The other day, someone was telling me about an undesirable situation he was in and I asked him why he was choosing to remain in it. He said he has made his bed and now he has to lie in it. This brings to mind something that I often come across when looking at the complexities about being in a state of suffering: how we can trap ourselves in suffering by doing nothing to reconcile the conflicts that give rise to the suffering.
We might try to change things superficially within the situation, hoping it will bring improvement, but that may not be enough or effective. And if what you’re doing to try to change or improve things brings no real and lasting results, you may end up feeling frustrated with yourself and make your suffering even more immediate to you.
Pain and suffering comes when there is conflict within you, and this conflict can come from a gap between (a) what is and what you want; (b) what you’re doing and who you want to be; (c) what you want and what another part of you wants. In this article, I will focus on the conflict between what is and what you want.
With any type of conflict, the way to ease your suffering is to reconcile that conflict – which means narrowing the gap between what is and what you want. So if you find yourself in a situation that is far from where you want to be, you can either work to accept the situation or change the situation entirely by getting out of it.
Acceptance goes a long way in reconciling this conflict. When you accept the situation, you shorten the gap between what is and what you want. Similarly, when you move yourself closer to where you want to be, that conflict is reconciled. As the gap narrows, you move towards inner peace, which is the opposite of suffering. There is no longer unmet desire in your situation, and thus there is only peace. There is no gap between what is and what you want.
Of course, we seldom come to a place of neutrality where the conflict has been totally reconciled within you. But the closer you move towards that reconciliation, the more peace you have.
The saying, I’ve made my bed and now I have to lie in it has a self-punishing connotation. It is defeatist, as it makes you resign to being defeated by your circumstance. It does not transform the way you look at your circumstance, it just shuts you down in bleakness and depression.
Thus, lying in the bed you’ve made is not accepting it nor are you anywhere closer to where you want to be. The mere fact that you are staying in that situation does not make you in acceptance of it. This is where a lot of people get stuck – thinking that since they’re still in it, they’ve accepted it. Nothing could be further from the truth – when you stay in a situation you do not desire, you widen the gap between what you want and where you are. This causes greater conflict, and greater conflict means more suffering.
But moving into acceptance may require you to remain in that situation you’re in. The problem comes when you simply stay in it without working on reconciling it within yourself. So if you are choosing to work on acceptance to reconcile your conflict, you can’t just stay in the same emotional space within that situation.
How do you work on accepting where you are? It starts by fully acknowledging to yourself the reality of the situation. Notice your resistance to open up to the truth of where you’ve found yourself to be. State what you like and dislike about it. What do you find difficult to accept? It’s not about lying to yourself or trying to convince yourself that you like it when you don’t. Rather it’s about relaxing your defenses against what you are judging to be bad. Be open, stay open. The thing about relaxing your defenses is that you will see your truth clearly for the first time, and your truth will inform you of your best direction.
If working on acceptance does not work out for you, then (in most cases) you still have another option to reconcile your conflict. This is also where people tend to get stuck: they don’t see that they have a choice. What gets in the way of seeing you have a choice might be issues of guilt – i.e. you made a decision in the past and it is wrong to get out of it. Staying in the situation then breeds resentment in you and towards the parties involved in the situation. In other words, everybody suffers in the buildup of tension.
I think lying in the bed you’ve made was coined as a way to let us learn certain life lessons like humility and responsibility. It allows you to stay put while you mature and develop your character through remorse and self-reflection. These are valuable lessons, but the problem is that after you have learnt these lessons you still may not like being in the situation you are in.
Parents whose marriage has reached an irreparable stage and who choose to stay together for the sake of their children is an example of the destructive effects of not choosing to move out of the situation. They think that by staying together they would help their children be happier but the kind of unhappiness that the children have to go through living in a household where the adults are constantly in conflict with each other is often more damaging than dealing with their parents divorcing.
It might be a job, a relationship, that has gone stale and uninspiring, or so filled with hostilities that it is taxing to remain in it. Staying put in a situation that is taking a toll on you emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually is an act of self-punishment. But it doesn’t get you anywhere. You may think that you are repaying for something you owe someone or a choice you made that involved giving up something else for this. But you may never reach a sufficient level of repayment by simply staying in it, because you are ‘repaying’ with negative energy. Thus, you are increasing the size of what you feel you owe rather than working off the ‘debt’.
On the other hand, doing the work to release yourself from the hold of guilt, from whatever you deem you have done, will not only free you to live again but also liberate the parties involved in the situation. Try taking the opposite direction. A solution that works out for everyone might be found when you look in another direction.
Misplaced responsibility may prevent you from leaving a situation that no longer works for you. This is usually relevant when someone else has vested interest in you being in the situation and frequently expresses their displeasure in the idea of you bailing out – which may involve manipulation, threats and guilt-tripping. It then makes it seem as though it is not a choice that you can make, for there are apparent costs and consequences laid out for you. When this happens, it can muddle your truth.
So what can you do to leave the situation you are in so that you are closer to what you want? You can use the philosophy of Presence, Power, Passion to guide you towards that destination.
Take stock of your resources and decide how you are going to mobilise them to gain your freedom. This can include (a) practical resources such as monetary savings, assets, investments; (b) people resources such as supportive friends and useful contacts. Deal with your fear/guilt and decide not to let it get in the way of your happiness.
Appreciate the fact that you have a choice to get out of your situation. Celebrate it. Connect to your personal power and honour your legitimate right to be happy and free. Use the energy of fear/guilt to drive you forward to change; there’s a tremendous amount of power stored in your fear/guilt. Separate the story from the emotion and simply use the power behind the emotion to propel you forward.
Keep expanding into the change until you are completely filled up with an intense aliveness – which may feel like excitement but deeper, or like arousal but more encompassing. Appreciate the movement of energies in you as you step into the change. Ground yourself in the new situation and feel what it inspires in you.
As you lie in your new bed, rejoice! Be present to the freshness and freedom. Feel your power strongly within your hold, the power you have taken back when you transitioned into this new situation. Give yourself permission to be happy, to be deserving of this gift, as you let go of the last vestiges of guilt and free fall into blissfulness.