Sometimes life pushes you through a doorway called suffering. It’s not a threshold most of us would cross willingly, but life just shoves us through. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one that does it, or the pain of illness and growing older. Maybe it’s the loss of your livelihood or the end of a cherished relationship that places its hand on the small of your back and sends you flying.
In any case, until this moment you think your life is moving along just fine. You’re concerned with the outer circumstances of living, and work hard to arrange and rearrange them, like pieces on a chess board. You change jobs, change apartments. You marry that girl you love and have two beautiful babies. You grow your hair long, then cut it short. When things get uncomfortable, you look to the outer circumstances for answers. You wonder if you should change jobs again, if you should grow your hair out.
Then you get shoved through the doorway called suffering, and no rearranging of the chess pieces can help you. The moment you realize this is a defining moment in your life. You can change jobs, change cities, change partners, but any relief you find will be cruelly temporary.
Wherever you go, there you are. You are the common denominator of your life. Suffering will either wake you up to this fact, or put you further to sleep.
Waking up means recognizing that outer circumstances are neither the problem nor the solution. It means seeing suffering for what it is: a dysfunctional relationship with reality. To suffer is to wish things were different than they are. Things can’t be different than they are, not now, not in this moment. You can commit yourself to working toward a different future moment, but the now-ness of now is already fixed. Relief from suffering comes from this understanding, and from changing your inner relationship with your outer circumstances.
Relief comes from knowing that pain is inevitable but temporary, and suffering is optional.
So, opt out. Accept that the now that is now is the only now that can be. Cross the threshold of suffering transformed by the fire of acceptance. Whatever pain you’re feeling, really feel it, all of it, every last drop. And accept that it must be so.
Photo by Erin Bidlake