Monday, January 14, 2008

To Suffer or Not to Suffer

We are all enrolled in this gargantuan University we call Life. Attendance is mandatory. But that doesn't mean we are forced to gain knowledge or understanding. That is entirely up to us. We can repeat the same courses for a lifetime. Or we can learn what we need to learn and move on. Sometimes, we are required to take refresher courses because we haven't practiced, and therefore have forgotten, what we previously learned in a given course.

There are lessons in this University, and then there are interpretations of those lessons. It's in the Interpretation Department that we often get into trouble.

For instance, I was enrolled from birth in a course entitled "Letting Go". My mother and father divorced when I was an infant, and I usually saw my father about once a year during my childhood and adolescence. Children often will misinterpret lessons, and I was no exception. The lesson I took from my father's absence was that I must not be worthy of his attention. Perhaps I wasn't good enough to be wanted.

And so for the better part of my life, I expected people to abandon me. And I learned to be self-protective. I even married someone who is emotionally unavailable, because then, hey, what have you got to lose?

The trouble with being self-protective is that you create your own loneliness. You feel disconnected, and even though that disconnection is illusory, it feels very real.

And the trouble with getting into "safe" relationships, where there is no sense of connection to lose in the first place, is that you miss out on the very wonderful experience of intimacy. I know intimacy, because I do have family members, including my children, with whom I have always shared a deep connection.

So, you may not have anything to lose when you play it safe, but you also have nothing to gain. What's the point of even going into such a relationship except to learn that this is not what you really want?

It is said that you can't change the past, but in one sense you actually can. You can change your interpretation of events in the past, and thus rewrite your own history. That is what I did when I decided I didn't want to be plagued with abandonment issues any longer.

I opened my mind and expanded my vantage point, and the idea came to me that there is no abandonment. People and things come and go from our lives in natural cycles of birth and death, gain and loss, meeting and parting. Everything is temporary. It is not loss, but our resistance to loss, that causes us pain. It is our thinking that it should not have happened. He should not have left me. He should have been there for me. Therein lies the source of our suffering.

I am not sure I have fully realized this lesson. But now that I know that my own thoughts, and not anyone else's actions, are the source of my pain, I know I have a choice. I can suffer if I choose to, but it is not necessary. What freedom!

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