”Seek not to have that everything should happen as you wish, but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen, and you will be serene.” – Epictetus
We often find ourselves in situations that we would prefer not to be in. Perhaps we “planned” on having a fun time and it turned out to be boring or distasteful in some way. Or maybe we simply thought that our day would go one way and it ended up being completely different (in a way we don’t like). What to do then? What happens when we get stuck between “the plan” and “the way it is?”
Sometimes we would like to exert our will on situations and make them different in some way. This is a natural desire, as most of us would like to do things that are enjoyable and would like to avoid things that are unenjoyable. The trouble arises when either our desire to have “fun” itself is causing suffering or when we are resisting allowing the situation to simply “be” as it is.
When we try to control people and events around us, it usually causes suffering in ourselves and in others. Control is a form of force, and force is met with resistance. This doesn’t mean that we are powerless to problem-solve and make healthy choices that are in our best interest. It simply means that we must realize the natural response that comes with trying to alter, change, or control situations – resistance.
Mindfulness Exercise: When Things Don’t Go Your Way
What are our options when we are faced with a situation that we dislike in some way?
I can choose to accept the unfolding situation around me completely. This doesn’t mean that I half-heartedly go along with things in a whining, complaining, or begrudging manner. It means radical acceptance (i.e., total acceptance of all aspects of the present experience). Imagine radical acceptance as total surrender to the reality of the present moment: “I fully accept my current circumstances with open arms.” When you stop fighting back against “what is” and allow it to “be,” you are a true winner because it frees you of unnecessary suffering. Acceptance does not mean approval… it just means not fighting back against reality.
(2) Problem Solve
I can choose to apply problem-solving skills to the present moment. In order to effectively apply problem-solving skills to the moment, you must have first cultivated a sense of mindful awareness of the moment. Without mindful awareness, you have not taken in all of the aspects of the moment in its entirety. Mindfulness means paying attention to and welcoming all parts of the moment, not just those that you would “like” to pay attention to. The benefit of mindful awareness is that it gives you the most information possible to then make later decisions.
I can choose to leave the situation. This is always an option when you are faced with a situation that you dislike or that is causing you significant distress. First apply complete mindful awareness to the moment and make sure that you have accurately observed and described all aspects of the experience. If you are only paying attention selectively to the moment (e.g., overly focusing on the negative), then you are missing the “big picture.” Apply mindfulness practices to the moment first to decide if this is truly a situation that is best avoided. If it is, take responsibility for your choice to leave.
No one truly enjoys being in a situation that is causing them significant mental, emotional, or physical distress. If someone does seem to “enjoy” this form of suffering, it is likely that they truly desire something else (e.g., attention, love, belonging) and are ineffective at getting their true needs met.
We always have three clear choices when things don’t go our way: accept it, change it, or leave it. There is great freedom in recognizing your ability to reduce suffering in this way. The next time that you find yourself in a situation that is causing you discomfort or distress, remember that you have a choice about how to respond to reality.
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