“Stress is being here when you want to be there”
– Eckhart Tolle
Our greatest source of suffering is not outside of ourselves, it is an internal problem: our inability to accept reality as it is.
Like a kidnapping victim tied to a chair, we thrash against our fate, making no difference to the outcome but hurting ourselves more than necessary during the process.
If you can just come to terms with how life ACTUALLY is, instead of clinging to an imagined fiction of how you think it “should be”, you’ll enjoy a much higher quality of life.
With that in mind, here are 10 such truths that I’ve learned to accept (or am still trying to accept) to increase the peace in my mind:
1. People are self-centred
The very reason our species has dominated this planet is because each individual is obsessed with personal fulfilment. Whenever you wonder why someone could cut you off in traffic, or skip your party for some other event, or complain about you while doing the same bad behaviour themselves, understand that they – like you – are primarily focused on getting their own needs met (especially people-pleasers). It’s only a problem if you don’t accept it.
2. Everything comes to an end
Every dollar you earn. Every relationship you build. Every possession you own. Everything, without exception, eventually leaves or dies and disintegrates. People irrationally try to keep things, as if there is some permanence that’s possible. Time takes everything away. Enjoy it while it stays, accept it when it goes.
3. Lifestyle is endlessly spinning plates
There is no way to have an enjoyable life that doesn’t require any maintenance or effort. Entropy is constantly picking apart anything you build. You can’t keep all the areas of your life functioning perfectly at the same time, so it’s inevitable that when you focus on one thing another thing will start to fail. You’ll just have to regularly switch focus to keep the plates spinning… forever.
4. Nobody can read your mind
Yeah I know, everyone should just know what you want and how to treat you. It should be obvious, right? Well, it’s really not. What’s obvious to you is a complete mystery to others. If you don’t ask, they won’t know what you want. If you don’t set boundaries, they won’t know how to respect you. You’ll have to keep telling them, too, over and over again. Forever.
5. Nobody else agrees completely with your ideal world
Everyone reckons that if they could rule the world, they’d set everything right. Hitler also thought that, so did Genghis Khan and Julius Caesar. Your version of “right” is someone else’s version of hell. And even the people who agree with you will have some elements of difference (e.g. look at how many different versions of Christianity exist). You’ll have to keep your fantasy to yourself – you’re probably wrong anyway.
6. Emotions are unavoidable
At some point around the 1980’s, a “happiness movement” started, convincing all of us that it’s possible to sustain a permanently positive mood. It’s an interesting idea, mostly because it’s amazing that anyone could possibly believe something that is so untrue. Having a range of emotions – for your entire life – is a guarantee. If you can just embrace all emotions instead of trying to stop or control them, you’ll suffer a lot less.
7. Good connections require confrontations
If your connection with someone is completely agreeable and there is never any need for confrontations, disagreement or boundary-setting, I promise that one or both of you is being fake. A genuine connection will inevitably reveal key differences in opinion, preference and philosophy that will create at least a mild conflict. Go towards this rather than away from it, and accept that even 30 years into a marriage you’ll still need to have regular confrontations.
8. There is no such thing as a pain-free life
Everyone promising a solution to all your problems is lying to you. There is no permanent fix to pain. Why? Because the human brain is wired for dissatisfaction. You will always eventually come to find problems in your life, even if before there seemed to be none. Choose good problems to have rather than trying avoid having any.
9. Nothing external will fix your internal problems
You can’t travel to the other side of the world and expect the guilt you feel about your family will magically disappear. No amount of money will end your financially insecurity for the long-term. No partner or amount of sex will end your loneliness. The Work must be done while keeping in mind that all suffering is internal.
10. Enjoyment must be earned
There’s a reason lottery winners regularly end up worse off financially than before. It’s because they can’t handle that much money. If you don’t earn your rewards, you’ll be unable to truly appreciate or manage them. Success is a burden that requires skill and resilience to handle. Let go of getting things for free or getting an easy ride. Instead, try to earn rewards the hard way, so that the process itself is rewarding. So what if someone else got it easier than you? What’s that got to do with your life?