Why Our Thoughts Cause Our Greatest Suffering
Set Backs Are a Part of Everyone's Life
None of us escapes the bad stuff in life. No one is exempt. And when it happens and takes us by surprise, we always feel cheated, unprepared, and that it is terribly unfair. Whether minor or catastrophic, set backs that range from a minor scrape to a death of a loved one will create a lot of feelings. Anger, grief, disbelief, denial, hurt, lashing out at others, depression and even suicidal thoughts could all be a part of getting through the process. What if there is a way to head off the most damaging of these feelings so that you can regain a balance in your life and find peace again?
Suffering Is Mostly about Not Accepting Our Reality
Even physical pain, which can be a form of severe suffering, can lose its incredible power once we are able to accept it. I can relate two personal stories about this idea:
When I was about eight or nine years old, we went to the lake for a fun day of boating, water and sun. At the end of the day, just before we were going to go home, I stepped on a broken bottle at the water's edge. It sliced my foot open, and nearly cut off my little toe. I was screaming and crying in pain. Of course everyone dashed around trying to stop the bleeding and get me in a car to go to the hospital for stitches. On the way there, I simply stopped crying.
"Did it stop hurting?" my brother asked.
"No, it hurts just as much," I said matter-of-factly.
"Then why aren't you crying anymore?" he asked.
"I don't know. I guess 'cuz I'm okay." I said sort of puzzled.
Fast forward 30-odd years to a phone call I got from my teenaged son. He was in extreme pain, howling into the phone to me, needing help, since he was all alone. I called 911, and sent paramedics to where he was, and I arrived just as he was being put in the ambulance. It was obvious he had spinal meningitis to the paramedics. I also suspected meningitis since my daughter contracted it a couple of years previously. I kept a hand on my son to keep a connection with him so he would know he wasn't alone. Then, for no apparent reason, he stopped crying.
"Has the pain gone away?" I asked.
"No, it hurts the same," he said, lucid and appearing completely normal.
"Then why did you stop crying?" I asked.
"I don't know. I feel peace. Everything is okay," he replied.
I've thought about this a lot through the years, and while there may be many other reasons why this happened to both of us, one of the critical reasons that it did, I believe, was because we accepted our setback. I think that acceptance of our circumstances is what triggered the seen and unseen forces that came to our aid, so that despite continuing to feel great pain, we stopped suffering in that moment.
Acceptance Is the First Step to End Suffering
The more we resist what happens in our life, the more we will suffer. The more we can accept the reality of our circumstances, the more we will be at peace. And once there is peace, there are options in how to move forward. When there are options, we become creative in how to make them work for our benefit. We will suffer until we are ready to stop. The off switch to suffering, more often than not, is only available to us. No one else knows where our off switch is. When we are ready to stop suffering, we will accept what is, and suffering will lose its power over us. In truth, it's not suffering that has power. It's only us. We have complete control over all of it. Acceptance is a choice we can make about everything that happens to us that we cannot otherwise control. It takes patience and practice. Lots of it.
Acceptance, like forgiveness, often does not happen quickly or easily. While we are in control of how we respond to all the details of our lives, we are often not prepared to accept and forgive quickly. I have concluded this is so simply because we are in the process of learning new things, trying to discover the reasons and answers we seek. Often we will understand and see reasons and purpose in time. Sometimes there doesn't seem to be any more understanding or resolve. I have learned that this is acceptable simply because as I learn to accept, I gain more peace and forgiveness comes more easily. Whatever the amount of time it may take for loss, anger, grief, or whatever it may be to process completely through us, is the time required. We are not in control of the timetable, only our response to how our lives unfold. I've learned it's necessary and okay to "be with" suffering, recognize it, observe it, and let it go through us as it needs to. Perhaps it's like wind through trees. The more resistant we are, the more likely limbs and branches are to being broken off. The more flexible we are, the less likely we will lose a part of ourselves in the process. Allowing whatever time is needed for the process of acceptance and healing is part of becoming aware of who we are, and our place in this incredible universe.
Everything Is Exactly As it Should Be
If we can accept what is, we begin to understand that even though there may be many things we don't really like about the circumstances of our lives, everything is exactly as it should be. Our choices and the choices of others have brought us to this place in our lives. Even though many of the circumstances are undesirable, the only way to change our lives and our futures is by what we do right now. We can only change the future by beginning to change the present. And right now everything is exactly as it should be so that we have the opportunity to change things for the better.
Now Is All We Have
The past no longer exists. The future hasn't happened. All there is, is right now. Acceptance of what is right now is the only way to find peace and to begin to move forward. There is no other place to change it, because no other place exists. That is why our futures can be so bright. That is why set backs can become a positive thing—because we have the chance to learn from them, adapt, and move forward again.
Many other teachers and writers have written extensively on this subject. Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay, Marianne Williamson and several others are well respected for their thoughts in this area. A Google search will help you find their writings and works.