Suffering happens. We humans are mean to each other, we kill each other, we get sick and we die. Sometimes a catastrophic earthquake destroys everything you have. Life can be hard. Simply being an adult is not always easy – we’re meant to get educated, get jobs, pay bills, raise a family. Some suffering seems inevitable. But, there’s a kind of suffering that’s self-inflicted to some degree, and we can do something about that, so here we go.
I can boil this self-inflicted suffering down to three reasons: 1. I’m approaching the problem with false expectations. 2. I’m not approaching the problem at all. 3. I need a break.
1. I’m approaching the problem with false expectations.
It took years of working with the Nepalese to learn that my American problem-solving skills weren’t always effective in other cultures. It’s like the old adage, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. For me, I know how to organize things into a flowchart where one thing clearly leads to the next. I want to use this tool all the time, but it doesn’t work as much as I’d like, especially in cultures like Nepal that have more circular experiences of life. This is an issue of false expectations. We expect a certain outcome or response, for things to happen quickly or easily. If our expectations are not met, we suffer. It’s also an issue of control. Some feel less anxious when they believe they control the outcomes of their actions. But that’s an illusion, we don’t have that control. Instead of stressing over that, let’s consider that this position actually takes a lot of pressure off of us! Our actions are one in a million factors that lead to an outcome. Not everything is up to us.
2. I’m not approaching the problem at all.
This anti-approach can lead to a prolonged kind of suffering. It’s usually small and nagging, like a splinter. Because it’s just a little pain, many of us can ignore it and live with it for a long time. Say the problem is a test that you’re not prepared for, or a conversation you don’t want to have. You don’t need to be a genius to see what the problem is, but may need some bravery to face it. This is an issue of fear, as we convince ourselves that living with the small suffering of our denial is better than the big suffering that may come if we actually face the problem. There are many creative ways to not face a problem, some healthier than others. A typical tactic is to binge on anything else – food, alcohol, drugs, television. Sometimes a problem is too much to face in the moment, and an escape is just fine. You probably know your favorite way to avoid your problems. If it’s not a healthy one, it’s never too late to retrain your brain. You don’t need me to tell you what’s good for you. But I will say that meditation is a really helpful tool to support brain retraining.
3. I need a break.
We’re not robots, we’re humans, and trying to lead a productive and virtuous life is hard work. We need rest from “the grind” to honor that. (Check out this blog) Sometimes it’s simple – just take a nap.
To wrap this up, if you’re feeling whiny or miserable, here’s my prescription:
Step 1: Make a commitment one way or the other. If you want to remain miserable, go right ahead, you know just what to do. If you want that to change, well, you have to actively commit to changing something.
Step 2: Do something different, big or small. Here’s some questions to get you started – How are you oriented to the problem? Do you know what it is? Are you facing it head on? Running away from it? What tools are you using to address the problem? Are they working? What are some alternatives? Do you need a nap?
It’s hard work to be a human, thank goodness we’re all in this together. Good luck till next time!