Most of our suffering is self-inflicted. How does this happen?
It all starts with desire: we want something. Then we make a leap from desire to belief: we believe that our desire should be fulfilled. We “should” lose weight. We “should not” eat that dessert. Someone “should” invite us to their party. Someone “should not” cut us off in traffic. The cake we baked “should” taste great. Our roof “should not” leak.
These beliefs are rigid mental constructs that we tell ourselves must not be violated, and that if they are violated, then that must be a horrible occurrence. So when someone cuts us off in traffic or our roof leaks, we react with emotional pain because we’ve already told ourselves that we must react that way. It’s premeditated.
The problem is not so much the life events that occur, but our beliefs about them. If events themselves caused suffering, then everyone would suffer equally from each event. But that’s not what happens, is it? Some people get very upset when someone cuts them off in traffic, while others don’t react at all. Why? The former people believe that other drivers must respect them by maintaining a certain minimum distance when passing them. When events go contrary to that, they still cling to their belief. “That jerk shouldn’t have gotten so close!” The latter folks are not saddled with such a belief, so there is no mental construct to be violated.
When people claim that such-and-such should or should not have happened, they argue with reality. It is an unwinnable argument because reality is what is. Period. It’s not necessarily what we might prefer. It simply is. The more we try to fight it, the more we torture ourselves. The only way to avoid this pain is to stop creating and upholding beliefs. Reality is to be accepted, not battled, because it’s a battle we can never win.
Accepting reality does not necessarily mean that we enjoy every event. Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t take steps to prevent or alleviate unpleasant situations. We do not enjoy the fact that our roof is leaking. Nor should we pretend to. But to insist that it “should not” leak is absurd. It is leaking. Any insistence that it is not a leak is a waste of time and energy. Instead we should call a roofer. That is the sensible, less painful thing to do. We accept (not enjoy, but accept) that the roof is leaking and we know that water causes damage, so we get professional help in order to alleviate the current situation and prevent further damage. After it’s fixed we feel a pleasant sensation of relief, and we appreciate our non-leaky roof more than ever.
Desire is the root of suffering, and we make things even worse when we develop an entitlement mindset by concocting beliefs that we should get whatever we want. We have little control over the Universe, so let’s appreciate what we have and not focus on what we don’t have.