The insight that I have found to be the most self-helpful over the last 12 months comes from a book called The Road Less Traveled, by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck. In words reminiscent of the Buddha, Peck opens with the statement: “Life is difficult.” When we accept this truth, no longer clinging to the belief that “life should be easy”, life ceases to be difficult.
This is one of those ideas that is simple to understand but far harder to reconcile with. Namely, that we suffer, not because of objective misfortune but as a result of wanting things to be different than they are. We experience unbearable heartache when we are betrayed by a loved one, as though this were some “unique kind of affliction” that has been visited upon us. And feel excruciating envy when we see somebody richer, more beautiful or more successful than us, in spite of the fact that nobody ever promised us that life would be fair.
HOLDING ONTO SUFFERING
“When you fight something, you’re tied to it forever. As long as you’re fighting it, you’re giving it power.” Anthony de Mello
The two most painful experiences of my life came in quick succession, at the age of 25. First, came earth-shattering heartbreak as my first proper relationship came to an end. And second, and far more devastatingly, came the sudden death of my father, a month later. These events were so profoundly painful to me that I remember howling from the depth of my being when I received the news. As far as I know, there is no way to avoid experiencing this intense level of suffering. It is part of the human condition.
What I didn’t understand then, is that I needed to acknowledge, accept and sit with the pain for as long as it lasted. To grieve. And then I needed to let it go. I didn’t know that I could trust in the age-old wisdom that time is a healer. Instead, I held on so tightly to my outrage at the injustice, that suffering became my identity. And as a result, a decade of eating disorders kept me in a hell of my own creation. In Buddhism, they call this the second arrow. The first arrow causes the initial wound and is outside of our control. The second, we inflict on ourselves. It is the mental anguish we suffer believing that this adversity should not have happened.