A lot of life stirs up uncomfortable emotions. It’s an unfortunate truism. We like to think that life is meant to be solely pleasant. It’s not.
There are wonderful moments of beauty and awe and joy and love, but there are moments of pain and sadness and anger and ugliness. Life is full of both kinds of experiences and the existence of one is essential to the existence of the other.
When we struggle against this reality we increase our suffering tenfold.
Suffering is basically the mind’s refusal to accept reality as it is.
— Marcus Thomas
I’m not sure why we struggle against this truth. Maybe it’s because we’re all secretly optimists with an eternally lit hope that we will—one day—find the secret to eternal happiness, everlasting life, and true love.
However, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves a pertinent question: How many years have we existed on this earth?
According to my very thorough Google search, the earliest homo sapien was discovered about 200,000 years ago.
200,000 years, my friends.
We’ve been around that many years and we have yet to find the key to a life free of suffering. We still try to create the perfect life with zero bumps in the roads. And while I applaud the effort (I, myself, often attempt the impossible), we cause ourselves more stress and discontent than if we were just realistic from the start.
That may sound pretty pessimistic, but let me explain.
A clear example of this desire to avoid reality is in our approach to intimate relationships. We assume once we’ve found our soulmate (assuming such a thing exists), we’ll have found our “happily every after.” We expect a perfect partner and a perfect relationship. Everything else is a disappointment.
Sure, you might not say that you expect perfection from your partner, but when they do something that upsets you, you’re shocked, angry, or exasperated. In short, you were expecting perfection.
So, if we’re approaching life (or a specific situation or relationship) expecting only good times, what are we going to do when bad times come a-knocking?
We’re going to run, hide, or do something stupid.
Each of those actions is an attempt to avoid the uncomfortable emotions that accompany difficulty. We then complain and blame others. Ultimately, we’re compounding our suffering. We’re surprised at this bump in the road—surprised that our life is not 100% easy.
Don’t throw away your suffering. Touch your suffering. Face it directly, and your joy will become deeper.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
But what if we met difficulty with openness, curiosity and commitment?
Openness: accepting the uncertainty of life
I accept that certain things are out of my control
I’m open to whatever comes my way
Curiosity: searching for lessons
How can I grow from this situation?
How will this serve me positively in the future?
Commitment: reaffirm your core values and definition of success
I will keep my attention on what’s important
I will keep the bigger picture in mind
That mindset completely changes your reaction and the subsequent emotions. Your emotional foundation is one of preparedness and acceptance. This mindset provides a completely different quality of life; one that is more consistent, balanced and peaceful.
We can only arrive at this point if we expect discomfort. Flex that realist muscle! Our strength lies in shifting from a stance of denial and surprise to one of acknowledgement and acceptance. Mistakes will be made and tough hands will be dealt BUT that’s not the end of the story…we’re the ones who write the end. We can’t control what comes, but we can control what it becomes.