People often start off on the wrong foot by coming to me thinking that their friends recommended me because they’re so happy. They think I make people happy. Sure, they end up happier, but that’s almost the exact opposite of what I actually teach them.
Wise suffering? I know, weird eh? Who knew I was going to bump into such truths when I stumbled into figuring this out. So how do you suffer wisely? The answer is acceptance. Because if you meditate on the subject more closely you will see that it’s not really the pain that bothers you, it’s the concern that your suffering will linger or even stay.
As I’ve noted many times before, if emotions were actually good or bad then theaters and bookstores would be empty. No one would offer to pay perfectly good money to buy a book, bring it home, put some time into reading i, and then have it deliver to them the very thing that they tried to avoid all day—whether that’s fear or worry or profound sadness. But no, we’ll break our own hearts with Ivanhoe, or sit in dread with Stephen King, and we’ll even pay for the privilege. So in the end your own life proves to you that emotions themselves are not good or bad.
So what’s with this lingering-staying-suffering part? Please pay attention to the fact that everything I’m talking about here takes place entirely in your consciousness. And within your consciousness, because you choose to believe that some emotions are bad, when they show up in your life your reaction is to panic. You start to think to yourself, “Oh no, not sadness. I don’t want sadness again. Why do I keep dating people? It’s always painful! I’m so stupid! No wonder no one wants me,” etc. etc. Okay, so the realization of loss was something your pre-thought non-illusory mind experienced. But because your society trained you well, your brain immediately sought to categorize that thought into separate ideas that you describe to yourself using labels called words.
What you need to grasp is that it isn’t your breakup from two weeks ago that’s making you cry for days on end. The pain of loss and the occasional recognition or reminder of recent loss will understandably trigger the sad feeling we think of when we think of losing someone. The pre-word, pre-thinking feeling. But if you fully feel that without hesitation—and if you’re not afraid of any emotions—then you simply move into the next moment and feel your thoughts about that. These are those times when you might say that it felt good to cry. So if you’re only crying when you actually want to cry, then you just have to deal with the occasional painful feeling that gets stirred up when your consciousness is unexpectedly reminded of your past.
If however you choose to think a streaming narrative similar to the one I created above, then you will experience that as your emotions. Feelings come before the words, after the words it’s emotion. It’s why babies can feel love but not jealousy. One is before words so babies can feel that, but they can’t build the one after words until first they learn words. So what’s actually hurting you two weeks later isn’t your breakup, it’s your thoughts about the breakup. It’s the words. Because if you wouldn’t keep telling yourself stories about how it could have gone or how it should have gone, then those words would go quiet and you would feel what you were experiencing in the current moment—like the view, or a sound or smell—instead of chemically constructing a past or future experience out of unpleasant, judgmental words.
It’s no different than reading a book. If your consciousness is considering a painful idea you will experience pain, just like when your consciousness is intentionally focused on the most rewarding thing you can find—then you feel exalted. You don’t feel what happened, you feel what you’re thinking about in this moment. So can you time travel and choose to think about painful things from the past? Of course. It’s how most of the world manages their sadness. But just the same you can manage your happiness too. You can choose to focus on what you’re grateful for.
This is all actually quite easy to do, so if you’re telling yourself I’m being flippant or that I’m wrong, understand that what you’re trying to do is off target. Because this is incredible easy. Remember at the start I said that people got happier by suffering wisely? Okay, so now maybe this explanation will make more sense: To suffer is to choose to think unpleasant pain-engaged or pain-resisting thoughts (they both involve pain equally), and all of this gets done in the hopes that the pain will somehow magically go away because we’ve suffered enough. So you have to put work into this. You have to choose to go in that painful direction—there’s effort #1—and then you have to put effort #2 into creating all of the narratives that pedal the bicycle of your ego.
My way you just stop thinking, focus your consciousness on the most enriching, pleasant thing you can find and that naturally feels good. But to do that you have to accept the unpleasant feelings first. You can’t be thinking you live in some dream-world where the pain might possibly stop because you want it to, or that there is some magical way to live where you’ll never be in pain again. If you don’t work to hold those crazy beliefs then you only have to experience the feeling of actual pain but not the daily suffering of ego. (Things like being offended, or thinking people are wrong about their politics or art. It’s all very taxing.)
You will suffer. Many times. So stop trying to worry it away from your future, or regret it away from your past. Be present instead. If a powerful feeling is appropriate then feel it. But don’t use your ability to think in words as a way to torque a feeling into an emotion. Be sad when it’s appropriate to be sad. Be fearful when it is wise to be fearful. But the rest of the time just let your consciousness relax in silence—which is otherwise known as… happiness.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.