In my sophomore year of high school, sh*t got real.
That was the year that I started studying poverty, genocide and factory farming.
The fact that I was alive and well became surreal.
I wanted so badly to end all of the suffering in the world, and I felt guilty that I had a relatively pain-free life. I felt undeserving.
I thought I was more enlightened than most 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 taking place around the world.
I felt obligated to suffer because others were in pain. I was waiting for pain to vanish from the planet before I would allow myself to be at peace.
I believed that if I didn’t suffer, I was allowing others’ pain to persist. I thought that suffering was the only true form of empathy.
This is how changemakers self-sabotage. They don’t recognize that there is a big difference between pain and suffering. And that suffering is not a necessary aspect of empathy.
Pain is a vibration. Suffering is an interpretation.
Pain is an experience. Suffering is the thought that the experience shouldn’t be there.
Pain is a fact of life. Suffering is a choice.
As Shinzen Young says, “Suffering equals pain times resistance.” The more we resist reality, the more we suffer.
Our suffering is magnified by the extent to which we believe that pain shouldn’t exist. We cannot eliminate pain from the planet, but we do have the power within us to stop suffering. Negative emotions experienced fully, without resistance, do not entail suffering.
By fully allowing pain into our experience without resistance, we are training our subconscious mind not to suffer.
With enough practice, we can be conscious of the pain in the world without suffering because of it.
Only when we stop suffering can we be truly effective at creating positive change. And we can only stop suffering when we stop resisting reality.
That “should”—that belief that I knew better than the universe—was the source of my suffering.
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 create 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 sources. 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 the world that could be.
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.
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.
If we can dive into pain and feel it fully, rather than resisting it by thinking it shouldn’t be there, then all we are left with is sensations: the physical heaviness of grief, the tightness in our chest, the drained energy. We can experience these sensations objectively and thus allow them to work through us.
When we aren’t resisting reality, we can change it. In doing so, we remain whole, because we don’t run from 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
Image: kris krug/Flickr
Editor: Toby Israel