How to Suffer Less
The other night my friend and I went to see a show. It was very crowded in the theater, so when the show was over it took a long time to exit. My friend started to get very uptight about people not walking more quickly and was really bothered. For my part, I really didn’t think much of it. We were talking about the show as we were shuffling out, and I accepted the slow pace as part of what happens when you go to the theater. Part of my mind detached and looked at the situation. I found it so interesting that we were both having the exact same outer experience but such a different inner experience. My friend just wanted to leave the theater and in her mind it was wrong how slowly everyone was walking. But this thought created impatience and frustration on her part. I’m no Buddhist monk, but I accepted the situation and enjoyed my time talking as we inched out the door.
When I got home I was a little harsh about my friend as I repeated the story to my husband. But as I was repeating the story, I was reminded of how I had been in a cab going to the show earlier that night and there was traffic. I got upset that there was traffic and that I would be late for the show. Recalling this, I laughed a little. There was no difference between me and my friend. Why? We were both resisting the moment. It doesn’t matter if one person’s thinking, “The line should be moving quicker” and another, “There should not be traffic on Park Avenue at this time of day.” These are just our stories of how life should be, stories that make us stressed and miserable. And even if my friend and I are right about these situations, does it matter? What “should be” is not what is happening in the moment, and because we are trapped in how things should be, we are not free.
So what is the key to internal freedom and joy? In a word, it is acceptance. Often when I speak to clients about the idea of acceptance, their knee-jerk reaction —no matter what the problem —is: “Why would I accept this? It is not right,” or “I am not going to just give up and accept these circumstances.” But believing that something’s right or that you have to give up is not what acceptance is. For me, the acceptance is seeing things as they are in the moment and simply accepting this is the experience you are having. The struggle of, “Why is this happening?” or “This should not be happening?” or “This is unacceptable” ends when we accept things as they are. Sometimes there is nothing to do about a situation, as when we were leaving a crowded theater or when we are in traffic. The minute you accept the thing that’s driving you nuts, you stop struggling with it and you stop feeling pain. There is nothing to do but relax in the present with the experience and see what life has to offer.
Other times, acceptance helps you find peace and less suffering even as you remain open to changing your circumstances in the future. Acceptance does not change your passion or need for change but allows you to “show up” in the moment with peace about what is, and strength and focus to make things different.
Nowadays, when my kids don’t clean their rooms, it rains and I don’t have an umbrella, or a client forgets our meeting, I try to smile and say, “I did not expect this, but I accept this. Maybe everything is okay.” I take a big breath in and smile. I still tell my children to clean their room when they get home, I buy a five-dollar umbrella that will break in a week, and I try to figure out an effective way to remind my clients of our meetings. I do all of those things at the same time I am accepting the moment for what it is. This is a true path for less suffering and more ease in everyday life.
Take a moment and think about a few aspects of your life that you are not accepting. How would it feel to not struggle with it anymore? Can you accept this circumstance and relax into the moment? Can you accept your situation and still try to improve your circumstances in the future?