The first thing I learned from Buddhism is that “Life is Suffering”, which on first reading seemed a bit disappointing and not really what I wanted to hear. As I thought about the words I realised it was a truth that explained the pain I had experienced in my own life, the life of people I loved and in the daily suffering of everyone I had known. No-one lives a perfectly happy and contented live free from trauma, worry and disappointment, but many people don’t get beyond “Life is Suffering” and spend their life moving from one upset to another, either things that happen to them or things that happen to their family. We can even forget to enjoy ourselves in between upsetting events, in the belief that the next one is just around the corner.
We all have our triggers, and they are different for every person, for someone who has survived a war, getting cut up in traffic is unlikely to have much of an impact. Other people may get so upset by this that they immediately pour a glass of whisky when they arrive home to calm them down.
Most of our suffering is senseless, we bring it on ourselves, not by what is happening in our life but on how we react to what is happening. Two people can react totally differently to a bad day in the office, one can shrug it off and get on with their life and the other can go on a downward negativity spiral that can effect their mood for days.
An upsetting event happens, and then our thoughts come along about the event and our brain gets to work to re-enforce those thoughts with explanations about how we should feel. So, what started as a sarcastic comment from your boss can lead to a downward spiral of self-criticism and blaming yourself, to feeling hopeless and useless. “I am hopeless at this job”; “I fail at everything”, “Life is too stressful” “I can’t cope” and on and on into pain, upset and most likely sleepless nights.
There are times when incidents can stay with you and effect your life for days, weeks months and even years. I have seen situations where people refuse to talk to another person, for the rest of their life. All that pain and suffering being stored in the mind to be brought out and studied every time there is another incident that upsets or offends them.
All this would be bad enough, but we have created a way to self sooth from all this hurt and upset with drink, drugs, food, gambling, shopping etc. We want to be in control of everything that happens in our life and when we can’t we turn to a way of easing the internal pain that we are feeling.
We have all done it, we have used something outside ourselves, usually unhealthy to cheer us up after a bad day. It is seen as normal, a good idea at the time, but does it help? Not at all, how can it? You are doing what most western medicine does, you are treating they symptoms and not the cause. It probably all begins in childhood when we fall down and hurt our knee and are offered sweets or ice cream to cheer us up and take the pain away. How quickly the mind learns, that to take away pain we just need to eat something nice.
Drinking wine will not solve the way you are feeling about an upsetting event. You may feel better initially as the drug effect of the alcohol kicks into the brain, but the next day, the day after, do you keep using your drug of choice to make you feel better? Upsetting incidents happen all the time. We are social creatures, we need and enjoy the company of others, and interacting with the world will mean that things that upset us happen regularly. If we don’t learn to cope then we start to slide down the vicious cycle of using food, drink etc as a pickup to every incident we perceive to be stressful.
The only person who suffers when we are upset with someone else is you. The other person is totally oblivious to how you feel. They are happily getting on with their life and you left feeling upset, angry, frustrated until you mind moves on.
HOW DO WE STOP OURSELVES LETTING SUFFERING RUIN OUR LIFE
1. Create Space and time
Before you have an immediate reaction, jump to conclusions and then make the decision to self soothe, recognise that the thoughts that you are thinking are trying to direct you and control how you act, are just that – thoughts. They are not real unless you decide that they are, think of them like another person offering you suggestions, one’s that you can think about, act on or let go.
Breathe in slowly to a count of 4, hold for a beat, breath out slowly to a count of 4, hold for a beat. Do it in rounds of 10, until you start to calm down. This will give you time to think rationally about what has happened, to look at the pro’s and cons and decide the best course of action. When we get a flat tyre while driving while driving, we can sit in the car and rant about the unfairness of life, why does this always happen to me, find someone to blame for not checking the tyres, for the state of the roads, worry about being late for an appointment. Or, we can calmly accept that we have a flat tyre and begin to think through what we need to do now to get the tyre repaired or replaced and allow the journey to continue.
3. Get Away from the Situation
If you can, get outside and find something beautiful in the natural landscape. Even if it just a weed growing through a crack in the pavement. Surviving against all the odds to reach the sunlight. If you unable to get out, have photo of your family or loved ones and look at it. As you look at the nature or the photo feel the pleasure feelings flowing through you and allow them to gather around your heart.
4. Wishing the Person Well
This will probably feel like the opposite of what you feel like doing but trust me it will make you feel a whole lot better. Think of the person who you believe has upset you, bring an image of them to your mind and think how bad their life must be that they would hurt someone else. Only hurt people hurt people. In your imagination, wish them well, hope that their life improves in the future. Not just throw away lines, grudgingly delivered but try to genuinely feel that you care about them in a loving and gently way.
When you get home after a bad day, don’t reach for the alcohol or the chocolate, meditate instead. Take 10 minutes, or as long as you have and find a quiet space to calm your mind. You can use You Tube to find a nice meditation that will help you to stay in the moment and keep your mind from wandering. Remembering that meditation is not like feeding a hunger with an instant gratification. It is like planting seeds in a garden in your mind. The more you practice the more our seeds will grow and turn into beautiful flowers in full bloom.
6. Stop Trying to Control Everything
Most of our suffering comes from not being able to control what is going on in our world. In reality there is very little we can control, we are only a little cog in a great big machine of modern living. Organise and take care of the things in your life that are within your control and learn to let everything else take its course. If you have no influence over the outcome then why get yourself upset about it. Focus on what you can control and get on with enjoying your life.