Pain is inevitable in life. That doesn’t mean we have to suffer from pain. By making room for it, in our bodies and in our lives, we can make the experience a little less bitter.
This notion of ageing and death is insupportable for the individual human being, in the kind of civilization we live in it develops in a sovereign and unconditional manner, it gradually occupies the whole field of consciousness , it allows nothing else to subsist. In this way, and little by little, knowledge of the world’s constraints is established. Desire itself disappears; only bitterness, jealousy and fear remain. Above all there remains bitterness; an immense and inconceivable bitterness. No civilization, no epoch has been capable of developing such a quantity of bitterness in its subjects. In that sense we are living through unprecedented times. If it was necessary to sum up the contemporary mental state in a word, that’s the one I’d undoubtedly choose: bitterness.
Michel Houellebecq. Whatever.
‘In expansion mode, rather than trying to get rid of unpleasant feelings, we open up and accommodate them. We make room for them and allow them to come and go in their own good time. It doesn’t mean we like them, want them or approve of them; we just stop investing our time and effort in fighting them. And the more space we can give those difficult feelings, the smaller their impact and influence on our lives.
There’s an ancient Indian tale that illustrates this point very well. An old Hindu master was fed up with the continual complaints and grumbles of his apprentice. So one day, he asked the young man to fetch him a cup of water and a bowl of salt. When the young man returned, the master said, ‘Now tip a handful of salt into the water.’ The apprentice did so. The master then swirled the water around in the cup until all the salt had dissolved. ‘Now taste it,’ he said to the apprentice. The apprentice took a sip and screwed up his face in disgust. ‘How does it taste?’ asked the master. ‘Horrible,’ said the apprentice. The master chuckled. ‘Yes, very unpleasant,’ he said. ‘Now follow me.’
They walked down to the edge of a nearby lake, and the master said, ‘Now tip a handful of salt into the lake.’ The apprentice did so. The master said, ‘Now taste the water from the lake.’ The apprentice drank from the lake, and this time he smiled. ‘Not so hard to swallow, eh?’ said the master. ‘This salt is like the inevitable pain of life. In both cases, the amount of salt is the same; but the smaller the container, the greater the bitterness. So when life gives us pain, instead of closing in around it, like this cup, we would do better to enlarge and open, like the lake.’
Russ Harris. The Confidence Gap.