The root of all suffering is resistance. That is a bold claim but I stand by it 100%. The first caveat of that statement, however, is that pain is not suffering. Pain is a healthy response to a situation. Whether it’s physical or emotional pain lets you know something isn’t correct. If you touch a hot stove you feel pain because you are doing damage to yourself. Suffering is what comes after when you start mentally screaming “Why?!” or you ruminate on how terrible the situation is.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.
Like a lot of problems, suffering is when we take a healthy primal emotion or sensation and through an act of perversion we turn it into a self-defeating disorder. A huge component to anxiety and depression is the resistance to suffering. When you can stop resisting often the symptoms start to disappear and you can start making rapid progress on dealing with the actual problems. Sometimes resistance IS the cause of depression or anxiety.
Here is an example at a physical level. If you were to break your leg you are going to be in pain. This is what we want because if you didn’t feel any pain you would start trying to stand and walk on that broken leg and cause a lot of further damage. Once your thoughts start going to “Why did this have to happen?” the suffering begins. When you start having thoughts on how you were supposed to go on a trip next week and now it’s ruined or you start worrying about how long it will take to recover you start suffering. The suffering serves no purpose. It’s like picking at a scab for a bizarre sense of satisfaction that slows the healing process.
How about a simple emotional level? Let’s say you planned an outdoor BBQ event weeks in advance but when the day comes it rains all day. You will feel a sense of disappointment which is a completely rational and normal response. What comes next might be “Why did it have to rain today? I planned this weeks in advance! This always happens!”. That is suffering.
Resistance is trying to swim up river against a swift current. No matter how hard you try you eventually end up down stream but exhausted and discouraged. If you had simply floated downstream to start with you would be much better off.
Ultimately suffering is resistance to reality. So how do we fix this? Like a lot of problems the solution is simple although not easy. All you have to do is accept reality. That can be hard to do ESPECIALLY when most of us have a lifetime of practice using resistance as our default response. Here are 3 strategies you can use to reach acceptance quicker.
Ask the universe(or God if you prefer) what it is trying to tell you.
Perhaps that broken leg was the universe telling you that at your age and skill level maybe you shouldn’t be trying to do those sick skateboarding tricks yet. Maybe it’s telling you that you need to take a break and focus on something else. The answer could be anything. It’s in your hands to define what it is. As Nietzsche said. “He who has a why can bear any how.”. This thinking immediately moves past “Why Me?” and unto “What can I learn from this?”.
Ask yourself how you can take advantage of the situation.
This is essentially asking how you can make lemonade from the lemons you were handed. Your BBQ got rained out? Well, how can we make the best of it? Order some pizza and make it an indoor game event. If you skip the rumination and immediately go to “How can I make the best of this?” you completely avoid the suffering. Sometimes you will even end up better off for it. As the wise Eeyore once said “It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.”
Just tell yourself “it is what it is”
This is the most simple of all 3 options. You simply accept the situation as it is. It’s living in the moment. Pain is part of the human experience so simply accepting it lets you move forward and flow with it. With rapid acceptance you not only feel better you will see the opportunities in the situation much clearer.
Do you want to know who is really good at accepting reality? A 3-legged dog. Have you seen a 3-legged dog? Missing a leg doesn’t seem to affect them at all. They might have a slightly more awkward hobble but they are as happy as ever. Ask yourself this. If you lost one of your most important appendages how would you feel? Despite all of the wisdom in this article I would confess I would have a hard time not suffering. A dog, however, would be out there trying to catch that ball and trying to be a good boy with that tongue hanging out of mouth smile that dogs love to do.
Start asking yourself how have I resisted reality in the past? How am I resisting it now? All of us have done this at some point in our past and many of us are actively doing it now. Like anything in life acceptance is a skill you develop over time. Start practicing now. If it isn’t working at first don’t get discouraged. You aren’t going to be playing some complicated jazz piece on the first day of piano lessons. Each time you practice it you will find it gets a little easier until it becomes your default behavior.