“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Murakami
The year 2020 has not been easy for anyone. This pandemic has robbed many people of their connection to loved ones, potential opportunities, celebration of firsts and new milestones, and experiencing loss on so many levels. As social beings, we thrive on interpersonal connections and sense of community, even more so during times of need and hardships. The loss of personal connections with family, friends and our community has been painful and has hugely impacted us on many levels.
Despite these current difficulties, we must remind ourselves that, “This too shall pass.” Although it feels like forever, there is some solace in knowing that the pandemic will eventually come to an end. Everything in life is impermanent. The law of impermanence teaches us that all things, relationships, and situations are in constant change. The world and the universe are in constant flux. Yes, this also means the good and the bad will change over time. By understanding this law and fully accepting it without fear, we can take comfort in knowing that the pain of loss will also come to an end at some point. The pain and feelings will change. We will change. The current events of our lives will change. With all these changes, life creates new opportunities, experiences, and relationships.
What causes suffering?
Change in itself does not cause suffering, but rather the notion of attachment and aversion (fixation) towards an outcome, perspective, or idea. Non-acceptance of pain and change, and our expectation of how things should be versus how things are, creates suffering. “Pain + non-acceptance = suffering”
The struggles and events that occur in life are often out of one’s control. The more we exert control and try to change our reality and what is, the more we prolong our suffering. Change is inevitable, constant, and part of life. Without change, we remain stagnant with no room for growth. For many, change is uncomfortable and unwelcomed. We fear change because of uncertainty and for the pain we feel from our loss. Yet, change is inevitable and is taking place all around us everyday.
Learning to accept change and embrace impermanence allows us to flow freely with life, whereas, fighting and denying our reality often increases our emotional reaction. Radical acceptance – a skill from Dialectical Behavior Therapy – teaches us simply to accept and acknowledge our reality. When fighting with reality, we often say, “why is this happening to me? It shouldn’t have happened! It’s not fair!” Now, radical acceptance does not mean that you approve of what is happening and that you have to like it. For example, it does not mean that you excuse the abuse, or the infidelity, or that you resign yourself to feeling miserable. One can acknowledge and accept their reality without having to like or approve of what is happening. It means that a person can choose to move forward and heal from pain, yet still hold someone responsible and accountable for their actions.
The more we fight with our realities, the more we create suffering for ourselves. The saying, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” holds true for all of us. While life and events happen outside of one’s control, pain is inevitable and universal; however, our perspectives and how we react to our circumstances dictates how much and how long we suffer. Refusing to accept the pain in our lives and what is, creates suffering. Once we accept, we can channel our energy and focus on coping and healing from the pain, instead of suffering.
Acceptance is not waving our hands up in defeat and giving up. Instead, acceptance allows us to focus our energy and strength on how to move forward and what we need to do to handle our situation better. It also does not mean that practicing radical acceptance eliminates all reactions. As human beings, we will always have reactions, but our reactions would be less intense and quicker to recover. Pain will still be present, but it will not be unbearable.
The true essence of radical acceptance is not merely just saying, “I accept” to something, but rather one must embrace and embody the belief. To exercise radical acceptance, one must:
Radical acceptance takes time to understand and takes practice. If you are someone who is having trouble applying this skill, or someone who is going through major life transition and/or struggling with mental health concerns, please reach out for help from a mental health professional.
It is a sign of strength, not weakness, when we admit that we are stuck and suffering. Everyone – including yourself – deserves to live a meaningful life.