One of the things you’ll recognise about yourself if you are at all self-aware is that you’re somewhat of a different person this year, compared to a few years ago. You’ve perhaps had a few knocks, maybe a couple of lucky breaks, and you’ve learned from these experiences, and you’ve changed. Some of this is going to be for the better, and some of it is likely for the worse – we all age, get sick, end up in a ridiculous fight with our loved ones about who’s turn it is to walk the dog in the rain or whatever. This is, as we would all acknowledge, just life.
The thing is, or at least the thing that the Buddhists would have you believe, is that there is a deeper truth in all of this. The deeper truth is that of course everything changes over time, we all know this. But none the less – and this is the most important thing – the primary cause of our suffering is the wish that it wasn’t so. That it’s our very wish for things to remain the same that causes suffering – for our knees not to get old and creaky, for the sunshine to remain long enough for us to walk the dog, for them not to cancel your favourite TV show. You know that this stuff will change – some for the better, some for the worse – but it’s not the change itself that is the problem, but our attachment to, or craving for, the un-changed thing that’s the problem.
At one level, this is obvious. “Of course I want things to be great all the time, not horrible! What do you expect? That I would be happy with this?”, you will be thinking.
The problem isn’t quite in wishing for things to be good and not bad, it’s a bit subtler than that. It’s about our reaction: that when these unpleasant things arise, we very often wish to get away from them, to pretend it isn’t so. But the thing is, that’s not going to happen. The world is how it is – things change, and right now this bad thing has happened. You need to find a way to acknowledge that, because refusing to accept that the world has done this thing is exactly what’s causing the suffering. Splitting reality into “how I wish it was” versus “how things are” is causing the suffering.
Note what I’m not saying. You do not have to be “happy” about it, you do not have to “pretend” that it’s ok, you do not have to “accept” it in the sense of not trying to improve the situation. All you have to do is accept that this has happened, you are where you are, and try and put away the urge to wish it were not so. It simply is the case that this has happened. Accepting it (in the sense of acknowledging the truth of the situation) is the first step to getting out of the suffering. If you’re lost in a strange city, pretending that you’re not lost isn’t going to help you find your way to the railway station. If the proverbial has really hit the fan, then pretending it ain’t so isn’t going to get the mess cleared up. It may be painful to acknowledge – it perhaps means the failure of plans years in the making – but Step One is to acknowledge it. Give yourself five seconds of rage (in your head is best!), then accept that it has happened, it’s in the past (even by a minute) and can’t be changed. It has happened, so acknowledge it. This step alone will massively reduce the suffering you are feeling in the moment.