Life is painful.
Staring at a computer screen all day.
Feeling that your work isn’t well paid or meaningful. Not having work.
Sitting on a chair all day.
Feeling disconnected from community.
Feeling disconnected from nature.
Reading about war, murder, rape, lies and disaster in the news and feeling helpless to do anything about them.
Knowing that we are systematically destroying the natural world, piling up mountains of toxic waste, polluting the air, water and soil and disrupting the climate.
Knowing that our food production results in animal cruelty.
Consigning old people to homes and fearing we’ll end up there too.
Putting children in boxes devoid of natural light, asking them to sit still all day and ranking them on their ability to master abstract concepts that they often don’t see the relevance of.
Being the latest in a long line of humans who have been taught to suppress their emotions.
Living in an unequal society.
Living in a culture that doesn’t make space for grief.
Constantly comparing and competing on the basis of looks, status, money, achievements, bodies, intelligence, age and so many other things.
Thinking that we are the only one who is in pain and everyone else is living a happy life.
Other people denying that our pain exists, or that they played a part in it, is painful. Denying our own pain is painful.
So, I’m acknowledging it here.
Why is life painful?
It is natural to ask ourselves, why? What is the root cause of all this harm?
And the way I have usually answered that question is either with, ‘because other people are cruel and heartless’ or ‘because I’m not good enough.’ Either there’s something wrong with them or there’s something wrong with me.
Both of these conclusions increase and perpetuate the pain and they are not correct. We are all, at heart, people who delight in the thriving of life. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with any of us; we are just unable to see the real cause of our pain, which I believe to be the conditions we live in and the extent to which we criticise ourselves for not being happy in these painful conditions.
What can we do about it?
Firstly, make the commitment to let go of hating yourself for the way you feel, or for not being successful, productive or disciplined enough; for self-medicating with food, drink or drugs; for not being a good enough parent, employee, friend or partner; or not being able to save other people from their pain.
The hate makes you feel worse and distracts you from finding real solutions.
Instead, learn to love and accept yourself for who you are. Accept that to feel sadness, grief, anxiety, anger, despair or numbness in the disconnected modern world we live in is completely natural. If we didn’t feel there was something wrong, there would be something wrong with us. We need to realise that everyone is suffering; everyone struggles and fails in their own ways. No one is perfect. Everyone is doing their best with what they’ve got.
Learn to love and accept the people you dislike or disagree with by asking yourself the question, ‘What is it like to be you?’ ‘Might I be acting the same way if I had had the same life experiences?’
If you had had the same life as a criminal, terrorist or corrupt politician, how sure are you that you wouldn’t be acting the same as them now?
It doesn’t help to hate someone for being who they are or for what they’ve done, whether that’s a right-wing politician, immigrant, Brexit voter, world leader or relative.
How about, instead of asking ourselves, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ or ‘What’s wrong with them’, asking, ‘What conditions does it take for life to thrive? For me to thrive? For us to thrive?’
‘What do I need to feel safe and loved? How do I want to evolve and what kind of a world do I want to see us evolve into?’
How about, instead of measuring progress in pounds and pence, we measure it in the harmony we experience with ourselves, each other and the natural world?
The scale of the suffering in the world, and how difficult it can feel to make changes even in our own lives, can lead to a sense of cynicism or hopelessness.
But if even a small proportion of the energy that is currently used up hating ourselves or others was focused on positive transformation, I think it would be an unstoppable force for good.