“Without suffering, there’s no happiness. So we shouldn’t discriminate against the mud. We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.”
THICH NHAT HANH
Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say that we are so afraid of facing our suffering (worrying, anger, despair, fears, loneliness) that we go look for something to eat, or drink or watch TV. And many people do all of those at the same time. Even if there is nothing interesting or satisfying to watch, we are afraid to turn the television off, because then we will be left to face our suffering.
When you’re a kid, you think everyone’s home and family is like yours. This changes when you “spend the night” at your friend’s house and realize that she doesn’t eat kimchi and rice. And her family goes bowling on weekends. And her parents don’t make her do extra math problems after completing her homework.
It took me a long time to discover that anxiety and depression are not normal – that, in fact – they are states of suffering. It took me a long time to learn this because there was so much disquietude and tension everywhere: in my house, in her house…
It is everywhere:
“Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the U.S. They affect over 40 million adults (18 and older) or nearly 20% of the entire population every year.”(ADAA)*
“Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.” (ADAA)*
I know that all kinds of people have all kinds of disorders and that medication might be the only solution for a small percentage of the population. But I also believe that far too many of us want a quick fix in the form of a pill.
Anti-anxiety drugs, or “anxiolytics,” are powerful central nervous system (CNS) depressants that can slow normal brain function. They are often prescribed to reduce feelings of tension and anxiety, and/or to bring about sleep. Anti-anxiety medications are among the most abused drugs in the United States, obtained both legally, via prescription, and illegally, through the black market. These drugs are also known as sedatives. (Mind Disorders)**
Before considering drugs, let us try all the other options:
“Your partner is your mirror…to think your partner is anything but a mirror of you is painful. When you see him flawed in any way, you can be sure that that’s where your own flaw is. The flaw has to be in your thinking, because you’re the one projecting it.”
Katie tells a story in A Thousand Names for Joy about the time she came home, excited to eat her snack which she carefully placed “on the top shelf, to the right” in her fridge. But it was gone! Her reaction: she chuckled. “If I had believed stressful thoughts such as he’s so inconsiderate! He knew it was mine…he ruined it all, then I would have been annoyed, resentful and even angry with him.” Instead, Katie laughed at her plan gone awry. She chose to not believe those destructive thoughts. “…It turns out, I bought it for him.”
My marriage is a very good one. My husband and I share plenty of laughs, but I can get into ruts where I am bothered by something he is doing (or not doing). We have four cars right now with only two drivers in the house (him and me). He can’t let go of his Alfa Romeo, which is beyond repair. I tried to think of what I could say to get him to get rid of it. I started to feel a bit resentful as I imagined an argument and then I stopped.
Just let it go. Do not fall for these thoughts! He’ll release it when he’s ready.
The thought continues to intrude…we have a car outside in the 114⁰F heat, because we have a three car garage and FOURcars!
I decide to chuckle.
My husband is sentimental. He appreciates that car. He loves that car.
And I love him. I love this life.
Katie’s assertion that marriage is really your relationship with yourself is spot on.
Until I started studying spiritual philosophy, I had a narrow definition of suffering which encompassed mostly physical pain: headaches, cancer, childbirth, broken bones, etc.
But I have realized that suffering is really what we do to ourselves with our (negative) thinking. Anxiety is suffering. Depression is suffering. Guilt and regret are suffering. Worrying is suffering!
In the path to non-suffering, one essential practice (according to the Tao, Buddhists and other spiritual practitioners, such as Eckhart Tolle) is to refrain from resisting reality. For example, if you are planning an outdoor party and it rains as your guests arrive, you do not resist reality (the rain). Instead, you simply move the party indoors and continue your celebration. If you complain and cry out against the rain, will it stop? No. But you pollute the environment for those around you (family and friends) with your resistance.
I propose a concerted effort to watch one’s language in this pursuit: eliminate the words “I wish.”
“I wish it wasn’t so hot in Phoenix!” [forecast: 110°F today]
“I wish my children were better at (fill in the blank)”
“I wish my spouse/co-workers would…”
Wishing for something that is counter to reality is inviting misery, disappointment and anguish.
An oft-overlooked enemy of our confidence and strength is laziness. Pema Chodron identifies three different types of laziness. Today, I will address the first: Comfort Orientation. People (we) “tend to avoid inconvenience.”
Chodron accurately describes our tendency to want to be comfortable immediately in her book The Places That Scare You. At the first sign of cold, we seek heat. When it gets warm, we seek the cool. We will drive rather than walk a block in the rain.
This habit leads us to be aggressive. We get outraged at inconvenience. As soon as we lose internet connection, we feel personally attacked! Acting this way, developing the habit of seeking comfort in an urgent manner, also robs us of full appreciation through our senses: sights, sounds, and smells (Chodron, p. 90).
True joy eludes us when we are perpetually being at the mercy of constant comfort. When we act this way, the locus of control is outside of us.
How then, do we rectify this? Get curious! Ask yourself, “Why am I suffering? Why does nothing lighten up? Why do my dissatisfaction and boredom get stronger year by year?” (Chodron, 91).
Stories might arise. And we might realize that we do not have to believe these stories anymore. Do not resist laziness. (What we resist only grows stronger). Instead, be curious.