Various forms of loss and disappointment are a part of life – we lose jobs, experience illness, miss opportunities, the value of our retirement plummets, friends move away, and loved ones die. We suffer when these things happen. Suffering is part of life and unavoidable.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s lump any negative emotion (e.g., sadness, anger, jealousy, worry, fear, guilt) into the general category of suffering. We don’t long for these emotions and, when we experience them, we typically want them to end…quickly! We cannot experience happiness – a goal which all creatures share – when we are suffering.
We cannot live our lives and not be affected by certain forms of suffering, but there are many forms of suffering that we experience every day that can be significantly reduced or avoided altogether with practice.
For instance, we suffer when we worry about certain negative events happening…and often these negative events don’t even happen! In such cases, we suffer completely unnecessarily. It seems so ironic to me that we suffer because we worry about the suffering that we might experience if a certain event were to happen – but that event hasn’t even happened and might not at all!
Here’s an example that recently happened to me that will help to illustrate my point. My wife and I recently went vacationing in California while my in-laws were watching our two kids (this isn’t the suffering part). The day we were scheduled to get home was the day of my eldest child’s first ever soccer game. Now, the way that the vacation plans worked out, this could not be helped. By the time things fell into place for our vacation, there was no easy (and cheap) way to change our arrival home in time to see his first soccer game.
So, here I am in California with my wife visiting many wonderful places, but I start feeling kinda bad that we will miss his first game. I’m his dad and I’m going to miss his very first soccer game! Various stanzas from Harry Chapin’s The Cat’s in the Cradle start playing in my head.
Now, I became aware of this and generally was able to make my peace with with the situation. So, I didn’t suffer too much, but there was some suffering involved. Here’s the funny part to illustrate my point – his very first soccer game was cancelled due to rain! Thus, my suffering was absolutely unwarranted. The event that I worried about never came to pass.
My bet is this kind of thing has happened to you before as well. We all experience this kind of suffering. But there is much we can do to mitigate this form of suffering. Check out my next post, and I’ll talk more on this subject.