Resistance creates suffering. The antidote is accepting what is.
Unpleasant events are an inevitable and unavoidable part of life, whether it be the sudden downpour that wipes out the picnic, the flat tyre at the end of an exhausting day at work, the noisy neighbour playing Metallica at 3 in the morning, or the intrusive thoughts and feelings that appear uninvited in our heads and make life so difficult at times.
And while it’s perfectly natural to prefer pleasant experiences to unpleasant ones and peaceful thoughts and feelings to disturbing ones, most people spend a huge amount of time and energy resisting things that are not in their control, creating unnecessary suffering in the process.
You may have heard the expression “Pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice”?
To find peace, it’s important to understand the difference between pain and suffering.
As long as we are alive, pain is unavoidable. Relationships end, loved ones die, businesses fail. The impermanence of all worldly things is a central part of the Buddhist teaching.
If something brings you joy in one moment, it will inevitably cause pain in another. This is why the Buddhists place so much emphasis on non-attachment.
Accepting What Is—The Difference Between Pain and Suffering
Let’s go back to the example of the flat tyre on the way home from work. There’s no denying this is an unpleasant experience, a complete pain in the butt, especially when you’re exhausted, it’s cold and raining, and all you want to do is get home.
And then the voice in your head kicks off, “This is just what I need. This shouldn’t be happening. Why do these things always happen to me? Life is against me. It’s so unfair.”
It is this inner dialogue, which happens on autopilot in most people, that turns a painful situation into full-blown suffering.
Or, you wake up feeling sad or lonely (also not in your control) and again, the mind kicks off “This really sucks. I hate feeling this way. What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t be feeling like this.”
And again, we turn an unpleasant experience into suffering.
One thing is for sure:
Any time you’re suffering, there’s something you are resisting.
And the solution? If it’s already there anyway, you may as well accept it.
Awareness— The First Step to Accepting What Is
Most people go through life in reactive mode.
An unpleasant event happens and produces an unconscious knee-jerk reaction.
The first step to break this pattern is to become aware you are doing it and take responsibility for your reactions. Without awareness, you remain a slave to your unconscious reactions.
Let’s say you are experiencing fear and the mind kicks off in the usual manner, “This is wrong. I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I need to get rid of it.”
STOP for a moment, take a couple of deep breaths, ground yourself in the present moment and reflect:
OK. Fear is here. That’s what’s happening right now. It doesn’t feel very pleasant, but that’s OK. Just keep breathing. It’s a natural feeling that everyone has at times.
Could I give it space to be here (since it’s here anyway)? Could I let go of my resistance, even a little? could I even embrace it as part of what this moment contains?
You could go into a deeper enquiry, asking questions such as ‘where is it manifesting in the body, how do I feel about it being here, what thoughts or stories does it trigger’?
But I’ll keep it short for the time being.
What you may find if you consciously engage with fear, worry, anxiety etc. is that, without resistance, they lose their charge and soon move on.
Young children are good examples of this. Everything passes through them without resistance and, unlike most adults, they don’t get stuck on one feeling or emotion. The natural way is for emotions to flow through us.
It is our resistance that causes them to stick around and grow in power.
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Life Should Look A Particular Way—The Enemy of Peace
Of course, we are much happier when we experience pleasant thoughts, feelings, circumstances or situations and feel angry, frustrated or disappointed when things aren’t to our liking.
But unfortunately, life is full of disappointment. And thank goodness for that!
Life would be pretty dull and boring without the ups and downs, without the challenges and difficulties.
Some people actively seek fear—mountain climbers, daredevils etc—because it makes them feel alive. We seek to escape our dull, monotonous routines through watching horror movies or Netflix drama series. We get a kick out of watching other peoples struggles.
Fear, worry and problems are not opposed to life. They ARE life manifesting in its multitude of forms. Misfortune IS life, pain IS life.
They are not bad or wrong. It is the human mind that makes them so. They are part of the natural tapestry of existence.
As Shakespeare says in Hamlet, his tragedy:
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”
One of the greatest obstacles to peace is the belief that life should look a particular way— my mind should be peaceful, unpleasant events are bad/wrong, they shouldn’t be happening etc.
