A few years ago, I bought my friend a magnet that read, “Some people struggle with their demons, I snuggle with mine.”
What a crazy concept—little scary devil-like entities that haunt us throughout our life.
I don’t usually think of my personal challenges as demons, though.
Instead I have a collection of names for those daunting issues that haunt me. I call them anxieties, neurosis, fears, worries, problems, addictions.
We all have our stuff. And would we really want it any other way?
Yes, of course we would.
That’s where we all get caught up, the wanting to get rid of our stuff.
A game changing moment on my own journey was when I attended my first three day meditation retreat. I had never left my kids overnight before and it was spring when I was supposed to be in the garden and my mom was coming to visit and the house wasn’t ready and I was sure my life-partner wasn’t going to be handle everything while I was gone.
I cried the entire drive there and kept crying as I set up my tent for sleeping, realizing I hadn’t slept in a tent without my life-partner for 14 years.
I had completely stepped out of my comfort zone.
Or so I thought.
When I sat down in the meditation hall and the teacher began to speak, I heard these words:
“The definition of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are.”
And it was like everything fell into place for me—seeing that it’s a personal choice to struggle against what is, and that this struggle is the actual cause of suffering, not the perceived negative events themselves. I knew I had come to the right place.
So, let me say it again because it deserves repeating here. The definition of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are.
And one of the main ways we do this as humans is to compare ourselves to other people.
What I am going to say next is going to sound kind of horrible. It’s going to sound like the epitome of the term “first world problems.”
But I am going to say it anyway.
My life is too good.
Of course, I don’t really mean that. My life is just the right amount of good, which is a lot. But sometimes other people perceive it as too good. Like I sucked up all the goodness and left them without enough. Why do I have all of life’s goodness while others have less?
Yes, I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, in a gorgeous home. Yes, I have clean air and clean water and healthy food in abundance. I also have two beautiful kids who I love to be with and a life partner of 18 years who I’m madly in love with.
But I am here to tell you, don’t worry, I have my demons, too.
My heart hurts and my past haunts me. I wish I was different and feel frustrated at how slowly I change. I have to make choices and sometimes I’m not sure which ones to make.
I have demons that no one would choose to face—I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to—but truthfully I wouldn’t choose to face anyone else’s demons either.
And why I am drawing attention to this? Not to sound whiney. Even though I know I do. Not to sound ungrateful, even though I know I often am.
But to say, snuggle those demons, people.
How often do we shove those demons away because we feel guilty? Our life is too good so why acknowledge the hurts, the challenges, the places we don’t like? Think about all the people around the world suffering so much more than me—I can’t make an issue about my broken heart or my sense of failure when some people don’t even have food or shelter.
But really, is that helping anyone? Shoving the broken heart down into the depths?
No, it isn’t.
No one will have more food or better shelter because we’re not willing to deal with our own stuff.
What dealing with our stuff does do, though, is it makes us more compassionate, it makes us more sensitive, more loving. And that sense of empathy that develops will help other people. It will help us be kinder, be more generous, offer more love when it is needed.
Sakyong Mipham says,
“Self-reflection is how we can transform society. Transforming society happens one person at a time, by our willingness to be kind to ourselves, and our willingness to be kind to one another.”
Do we really want to acknowledge that we have demons? Not really.
But we do. Have them. No matter how amazing our life is. So, we have to face our demons.
Because the definition of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are, and therefore, by wanting our demons to go away, we are only enhancing our suffering.
We also enhance our own suffering when we wish we could trade our demons for someone else’s.
So, we start by acknowledging that our demons are here, just looking at them, not getting too close at first.
But when we are ready, we embrace them, and that is how we end suffering—for ourselves, for the people we love and for the world, as a whole.
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Editor: Emily Bartran