When I meet a new student I can pretty quickly tell if they’ll learn what I’m teaching them now or later. I get why the later group wants it to be later. When you already feel overwhelmed who wants someone suggesting that what you need is more responsibility? I get that it’s entirely counter-intuitive. But as with many things we eventually come to understand, the truth is hidden in the apparent paradox.
I know that feeling of profound sadness. Everyone does. No one gets out of life without a healthy dose of all of the feelings. And that sadness–it’s darkness is so heavy. It suffocates your spirit. You simply cannot imagine anyone reaching you there. It is horribly lonely and it steals your spirit to live. People that commit suicide aren’t angry, they’re tired. The suffering just seems so uniform and relentless that there seems to be no point in continuing. And so it makes sense that you might initially hate me for saying you should do more.
I know that anyone who’s feeling down does not want to be there and that you would have tried every sensible thing you could imagine to get yourself out. I have faith in you. At the same time, I know from experience that the answer is more tricky than difficult. The example I often use is learning to multiply numbers. To say it’s hard isn’t accurate, but learning it requires a leap of understanding much like this does.
So I’m not really asking you to work harder by taking more responsibility, I’m asking you to take it easier by assuming more responsibility. If you will accept only one idea–if you will accept only one responsibility–you will be free of almost all of the others. But before you take it you can’t see why the others would vanish so you resist the change. Even though what you’re doing is leading to sadness you will continue down that path rather than take on weight you don’t think your spirit can handle. Fair enough.
But when you’re ready all you need to do is this one thing, in an albeit pretty profound way: you need to accept the idea of suffering in your life. I know, weird isn’t it? Your suffering disappears if you accept suffering. If you’ll just own when you feel crappy–if you’ll just let that be–then you can shift your way out into better feelings. But if you take the better-feeling time and dedicate it to wishing and hoping that you never had nor never will suffer, then you suffer almost all the time.
Do you see the duality of it? By accepting suffering you give happiness something to contrast against. You can’t find the happiness when there’s no contrast. So if you consistently stay in a state of wanting-to-be-happier then you’re essentially blocking happiness. If you resist suffering then you are inviting more of it by thinking about wanting it gone. As always, appreciation feels good, wanting feels bad.
The simple fact is that everyone has been knocked down repeatedly in life. You’ll idolize some music star but ignore the single line in their interview about having “surrendered 10 years to a drug addiction.” 10 years! 3500 agonized days described just like that. Or we treat a Hollywood divorce like it’s somehow less crazily painful than anyone else’s divorce. But we skip past all those dirty details and we note all the good stuff that happened before and after. So why not do the same thing with your own life?
You can’t like being alive all the time or you wouldn’t even know what enjoyment was. So suffering is a mandatory portion of the yin and yang construction of the universe and you literally need it as much as you need happiness. And yet when it comes you send it away as though it doesn’t belong in your life. But it does, so it returns and knocks again and asks you to accept it. But you reject it and reject it and your entire life ends up invested in dealing with nothing but suffering.
Surrender. Allow. Lots of days won’t feel easy to enjoy but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be appreciated. Appreciation is separate from enjoyment. You may not enjoy your workout but you appreciate it helps you enjoy more of the rest of your life. You may not enjoy the company of your mother but without her absolutely none of your life would have ever happened.
The only line you want to draw isn’t between happiness and sadness. That effort just leads to a lot of sadness. No, the only line you want is between worthy of your time or not worth of your time. So feeding yourself is work but it keeps you alive so it’s worthy of your time. We don’t need more happiness we need less meaninglessness.
Way too much of what you do each day is truly and profoundly meaningless. Get rid of ego-based, churning actions like doing things out of obligation, or not asking for help, or even just complaining etc. etc. Forget achievements and being impressive or even liked. Just focus on the value in each moment. It’s much easier than trying to straddle your past and your future simultaneously.
Yes, you will suffer. If you’re suffering now you’re in the perfect position to spot appreciation. The person in the darkest room finds the pinhole of light first. But you can’t see it and complain it’s too small. You have to focus on it and study it, and as you grow closer it will expand to take up much more of your view until all you can see is mostly the light, leaving the darkness to recede to the point where it is only seen as one thing: the frame for all of your happiness.
May peace be with you.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.