When Trying to Avoid Suffering Makes It Worse

We all try to avoid suffering and in the process enlarge it and so make it worse, Malcolm Durham writes.

That’s because we don’t simply accept the thing that is making us suffer — say a complaint from a client — but enlarge it in a four-step process:

1. We ask questions: “How did this happen to me?”

2. We seek explanations: “It’s because I’m not good enough; because the world is against me.”

3. We heap on self-blame: “I really need to perform better.”

4. We end up feeling desperate: “I’m not going to succeed because these bad things keep happening to me.”

The Buddhist solution is to start by realizing that when something threatens us, we have four possible responses to it. In addition to the Fight or Flight response, animals have a third response, Freeze. And humans have a fourth response: Become Aware. Notice the issue and how you try to run away from it.

It’s impossible to stop negative thoughts but if you notice them, and the physical pain that they create, you will be able to come back to the issue until, quite soon, the pain often passes.