One of the most important thing I have learnt from Eckhart Tollé was that as human beings, we are somehow conditioned to believe that life should be easy and go smoothly. That challenges shouldn’t be happening, and when they are, it means we are unlucky or struck by fate. He basically states that we, human beings, live with an unconscious belief that “bad things shouldn’t happen to us”.
Do you recognise that belief in yourself?
Perhaps you’re thinking “no, I know that life is made of challenges and bad times happen, I don’t have that belief.”
Then let me ask you a question: when challenges arise indeed, how do you respond to them? Do you get worked up and stressed, or do you peacefully accept them and deal with them calmly?
Most of us get stressed, upset and have a lot of strong negative emotions when hard times hit. And most of us believe this is actually a normal response. Most people I come across who talk to me about their problems feel anxious, stressed, angry, sad, upset or hurt by the situation. And that seems to be happening a lot.
What I’ve learnt with Ekhart Tollé, actually is that it is not a “normal” reaction, in a sense of we are actually unconsciously creating that response. So what does that mean?
It means that generally when we face difficult times, we internally and unconsciously resist what is happening to us, by thinking things like “I can’t believe this is happening, it shouldn’t be this way!” or “why me? why bad things always happen to me, it’s so unfair!” or maybe it’s more something along the line of “I can’t believe they did this, they shouldn’t have (fill the blank: done this to me, said that, reacted like this etc.)
Just take the last situation that upset or stressed you. I invite you to reflect on what was happening, and more importantly how you responded to it. Take some time to remember what your thoughts were about the situation: what did you say to yourself when it happened?
When we experience difficult times, such as arguing with someone, being criticised at work, facing a break up or anything else – we add to this existing pain a suffering that comes from within: a suffering that comes from our mind resisting or fighting with reality. Our inner dialogue in those moments is full of indignation or outrage, or even self-pity. And those thoughts are the sign we believe it shouldn’t be happening, that we somehow think that life shouldn’t be this way.
Eckhart Tollé is not the only person talking about this, actually, Byron Katie also praises acceptance of reality in her book Loving what is. The foundation of Buddhism is also based on accepting reality and life as we experience it, rather than wanting it to be different.
So what’s the difference between pain and suffering?
I see pain as a natural reaction to difficult times. When you lose someone you love, when your life situation changes because you lose your job, your home, your health deteriorates or any other situation that is difficult, it is normal to feel pain. Emotional pain such as sadness, fear, anger to name a few, or even physical pain.
However suffering is optional. Suffering comes when deep down, somewhere, you don’t fully accept the situation. And don’t get me wrong, I know how difficult it can be to accept something you don’t want and wouldn’t have chosen for yourself.
But ultimately, do you have a choice?
When life hits and external circumstances change against your will, such as those situations I’ve described before, is there something you can actually do to put it back as it is? Can you actually fully control the situation?
Most of the time you can’t. There is probably a small area within your control, but most of the elements of the situation are not in your power. So then, how does it help you to resist it and refuse to accept things as they are? What do you unconsciously believe that resisting reality will do for you?
And acceptance doesn’t mean resigning or becoming passive, nor does it mean you are a victim of circumstances. Acceptance means making peace with the situation, and then from a calm and grounded place finding how you can respond to it in the best possible way.
Resisting reality ultimately only causes psychological and emotional suffering. And even though it is not necessarily easy to learn to accept things as they are, in the long term it will bring a deep level of Peace in your life that will help you become stronger and more equipped to deal with life challenges.
I am aware those words may trigger you, that might be a natural reaction – it certainly was mine when I first came across those concepts. But by practising mindfulness, which is one of the best ways I’ve found to make peace with reality, I’ve learnt to be more at Peace, and reduce my general level of suffering. Pain is still there, but it is much more manageable and doesn’t last as long anymore.
Feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to discuss this further, and in the meantime I wish you a lot of Peace in your life!