I was 16 when watched my first factory farm investigation video. After that, I had night terrors about slaughterhouses for 6 months.
I became depressed. I watched the seconds tick by on the clock and thought of the thousands of animals that were slaughtered that minute. I wanted so badly to end all of the suffering in the world and dwelled on it constantly.
I thought I was more enlightened than most because I felt the pain of the world so deeply. I considered myself above others who could meander through their days, thoughtlessly enjoying their lives, disregarding the unfathomable amount of suffering that was taking place around the world.
And then one day, I read this quote from Byron Katie: “Reality doesn’t cause suffering. Our thoughts about it do.”
Who is she to say that? I thought indignantly.
I thought that suffering necessarily accompanied pain, so it offended me that someone could say that those in pain have the option to not suffer.
But as I mulled over her statement, I became puzzled. I was suffering, yet I wasn’t in pain. So the two must not be necessarily linked.
And then the absurdity of my previous few years hit me. I had been suffering for no reason. I had foolishly felt obligated to suffer because others are in pain. I was waiting for pain to vanish from the planet before I would allow myself to be at peace.
I believed that if I didn’t suffer, I was allowing other’s pain to persist. I thought that suffering was the only true form of empathy.
I hadn’t realized that there is a big difference between pain and suffering.
Pain is a vibration. Suffering is an interpretation.
Pain is an experience. Suffering is the thought that the experience shouldn’t be there.
Pain is a fact of life. Suffering is a choice.
As Shinzen Young says, “Suffering equals pain times resistance.” The more we resist reality, the more we suffer.
Our suffering is magnified by the extent to which we believe that pain shouldn’t exist.
We cannot eliminate pain from the planet, but we do have the power within us to stop suffering.
Negative emotions experienced fully, without resistance, do not entail suffering.
By fully allowing pain into our experience without resistance, we are training our subconscious mind not to suffer.
With enough practice, we can be conscious of the pain in the world without suffering because of it.
Only when we stop suffering can we be truly effective at creating positive change. And we can only stop suffering when we stop resisting reality. That “should”—that belief that I knew better than the universe—was the source of my suffering.
But thinking that humanity should be different than it is now is as ludicrous as thinking that it shouldn’t be raining when it is. Stressing over how things are is a pointless waste of energy.
It’s never true that something should be different than how it is. Everything is how it is. To change one thing about reality would be to change the entire universe—an impossibility.
Accepting reality as it is frees us from the exhausting battle of fighting against the world.
Believing that reality should be exactly as it is does not make me a resigned bystander to the world’s problems. Accepting reality is not passive or cynical. It is liberating and empowering.
Anger and resentment about the way the world is creates a dam through which inspiration cannot flow.
Trying to fix reality comes from fear—and when we are in fear, we cannot be connected to our creative source of love. Allowing reality to be as it is frees me from the confines of resisting the way the world is, so that I can then help create how it could be.
We can stop suffering by simply shifting our perspective from, “It shouldn’t be this way,” to “it should be this way and I see that something better is possible.” We can use our pain as an opportunity to remember what really matters to us and re-commit to our vision for the world.
The only reason that farm animal cruelty is so upsetting to me is because I see that compassion for all is possible. But when I’m so busy fighting reality and hating those who don’t see this possibility, I am not free to create a new reality.
It is self-indulgent to mope about the conditions of the world and resent reality for how it is. We don’t make the world better by hating the way that it is. We make the world better by loving what we see is possible for the world.
If you can dive into pain and feel it fully, rather than resisting it by thinking it shouldn’t be there, then all you are left with is sensations: the physical heaviness of grief, the tightness in your chest, the drained energy. You can experience these sensations objectively and thus allow them to work through you.
When we aren’t resisting reality, we either accept it fully or we change it. In doing so, we allow each experience to complete itself. We remain whole, because we don’t run from pain. We feel it fully and let it pass. The so-called torments of life can flow through us. We are fully alive. Fully human. Free to pursue our vision for the world.