Graphic showing two masks one with happy and the other with a sad face to depict the extremes of human emotion and suffering

What Suffering Really Is

Pitying Thyself

My nine-year-old daughter asked me for something and when I refused, she said, “If you don’t do it then I’ll be sad and I’ll suffer,” I told her, “You can be sad if you choose so, but to suffer you’ll also have to feel sorry for yourself. Because that’s what suffering is, feeling sorry for yourself.”

“Well, that came out nice,” I thought. I took the lesson I had just taught my daughter to my walk later in the day and continued pondering over it. I’ve both experienced and studied suffering a lot in my life, but the perspective that suffering equals self-pity was so refreshingly new to me I wondered if it was even my thought!

Someone once said, if you don’t like something either accept it or change it, all else is madness! Undesirable things happen to us regularly and we reject them fervently each time. People, events, and situations seem to create feelings of annoyance, anger, sadness, melancholy, depression and we keep reacting to them with rejection and dejection, suffering in the process.

Letting go of control

So, in one of the innumerable reflections I’ve had with my wife, this topic came up. We mutually felt that humans try too hard to reinforce this very wrong notion that we are in control of our circumstances. That’s not to say we should become fatalists, however, it’s important to realize that there are infinite variables playing at all times to cause people to act, events to turn out, and situations to form the way they do. The resultant mindset isn’t to encourage indifference but to inspire awareness and recognizing when to accept outcomes and let go of the steering.

An event happens that we don’t like, we should put all our might to change the outcome to a desirable one and when that doesn’t happen accept it. A situation is just a recurring pattern of events and allows for a similar approach. And we can’t change people; so when encountered with a person who acts unacceptably, just avoid them as much as possible. Regardless of the scenario, act to adapt–Accept, Change, or Evade.

Many, myself included, have taken significant actions to change their lives for better. That includes changing habits, lifestyles, jobs, neighborhoods, countries, relationships, just to name a few.

Who makes you suffer?

The archetype of suffering is a needy person who can’t accept their situation and yet does nothing about it. Accepting things the way they are is not an inaction. Quite the opposite, it’s a well-informed and deliberate action. It’s all about making decisions, to bring life transactions to closure, one at a time. When you’re decisive, you create a positive environment for yourself and others. When you’re not, you suffer. And the only person you can blame for that is the one in the mirror.