Why We Us Suffer

Right now, I am suffering. We were hit by a bad storm and we have no idea when our power is going to be back on. The worst part is that it's getting into near-freezing weather at night annnnnd our emergency generator is almost out of gas.

My suffering made me start to question if it was even necessary. Can I be happy regardless of my cold little hands knocking away at this keyboard? The old me would have said no, that warmth is necessary for happiness! But the new me is starting to think that isn't true. Let me explain...

In Buddhism there is a story about two arrows.  In this story, the Buddha asks a student, "If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?"

The student replies, "Yes, it is painful."

The Buddha asks, "If the person is struck by a second arrow, is it even more painful?"

The student replies, "Yes, it is more painful to be struck by two arrows"

The Buddha then went on to explain, "In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. This second arrow is optional."

So often we cannot control an event in our lives. It happens regardless of how much we prepare or how smart we are. Even with our best efforts, something happens that causes us pain. It's the human condition! Life kicks us all in the butt sometimes. 

But how we react to the uncontrollable thing is actually controllable. I know. I know. That is so counter to how most of the world works. We are told we have to react by puffing up our chests to protect ourselves or lay low to stay off the radar. But have either of those ever worked for you in the past? Aren't those both that second arrow that causes more drama, more pain, more stuck emotions? 

When I was sexually assaulted, I felt like a victim who was stripped of her voice, her rights, her own autonomy due to one person's selfish actions. I let that second arrow pierce deep into my body for years. But when I stopped seeing myself as a victim who lost, and I started to see myself as a survivor who overcame, I felt powerful and emboldened. I healed. How we think about our situation can liberate us or cause us to bleed more regardless of if we are in financial debt, our lover leaves us, our health is waning, trauma, or if we are left in the cold.

Some people take this to mean that we must think differently and not take action, but that isn't true either. Here's a secret that I learned years ago: extremes are never the truth.

An inspired action is always good, but when we get too attached to the desired outcome, well, that's when it causes suffering. If I decided that I won't be happy unless my power comes back on today, guess what? I'm probably going to be pissed off all day today and tomorrow and the next day until my power comes back on. But if I am not too set in my thinking, I may say "I would like for the power to come back on today, but maybe it won't. Maybe I will call the gas company to see if they can bring me gas for the generator even if I have to pay that really expensive emergency fee and that's okay too because this is my situation." And if neither of those things happens anytime soon, we will be okay too. We can stay with friends, get a hotel, or wear 50 layers of clothing. I can't make anything happen and right now we have 24 hours left of gas in the generator, so why worry? I can be thankful for what I have instead of worrying about what I may not have in the future... because maybe it won't. That's the thing about the future, isn't it? You just don't know what will happen. It's an adventure! 

I challenge you to consider how you can turn a situation that bothers you around. How can you see the positive? How can you find the silver lining? How can you accept the outcome?

UPDATE: Our power came back on 2 days earlier than expected and we got an emergency delivery of gas so it all worked out absolutely perfectly! 


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