New Year's Resolution #3: Don't Believe Everything You Think

What is the cause of suffering? It's the things that happen to us, right? It's the things other people do to us (or cause to happen) or the random lousy things that seem to happen to us that cause us to suffer (and, by "suffer" I mean feel badly, whether that's anger, sadness, frustration, rage, disappointment, get the idea, right?). "Bad" things happen, and that causes people to suffer. 

We may think our suffering is caused by what other people do or by random bummers, but that's not entirely true! Our suffering is actually caused not by what happens to us but what we think about what happens to us. It's not what other people do (or should do, or should not do), but what we think about what other people do or do not do. 

And, that's good news. Because, suffering is optional. We opt in, and we could just as easily opt out. There is only ONE person who is in charge of that, and it is the one doing the thinking.

Here's an example to illustrate:

You're driving in your car down a peaceful, quiet country road, enjoying the beauty and serenity of the day and the drive. And, you glance in your rear-view mirror to see, coming up fast behind you, a candy-red sports car. You do a double-take, and in no time, that candy-red sports car is right up on your rear bumper. 

And, everything has now changed. You don't even notice that your calm and serenity are all gone, and now you're fixated on that candy-red sports car! 

Now, you begin to fume as the driver flashes their headlights. And, you, annoyed and feeling abused, refuse to pull over so the car can pass. In a couple of miles, the road straightens out, and the sports car passes you. You resist the strong urge to flip them the bird and tailgate them in retaliation for harassing you and ruining your day. But, the car speeds off and it's gone.

Even though the whole event lasted only minutes, the rest of your day is pretty much ruined, as you relive and rehash and retell the atrocity, even if only to yourself.

But...who ruined it? Many folks would say that it was the driver of the candy-red sports car, right?

I propose, however, that your well as your day...was ruined by a story. If you were fuming about the arrogance and self-importance of the driver of that car, you have created a story about that that may not even be true! 

You may have believed that the driver shouldn't have been speeding, that the driver was self-important and arrogant. None of these thoughts feel good, and if you believe them, you are allowing that person to stay with you indefinitely, as you fume and think about it and feel wronged and abused.

Who is doing the thinking? Not the driver of the candy-red sports car; that driver is long gone. You are the only thinker in your head. So, when you attach to and even embrace thoughts that feel bad, you are choosing thoughts that create the unhappy feelings that ruin your day. 

While it doesn't matter why the driver was speeding, the truth is that you have no idea what may have been going on for that driver, do you? You have no idea why she was speeding or even who she was. For all you know, she may have been rushing to the hospital (in a borrowed car) to say goodbye to her husband, whom she learned had been in a terrible accident and wasn't expected to live through the night. Or, she may have been a self-important, arrogant person on her way to a nail appointment! what? How will your suffering change that? Is it worth it to sacrifice your joy to the belief that someone else sucks? 

When you catch yourself suffering, you could choose to remember that our stories cause our feelings...not what happens to us. You could ask yourself if your beliefs may be the root cause of your suffering and see if simply releasing the story (not arguing with it...just letting it go) could bring you back the peace you love. It's easier to let go of a story when you can see that it is the cause of your pain. You could ask yourself if there is a kinder or better-feeling story you could replace the unhappy story with.

"So what?" is a great question!

And, suffering is always optional!