And the solution? Accepting what is… as if you chose it. Learning to embrace and accept whatever shows up in your life moment by moment.
Here’s the thing; whether it’s a challenging situation in your life or difficult thoughts, feelings or emotions appearing in your head— they are there anyway.
So you may as well work with them rather than against them.
Let’s look now at some practical ways to change unconscious reactions into conscious responses.
Accepting What Is in the World of Thought
Contrary to what most people think, thoughts are neutral events that appear by themselves in our heads (p.s. thinking is another matter!).
We don’t choose them, we don’t create them. We play no part in their appearance. They appear by themselves, as part of our conditioning. And they are not good, bad, right or wrong. They just ARE—neutral events momentarily passing through our awareness.
When difficult thoughts appear, the unconscious tendency is to label them as bad or wrong, and to then kick, scream, fight, resist, try to push them away and, in doing so, creating a lot of unnecessary suffering for ourselves—not so much from the thoughts themselves but from our attitude of resistance and non-acceptance.
Another option is to become aware of our inner resistance and choose instead, to take a step back and watch the mind with an attitude of non-judgemental acceptance. As my teacher used to say:
“Roll out the red carpet to every thought, feeling and emotion.”
Or as the Sufi mystic poet Rumi said: “Treat them all as honourable guests.”
Work with them, not against them and you won’t create suffering.
Accepting What Is in the World of Emotion
Similar to thoughts, the key with feelings or emotions is to allow and not resist. Resistance will strengthen them and create added suffering.
In my book and guided meditation package, “Help! I Can’t Stop Thinking”, I outline in detail the entire process for breaking free of troublesome thoughts and emotions.
If you are experiencing anxiety, for example, don’t think there’s something wrong (there isn’t… unless you think so!) and don’t try to push it away (this will only strengthen it).
Accept, as best you can, that this is what’s there in this moment, and consciously give it permission to be there. Breathe into it.
You don’t have to like it. It may still feel unpleasant but that needn’t cause you to suffer. All suffering comes from resistance. Accepting what is, is the remedy.
Accepting What Is In Life Situations
It’s pretty self-evident that there’s no point in resisting situations that are beyond our control. It changes nothing and we only harm ourselves in doing so.
And yet pretty much everybody does it… me included.
A customer is rude to you at work and, to ‘punish’ them, you get all agitated and raise your own blood pressure through the roof!
And two hours later, during your lunch break, you’re telling your colleagues all about how rude she was. You carry your anger and frustration around all day and offload it on your husband when you get home.
A lot of people carry this kind of resentment or anger around with them for years or for their whole lives.
This is self-created suffering… and it can be a hard one to shift, particularly if we are strongly identified with being a victim.
Let go of the past. And by the past, I mean anything that happened more than 5 minutes ago.
Replaying it over and over in your head serves no purpose.
Be like the duck that, after a fight, shakes itself off and drops the matter immediately.
Breaking free of this kind of suffering requires a strong commitment to your own peace— to think “Yeah, that person was an idiot but I’m going to make my peace more important right now.”
The world is full of idiots and unpleasantries, and they are also our best teachers.
Accepting What Is—Another Perspective
From the standpoint that we are here on earth to live easy, comfortable lives, free of stress or bother, there are a million things that can be viewed as troublesome and downright inconvenient.
From another perspective however—the perspective that we are here to realise and fulfil our full potential as humans, adversity is our biggest teacher.
Without challenges and difficulties, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to stretch our capacity and grow spiritually. We’d be deprived of the opportunities to learn tolerance, acceptance, compassion and self-love.
In India, sugar cane juice vendors are a common sight at the side of the road. They feed the long stalks of sugar cane by hand through a mangle and extract the sweet juice for drinking.
The Indian teacher Sathya Sai Baba once said:
“Life is the mangle that crushes you to bring out your sweetness.”
Difficulties exist for a reason. They keep us on our toes and ultimately, provide a ticket home to our true nature. And the key? Accepting what is.
If you’d like help with letting go of painful thoughts or emotions, I have many years of experience! Why not book a FREE Zoom coaching call… offered free of charge, with no strings attached!