I was 16 when I watched my first factory farm investigation video. I was positively horrified to find out that we brutally enslave and slaughter billions of animals each year. This gave me night terrors, from which I would awaken in a panic. The more I learned about the atrocities that we are committing against these animals, the more I suffered.
I became depressed. I watched the seconds tick by on the clock and thought of the thousands of animals that were slaughtered that minute. I wanted so badly to end all of the suffering in the world and dwelled on it constantly. I was so mad at people who ate meat that I couldn’t be around them. I isolated myself.
I thought I was enlightened because I felt the pain of the world so deeply. I considered myself above others who could meander through their days, thoughtlessly enjoying their lives, disregarding the unfathomable amount of suffering that was taking place around the world.
And then one day, I read this quote from Byron Katie: “Reality doesn’t cause suffering. Our thoughts about it do.”
My first instinct was to react with indignation. “Who is she to say that? She’s not being caged and tortured! How dare she blame the victims!”
I thought that suffering necessarily accompanied pain, so it offended me that someone could say that those in pain have the option to not suffer.
But as I mulled over her statement, I became puzzled. I was suffering, yet I wasn’t in pain.
And then the absurdity of my previous few years hit me: I had been suffering for no reason. The source of all of my suffering wasn’t the way the world was, but my resistance to the way the world was.
I had foolishly felt obligated to suffer because others are in pain. I believed that if I didn’t suffer, I was allowing their pain to persist. But my suffering wasn’t stopping their pain. My suffering was only preventing me from being as effective at creating positive change as I could be.
I hadn’t realized that there is a big difference between pain and suffering, and that I could feel pain without suffering. Here’s how:
Although I was not in physical pain, I had been inflicting suffering on myself because I believed that the world should be different than it is. That “should”—that belief that I knew better than the universe—was the source of my suffering.
I was fighting reality by believing that humanity should be evolved enough to recognize animal’s rights. But thinking that humanity should be different than it is now is as ludicrous as thinking that it shouldn’t be raining when it is. Stressing over how things are is a pointless waste of energy.
It’s never true that something should be different than how it is. Everything is how it is. To change one thing about reality would be to change the entire universe—an impossibility.
Accepting reality as it is frees us from the exhausting battle of fighting against the world.
Believing that reality should be exactly as it is does not make me a resigned bystander to the world’s problems. Accepting reality is not passive or cynical. It is liberating and empowering.
Anger and resentment about the way the world is creates a dam through which inspiration cannot flow.
Trying to fix reality comes from fear—and when we are in fear, we cannot be connected to our creative source of love. Allowing reality to be as it is frees me from the confines of resisting the way the world is, so that I can then help create how it could be.
I can’t create what I see is possible for the world if I’m too busy hating it. I can’t be a source of love while I’m causing myself to suffer.
We can stop suffering by simply shifting our perspective from, “It shouldn’t be this way,” to “It should be this way and I see that something better is possible.” We can use our pain as an opportunity to remember what really matters to us and re-commit to our vision for the world.
The only reason that farm animal cruelty is so upsetting to me is because I see that compassion for all is possible. But when I’m so busy fighting reality and hating those who don’t see this possibility, I am not freed up to create a new reality.
I realized that it is self-indulgent to mope about the conditions of the world and resent reality for how it is. We don’t make the world better by hating the way that it is. We make the world better by loving what we see is possible for the world.
We cannot eliminate pain from the planet. But we do have the power within us to stop suffering. Pain is the experience of displeasure. Suffering is the thought that the experience shouldn’t be there. Pain is a fact of life, suffering is a choice.
Your suffering will be magnified by the extent to which you believe you shouldn’t be experiencing pain.
If you go through a breakup, you will feel pain. You will experience the emotional loss of a part of you being separated. But if you can dive into that pain and feel it fully, rather than resisting it by thinking it shouldn’t be there, then you are just experiencing sensations. You are experiencing the physical heaviness of grief, the tightness in your chest, the drained energy. You are experiencing these sensations objectively and thus allowing them to work through you.
As Shinzen Young says, “Suffering equals pain times resistance.” The more you resist pain, the more you suffer. Negative emotions experienced fully, without resistance, do not entail suffering.
When we aren’t resisting reality, we either accept it fully or we change it. In doing so, we allow each experience to complete itself. We remain whole, because we don’t run from our pain. We feel it fully and let it pass. The so-called torments of life can flow through us. We are fully alive. Fully human. Free to pursue our vision for the world.
Author: Brandilyn Tebo
Editor: Travis May