lead us.  So depending on your sentiment and type and if you’re sort of emotionally toward the more dramatic or effusive side anyway, you can very, very easily work yourself up into huge issues about nothing or about things that are in the natural order of things.  Remember that quite gripping passage in Eckhart Tolle when he talks about the fish?  He says, you buy a fish at the [pet] store, you name it “John”; it dies in five minutes and you’re devastated and you grieve.  You know, you whip your emotions up by this inability to control thought.

So that’s what the tradition has said:  all that sort of stuff will result in imaginary suffering.  Imaginary in the fact that it really didn’t need to be that way, and that you’re taking on a kind of burden and a kind of weight of emotional sinking and dispersion that you didn’t have to because you were working blindly out of false self programs and because you hadn’t brought your mind into discipline so that once this stuff got started you couldn’t stop it.  And so the result is that you land in this suffering that is the human condition.