Suffering is optional - four steps to stop creating it

Lately I’ve been listening to the teachings of Pema Chodron on the Buddhist approach to habit change. I’ve written about these teachings before. It’s been a good reminder to notice when I get triggered, or “hooked” as Pema says. Getting “hooked” is when you get caught in a habitual pattern that causes you to suffer.

So the other day I got hooked. I got a text that triggered me. I did nothing (knowing from experience that text message fights never go well). However, although I didn’t react outwardly, I did however stew, ruminate, and internally rehearse a monologue that I would present upon seeing this person. Meanwhile I was getting more worked up, more upset, more frustrated, and feeling hard-done by, etc…

And then it hit me – I was the one causing my own suffering

Buddhist philosophy states that all beings want to be happy and free from suffering. However, the way we go about it is all wrong. Instead of feeling better, we often just end up feeling worse.

When something sets us off, we right away want to escape the discomfort. So we react quickly in an attempt to get out of pain. The problem is, not only do we perpetuate our suffering, but we are watering the seeds for that same pattern of reaction to arise the next time we get triggered. And we never get any closer to our desired state.

I was reminded about our tendency to create our own suffering in the Buddhist teaching of the second arrow.

The teaching goes, when something bad happens our reaction is often to whine, feel regret, be hard on ourselves, and take it personally. Buddha taught that the bad event is the first arrow, which can be painful. Our reaction to the event is the second arrow, the one we shoot to ourselves, this is the cause of our suffering.

So how do you break the chains of negative habits of reactivity and connect to your innate freedom? How do you stop shooting yourself with the second arrow?

First it is to realize that you cause your own suffering. To notice your habitual impulsive behaviors without piling self-defeating thoughts on top of it (that would be layering suffering on top of pain) and shooting yourself with a second arrow. To recognize how you tend to react without judgement. It’s not personal – everyone does it.

Second is to have the self-awareness to catch yourself when you get hooked. (I would say this is much easier if you have a regular meditation practice). To notice when you’re triggered and about to react in the same old way. (The hard part is to catch it before you react) And even if you catch yourself after you react, you can halt the progress of your suffering in its tracts.

Third is to choose a different response – anything, as long as it’s not what you usually do. In my case I changed my perspective of the text message – how did I contribute to the misunderstanding?

Or even more advanced – do nothing. Sit in the fire of your discomfort, feel it in your body, notice the physical sensation of what it feels like to be uncomfortable without trying to avoid it or make it go away as quickly as possible. Can you just pause and breathe into it, imbed yourself in the experience of it fully? You’ll notice that what happens is that it fades and disappears. Remind yourself: “this is impermanent” or “this too shall pass”.

Yoga is being comfortable with the uncomfortable.

And lastly, remember that it’s a practice. Lather, rinse, repeat. You will never have a shortage of circumstances, situations or people that will set you off. However, you can burn those karmic seeds of suffering and instead of strengthening the seeds of anger, jealousy, and fear, you can slowly allow them to loosen their grip on you. But you have to practice “with enthusiasm” as Pema says, knowing that your efforts will lead to the happiness we’re all after.

Yoga and Buddhism are rich with life lessons intended to improve our life and our experience of our lives. However, the teachings are only useful if we put them into practice. I find that in order to keep them in the forefront of my mind I need to be plugged into a community that is consciously practicing, reminding each other and supporting each other towards our best selves. My Align and Thrive health coaching course is just that – a space to live the teachings, to grow ourselves together, both individually and collectively. We work on improving our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being through the healthier daily habits of yoga and Ayurveda. If this sounds intriguing to you and if you want to learn more, let’s talkThis course will change the trajectory of your life – guaranteed.