The secret to suffering

As nearly every philosophy over time has identified, there’s nothing more painful – nothing that causes more suffering – than wishing for a reality that does not exist.

I call this “thrashing in a chair”.

Imagine you’ve been kidnapped and securely tied to a chair. Now, if you stay completely still, as if you chose to sit in the chair, then it feels fine.

As soon as you start to struggle against the ropes, you hurt yourself and you get agitated and it’s really unpleasant. Also, instead of making the most of being a guy stuck in a chair, you’re just wasting time and energy doing something pointless.

But if you choose to sit in the chair, even though you’ve been tied to it, it’s exactly the same as purposefully sitting in a chair.

I’d see this with the prisoners I used to work with. Those who accepted that they were in prison and couldn’t get out were actually able to enjoy life as well as anybody on the outside, sometimes even more than the average “free” person.

Those who couldn’t come to terms with being imprisoned were constantly getting into trouble, having fights, and – ironically – ended up getting their sentences extended due to bad behaviour.

Thrashing in a chair you’re tied to only hurts you, and it doesn’t improve the situation.

So if you can choose the situation you’re already in, by saying to yourself, “This is what I have to work with, so I will work with it”, you don’t get that sense of struggle and suffering.

If you try to work against it, even though it’s out of your control, you’ll suffer no matter what the situation is.

Some situations and circumstances are objectively out of your control. Others, you have a varying range of influence over. When you accept the uncontrollable and focus in on what you can (and should) have a bigger influence on, you won’t feel trapped.

And if you feel trapped, that’s the warning sign that you’re focused on the bit you can’t control.

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One Response

  1. Another way to approach this is asking yourself, “What’s the best use of my time and energy in this situation?”

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