Suffering usually comes from wanting
things to be different than the way they are.
– Pema Chödrön
I have always been a driven person. I don’t spend a lot of time bemoaning a situation. I am a hunter by nature. I see a problem. I hunt it down to the exclusion of all other things. I solve it and move on to the next problem. Ambition, drive, persistence, initiative – I feel like those are the hallmark of the American journey. They have been the hallmark of my journey. I was raised under the child rearing philosophy “pull up your bootstraps, dust yourself off, and get back on that horse”. That came in handy because I have fallen or been thrown off more than my share of horses literally and metaphorically. My ability to move forward despite adversity has served me well. I haven’t been able to overcome everything though. The truth is that I have “rage(d) against the dying of the light”, as Dylan Thomas put it. It is not the hard things that I have overcome which wear me out. It is the things beyond my control, the unexpected, the unplanned, which lay me low.
If you are invested in security and certainty,
you are on the wrong planet.
As with so much in life, I have learned as much being a mother as I ever learned being a daughter. It is so clear to me that we must teach our children how to deal with the obstacles in life that are beyond our control. To be clear, I don’t mean teach them to just give up at the first sign of adversity. In fact, I think we should teach them to climb when they reach a mountain. But when they reach that mountain, and it is snowing, I think we have to teach them to accept that fact. Rather than suffering because they wish it was not snowing, I think we have to teach them to accept that the weather just is. The weather is not permanent. The weather is not out to get them. The weather is not intentionally ruining their day. No amount of anger or tears will change the weather. I think we have to teach them to be flexible enough to abandon their dream of climbing that day and, perhaps, choose to go skiing instead. Better yet, we should teach them to be comfortable with their disappointment and just sit there enjoying the wonder and magic of a snowfall.
Rather than being disheartened by the uncertainty of life,
what if we accepted it and relaxed into it?
What if we said, “Yes, this is the way it is;
this is what it means to be human,” and
decided to sit down and enjoy the ride?
One of the greatest challenges in life is to learn to be comfortable with discomfort. In fact, I think the pursuit of comfort, the avoidance of disappointment, and the unwillingness to accept our lack of control contribute to destructive forces in our lives and in our children’s lives. I think, as parents, the hardest thing we have to do is to allow our children to experience and learn from difficult feelings like disappointment, failure, loneliness, fear, sadness, and loss. We want to spare them those experiences. I know I do. I would spare my child every single tear if I had that power. But I don’t, and I shouldn’t. We want to solve their problems for them. It is painful to watch them struggle. What we need to do is hold them in compassion. We need to teach our children to hold their difficult or painful feelings in compassion. We need to acknowledge the validity of their feelings. Most of all, we need to let them struggle with experiencing those feelings without making it better for them. We need to help them understand that discomfort and uncertainty are a part of life that they cannot avoid, and that they are not alone in that.
Nothing ever goes away
until it teaches us
what we need to know.
Pema Chödrön says that “nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” I believe that is true. I believe it is especially true when it comes to suffering from those things in life that we wish could be different. See if it is true. When you are standing at the base of that mountain and it starts to snow, put on your skis or, better yet, build a fire and brew some cocoa. Let go of the wish that it was sunny. Let go of your suffering from wanting things to be different than the way they are. Accept the snow for what it is – impermanent.
I picked this picture for this blog because I think it illustrates my point exactly. We were at Kalaloch for spring break. As is typical on the Washington coast in spring, the weather was stormy and cold. We bundled up and took our cues from our little girl who could not have cared less about the weather. She wanted to play on the beach. Rather than bemoan the conditions, we dug in and built a mud castle. It was bliss!