Raging at Windmills

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“Happiness and suffering come from your own mind, not outside. Your own mind is the cause of happiness; your own mind is the cause of suffering. In order to obtain happiness and pacify suffering, you have to work within your own mind.”
~Lama Zopa Rinpoche

The photo above was taken about midway through what I’m affectionately calling “the hike from hell.” The trail is on Mt. Lemmon near Tuscon, Arizona. We started at around 8000ft above sea level and climbed around 1000ft more before looping back to the end.

I was in tears before we’d even reached 100ft! My 33-year-old daughter hiked with me and has labeled it “the best hike ever!”

How can our perspectives be so very different? The first and most obvious reason is that she’s 20 years younger than me, about 40 pounds lighter and accustomed to higher altitudes in her home state of Vermont. I live in the flatlands of Oklahoma – the highest altitude available to me is the Devon Tower in downtown Oklahoma City and, as high as that might seem to me (at 52 floors and 844 ft tall), it’s still around 150ft short of this climb! My body was not happy with me at all!!

But there is actually more to her happiness and my misery. I’m quite certain she didn’t learn this from me, but my daughter has the ability to look at something hard, accept it for what it is and work within her limitations to get it done. I looked at that hike and thought, “there is no way I can do this, but I am not gonna quit.” Both perspectives got us to the top and back, but mine left me suffering and hers left her joyful.

I heard a very smart discussion on mindfulness last week in which one of the key points came as an equation…

suffering = pain x resistance

Mt. Lemmon created physical pain for me, but my mind created the resistance. I could have drunk more water, taken more breaks, been more mindful of the beauty of an oak and pine woodland high above the Sonoran Desert. This is an extreme example, of course, but there’s a grain of truth in it for the regular, everyday suffering I endure in my life.

  • Say you’re cut off in traffic – I’m likely to react in anger, jumping to resistance and fight mode and creating personal suffering for myself, while the indifferent driver goes on with his/her day, unphased.

Possible Alternative: simply notice what happened and move on, grateful that no one came to harm.

  • What if a friend says something that offends you? For me, there will be hurt feelings, more anger, more personal suffering. My friend might be mildly affected when I don’t call her for a few weeks, but I’m going to suffer that entire time.

Possible Alternative: realize what she said pushed a button she might not even be aware of and know that my reaction was something that was within my control.

  • Here’s one last example – a service person (airline attendant, barista, checkout clerk, etc.) is rude to you. I might not say anything, but I will sure give them the stink eye! And I will suffer for hours (maybe even a few days)!

Possible Alternative: remember how badly service jobs can suck and give the person some credit for being human – none of us are at our best when we’re in a stressful, thankless job. The real alternative might be to offer up a smile and word of encouragement!

I think I’m learning that these types of interactions fall into the “choose your battles” realm of thinking. I can get mad and rage at windmills or I can acknowledge what happened, do what I can to respond (using the resources available to me) and go on with my happy little life, suffering-free!

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