Most of us experience moderate pain, and some of us have to endure chronic, intense pain for extended periods. Pain is there for a reason—to warn us of harm, to let us know that something is wrong, or to stop us from doing further damage. It’s generally not pleasant, and is sometimes difficult or impossible to endure. But pain and suffering are not the same thing. Pain is a signal, and suffering is our reaction to it. In some cases, it’s possible to control or reinterpret that reaction and decrease or cease our suffering. It’s certainly easier said than done, and it may not work for everyone or in every circumstance, but it’s worth exploring.
Even though our feelings are intertwined with the feelings, words, and actions of others, the responsibility for them is ultimately ours and ours alone. There are extreme situations in which another person can significantly impact our emotional state, but we are still responsible for what we do in response to that impact. We should never give that responsibility to anyone else. When we abdicate responsibility for our emotions and give that responsibility to others, we give them power over us—power that is rightfully ours. Realizing this can give us a great sense of freedom: freedom to act in ways that will give us happiness, fulfillment, and peace, and freedom from others’ control over us.
What does it mean to be fully present when you’re with people?
When we’re with other people, our minds can wander, as they do during any other activities. But with people, there’s the added dimension of what the other person is thinking. It can be challenging to follow the dynamic of both minds and how they engage. In conversation, for example, some people are naturals, while for others, it can be a struggle. But being an easy conversationalist doesn’t always translate to being aware of and intentional about the dynamic between us and other people. A meaningful encounter with someone doesn’t even have to involve talking. When two people are completely present when they’re together, there’s a whole other level of engagement that can involve conversation, but it also involves body language, empathy, and mood. It can be incredibly meaningful.
The past year was challenging for many. Most of us had unprecedented circumstances that we had to deal with and adapt to. Some of us faced more dire circumstances than others, including the presence of COVID and the resulting illness and loss of loved ones; the specter of losing our livelihoods; and the stress and uncertainty related to hurricanes, wildfires, and the alarming political landscape. It was not a relaxing year. How do we cope when everything seems out of whack and there are multiple sources of anxiety and stress? How can we learn to be resilient? It’s certainly not a switch we can turn on when we need it. We have to take the time to process what we’re going through while at the same time figuring out how we can best adapt to the specific effects of what we’re experiencing. This takes reflection, perspective, and proactivity. It also takes courage—we have to face the new reality and accept the changes that are happening.
Most things in life are cyclical. We have periods when everything goes our way and periods when nothing seems to go right at all. This is natural and normal. Rather than always waiting for the highs and bemoaning the lows, we need to expect and learn from the lows and fully experience and be grateful for the highs. There is always something beautiful, meaningful, and important in our lives, even in the lowest points.