Suffering Is Optional

There are many things out of my control. I can’t decide how I want others to feel or behave, I can’t stop bad things from happening and without a doubt there is zero chance of controlling the weather. The list goes on and on and on. Surrendering to this has been quite frustrating. 20764_1382872251094_2600318_nNot the weather part, the weather is one of those universal understandings that we all seem to get. Isn’t it funny that the weather is the most common topic with strangers in those moments when you only have seconds to share something? Maybe because we can all agree that a storm, the heat, the cold, will all come and go no matter how much we like or dislike the impact. So our ability to control this particular part of life is never going to be in question, only how we choose to react, that is for certain a choice. So, maybe when we think about this “suffering” concept, think about how you react to weather that’s not pleasing to you. This might be the easiest place to start addressing your own suffering.

As an eternal optimist, the idea of turning lemons into lemonade is easy for me. I’m a “turn that frown upside down” kind of gal, I honestly have no idea where it comes from but for the easy things in life, it serves me well. I also have a “control what you can” mindset. Now deciding what is in and out of my control, well there lies the dilemma and the journey I’ve been on my entire life. Determining what’s in my control and what’s not is like being on a tightrope. I’m constantly trying to strike a balance without falling from the sky. 252271_10201275204861404_1025892726_nGreg and I got married on June 1st, 2001 and we had the most beautiful outside wedding planned at sunset on the water. As we watched the weather forecast leading up to the big day it seemed inevitable that we would have to move the wedding inside to avoid the rain. It was a disappointment for sure but quickly reset my expectations and made the decision to be in the moment and let go of all the things that wouldn’t quite work out, like the beautiful outdoor surroundings and pictures in the garden. It helped that we were supported by people that we love and I was marrying the man of my dreams. By staying focused on the reason for the event and not the details allowed it to unfold perfectly. And the umbrella pictures are some of my favorites to this day.

Then there was that time that I flipped Madison and Liam over in a canoe on a Father’s Day outing. This lake was a “no swimming” lake due to major trees in the water that made it dangerous to swim. boat_kidsI had a walkie-talkie with me that Cooper insisted I use to keep in contact with him while he stayed on shore. When rowing I accidentally unclipped the walkie-talkie and it flew into the water. I only registered that it was a black device and thinking it was my phone I tried to save it, flipping us all into the lake along with my actual phone that was in my pocket. Madison and Liam were terrified and screaming in the middle of a lake while I was trying to get them back into the canoe.  I did my best to stay calm as they were crying and shaming me for my bad decision. Once I managed to get them back in the boat I figured out quickly I was not getting back in without flipping them again. So I did what anyone would do with two very upset children in the middle of a lake, I started to kick and then laugh and then kick some more. June 2014 206We were all fine but the phone was gone, Cooper was furious that I lost his walkie-talkie and the other two were soaking wet and very sad. So, then what? We got ice cream treats, a wrap for Madi that she happened to bring, and hiked into the woods. The phone was at the bottom of a lake and we had a great story to tell. It was that simple, move on and decide to make the best of it.

So… spoiler alert, it doesn’t always work out this way. There are moments that I’m so frustrated that things aren’t happening the way I expect that I fly into a rage. Typically, for me, these aren’t the big things in life, I seem to handle the hard stuff relatively well. The things that set me off are little, stupid things that I can only imagine are not the true reason for the explosion but the fuse that happens to light the fire. I’ve been known to throw things across the room out of pure frustration because I can’t get an inanimate object to respond appropriately or a person to understand me. Once I tripped over our dog gate, walking up the stairs, and I was so angry that I hurled it down the stairwell so hard that I put a hole in the drywall. It’s like I snap. 81949545All the “trying to manage” and “people to please” and “making it work” comes crashing down when one branch of the tree cracks and I feel as though I start falling down along with it. I’ve improved at controlling this on the outside but inside I often still feel like a time bomb ready to explode. The worst part about these moments is the inevitable embarrassment that comes with owning your crazy. It usually requires an apology to those you love most and sometimes even some drywall and paint repair. It’s an awful feeling. The truth is that I’m grateful when it’s the remote, or a plate, or whatever happens to be in my hand at that moment versus the words. Words that come in these volatile moments can strike the people that I love in the most vicious way. I’ll take a hole in the wall any day.

But what I’ve learned is that even in these most difficult emotional moments, we get to decide what happens next. Do we go cool off for a few minutes, do we immediately apologize, do we start the cleanup of glass and emotions or do we go sulk for hours or days trying to avoid the ramifications of our temper tantrum? This is what it comes down to, the choice to move through it or live in it. This is the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

  1. the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.
    “weapons that cause unnecessary suffering”

I have a dear friend that said this very simple phrase to me years ago, “suffering is optional”. He’s an intellectual guy, maybe he read it in a book somewhere but it had the most profound impact on me. It seemed so clear, I get to decide if I want to stay in this place, it’s that simple. That is all we have control of at the end of the day. How we choose to react and behave in any given situation no matter how big or small. It is completely and absolutely up to us.

Think about the weather example again. When Mother Nature throws you a curve ball and you’re snowed in or rained out, how do you respond? Do you make the most of it and find a way to enjoy the moment? Or do you allow it to consume your entire day and steal any possible joy you could have experienced? I like to view these moments as a sign. Maybe whatever was planned was not meant to happen or I’m getting put on notice. “You are not in control” or “You need to slow down today” or “Your welcome, enjoy the obstacle”. Whatever it is, what comes next is my decision to make. Now that’s a very empowering feeling, the power of choice.  So here’s an idea, next time the weather goes sideways on you, go grab an umbrella or a shovel or a sled because they may be the best way to take your next step and might even eliminate the suffering.

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