How To Appreciate The Present Moment—Even When It's Painful
"Pain is not the same as suffering. Left to itself, the body discharges pain spontaneously, letting go of it the moment that the underlying cause is healed. Suffering is pain that we hold on to. It comes from the mind's mysterious instinct to believe that pain is good, or that it cannot be escaped, or that the person deserves it." –Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life
My wife: It hurts when I wear these shoes.
Me: Then don’t wear those shoes.
My wife: But I like them.
Pain is a signal. Suffering is what happens when we ignore that signal, when we resist whatever change will be required to eliminate the source of pain: when we insist on wearing those shoes, or staying in that relationship, or trying to make a 13-hour road trip in one day with two young children strapped into car seats. Why would we do this? There are many reasons. Mostly I’d suggest it’s because we refuse to accept the situation in front of us for what it is. (The trip should really take two days.) And instead of accepting, we try to rationalize the situation or speculate about why we’re suffering. We get all tangled up in our thoughts, wondering what it means, why me, thinking what we could’ve done differently, or whining about what someone else should have done differently. And deep down, as Deepak Chopra acknowledges, perhaps we suffer because we believe—have, in fact, been taught by parents/schools/churches to believe—that we don’t deserve better. Life is suffering. Suffering is virtue. A vale of tears. Blah, blah, blah.
This is not the Vedic worldview. The Veda teaches us that the nature of life is bliss. That suffering is a choice. It's our choice not to accept the situation for what it is but instead to hold on, tenaciously, to how we thought/imagined/hoped things would be. We live in our heads and not in the world, and this is why we suffer. So how can we choose differently? First by getting out of our heads, i.e., by knowing ourselves as something other than our thoughts and feelings.
One of the great gifts of meditation is that it allows us, twice a day, to know the truth of our essential nature: that beyond our thoughts, our ego, our doubts, and our frustrations, we are perfect, whole, and complete. We allow our mind to settle to quieter and calmer layers of consciousness, perhaps having an experience of that baseline level of transcendental consciousness at which there are no problems, no speculation, no thinking at all. Just pure, unbounded, blissful silence. And having had that experience, we re-enter the world of thinking and doing with a bit more perspective, a bit more of an ability to accept the situation, any situation, for what it is: temporary.
We are not doomed to suffer. We can change how we feel and act and, in doing so, improve both our ability to appreciate the present moment (no matter how painful) and to create for ourselves a better future. And the best part is that it’s as easy as finding a comfy chair, closing our eyes, thinking our mantra, and doing as little as possible. No concentrating, no focusing, just allowing nature to take its course. Pure acceptance. Which is, nicely, the exact opposite of suffering.