This winter has brought us more snow and cold than I thought conceivably possible. Each time we handled one storm, dumping upwards of a foot of snow, we thought – for sure, this is the last time. In all honesty, had we known in the beginning that we would be dealt with blow after blow of snow for four long months, our spirits would have for sure gone to shit in January. It is now March and in addition to the snow, we lost a damn hour of sleep last night. Thank you daylight savings.
In some manner of speaking we all suffer. Whether it be collectively, ala-snow-white-coverage-for-all! Or privately, in physical pain or inner turmoil, suffering is inevitable. Suffering is caused by a desire for our circumstances to be different than they are. I don’t want any more snow in my life. I don’t want to look out the window and see work that needs to be done so that my family can leave our house. Right now we feel trapped and it’s an uncomfortable feeling. My want for it to be different than it is causes the suffering. If I were experiencing physical pain right now (and very well may be after shoveling snow), then I would want for that pain to go away. I would seek ways to comfort myself to avoid the suffering. My thoughts would probably be something like– “this pain is killing me! If this pain would just go away, if I could manage to move without pain radiating through my lower back, I’d be so much happier.” Would I be happier? Maybe. However, doing so would require that I actually recognize and appreciate the times of my life when I am free of pain. My thoughts should then be – “this freedom from pain is liberating! I can move with ease and can accomplish anything! Watch out world!” This should be my mantra every day, every moment that I do not experience pain.
Speak your gratitude out loud
I try. I do know that expressing gratitude out loud is very important. I am quite thankful for many things. However, the absence of something is by far more difficult to welcome and embrace as a positive that deserves our active attention, than reacting to something negative – on fire right before our eyes, screaming for our full awareness. In walks suffering.
The endless loop
Have you ever been in the presence of an animal in pain? The tell-tale signs are that they act differently. They may withdraw, growl, wimper, meow, burble (this is how I describe what a fish would do, but maybe they would just float on 😉). Either way, their actions tell us humans that something is bothering them. They don’t know they are suffering, we state this ourselves, because we have language. As humans we are pretty complex. We think in words and pictures and then we share our thoughts through language to communicate with other humans. In addition, we also have a really cool ability to think about our thinking. Is it any wonder that we can feel like we are chasing our tail sometimes, trapped in a loop inside of our heads? You have to decide when to get off the merry-go-round.
The majority of our time is actually spent having the same thoughts or similar renditions of the thought. We walk ourselves through our day, checking ourselves – first coffee, then wake up kids, then get dressed, then argue with kids about getting up, then eat breakfast, etc.. Add on top of that a checklist of things we need to bring with us to meet our needs throughout the day – wallet/purse, keys, lunch, snacks, a shovel to dig ourselves out of a snow bank. If you have children, you have a whole additional list or lists that you also keep running through your head to make sure they are equipped for their day. Being an adult is heavy duty stuff, but luckily maturing helps with the whole suffering side of things.
Kids throw tantrums – it’s what kids do
When you are a child you care about too much – “I want the toy that Sally has and if I don’t get it, my life is OVER and I’ll scream, cry, and throw shit” or your loving parents prepared you a healthy meal, but didn’t cut your food in the fashion that best suits your pallet. Scream, cry, throw food. Kids care too much about the smallest of things. By the time we reach adulthood we can put things into perspective and decide what we will care about (hopefully the things in life that make you scream, cry, and throw shit has grown beyond having your bananas sliced versus mashed). A lot of this has to do with our independence and that we have power over how we prepare our own food and what toys we will play with. However, there are still small things that can get some adults’ underwear into a tight ass bundle. You decide what it is that you’re going to allow to move you to tears and let the rest go. Otherwise, you’ll have a vice grip on too many moving parts in life, swinging to and fro, and your life will feel like an out of control rollercoaster. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of over roller coasters.
You are an adult
As an adult we realize suffering is part of life. However, if we go back to the premise that it is a result of desiring something different than what is – we have options. I will never enjoy physical pain. Despite the fact that I have several tattoos and that whole process requires for me to sit completely still while someone draws on me with sharp needles, this is a voluntary act. I choose this short-term suffering for the desired end product. Suffering is not always of our choosing and in most cases not the type of suffering we would have chosen to sign up for. However, if we place our suffering in perspective of other forms of suffering, we might just say, “yep, okay. I’m good here. I’ll take this so long as I don’t have to endure THAT”. There is always something worse.
Two things you can do with suffering
There are two things that you should do with suffering. The first is to accept that what you’re feeling is a result of wanting something different. Right now my kids are fighting and coming to me complaining of the injustices that their siblings have brought upon them. I desire for this to be different. I would really like for them to get along in perfect harmony and for there to be peace in all the days that they reside under my roof. I know this is unrealistic, but I suffer with this incongruency of wanting it to be different than it is. Instead I can accept that there will be fighting more often than peace. When I do this, I relax into the experience. The second part is taking action, if necessary and appropriate. In the case of my fighting kids, I will model for them peaceful ways to handle discord and speak to them in a calm voice. They will continue to fight, but I’ve accepted that, so I no longer suffer.
Acceptance isn’t a matter of throwing your hands in the air and saying – “Well to hell with it! Nothing I do is going to change this!” That is anger. If you’re feeling angry, first make amends with that strong emotion, let it be there, but don’t allow it to drive your bus. This is a wonderful part of being an adult. We know how to label our emotions, but then we can also give them instructions on where they are allowed to sit on our bus.
Onward we go
I’m going to get dressed up in my snow gear now and open the front door, shovel in hand. There is work to do. I’ve come to terms with mother nature and the fact that I have no influence on the snow fall. The weather forecast tells us that we can expect another dump of five to eight inches this coming week.