Throughout my life I have earnestly asked myself this question in trying moments. Approaching this inquiry from different angles, I arrived at two interconnected answers. You see, there are two layers to suffering I have identified that are opposite ends of the same coin. Here it is:
1) Refusal to wholeheartedly accept what is before us.
2) The wishing for something else we deem more ideal.
Consequently, suffering is often not caused by what is happening, but rather what we believe should be happening. This is significant.
For example: a relationship is fractured: it could be parental, family, personal, intimate; a child is born with a disability; we lost our job etc. We feel deeply hurt. We struggle and inwardly suffer. But if you peel back the layers, you will find 1) a refusal to wholeheartedly embrace what is happening; for despite it being real, we reject it. We do not want it to be our reality…even though it is. Next 2) we harbor a wish for something else we believe should be happening. So along with the rejection, we have exacting desires of what we believe “should be” happening. This “should be” introduces a friction, a tremendous tension, and an unbearable pressure that oppresses us.
But the truth is: where do we even get these ideas of what “should be”? When I ask this question, I find myself quite clueless. Society? Religion? Books? When did these ideas creep in, dominate our expectations, and cause us to wish for only that in such a way that if anything besides it manifests we are disappointed, sad, oppressed… and thus suffer? This is a question we each have to face.
I have children, and I watch them closely. Here is what I have discovered: part of what makes children so happy is that they do not spend time nourishing exacting ideas of what “should be”. They just face “what is”, accept it, and adjust to it. Through this they can be faced with even the most unsavory situations but still emerge relatively content. Ergo, I have seen through my life experiences that it is my fixed ideas coupled my rigid unwillingness to often embrace what is before me that are the chief sources of my sharpest sufferings. No matter whether in big or small situations.
Perhaps that is why Jesus once exhorted us “Become like children”.
An advice so simple, yet so profound, practical, and all-encompassing.
~Ikenna Q Ezealah