Suffering will happen. If we are human, we will suffer. If we are born into this world, at some point in our lives, something will occur that will cause us deep pain and sorrow. The 4 noble truths of Buddhism help us understand this:
The Four Noble Truths comprise the essence of Buddha’s teachings, though they leave much left unexplained. They are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. – The Basics of Buddhism, PBS
Sometimes painful events that cause suffering happen to us, but sometimes we create our own suffering or augment our pain by how we get hooked in our own distorted thinking patterns or engage with negative thoughts.
ACT or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has the perfect metaphor for this. Imagine you’re job everyday is to wake up, eat breakfast, take a shower and go drive a big bus. You hop into the driver’s seat, buckle up and face the giant window in front of you which represents your day, your world around you. You start pulling out of the parking lot onto your bus route and everything is going great! You’re happily focused on what’s in front of you; all the trees, other cars, buildings, people walking around, etc. You’re mindfully aware of the task at hand and keep facing forward as you move throughout your day.
And then…..you begin making stops, picking up “thought” passenger’s all along the way. Some of these thoughts start making a lot of noise in the back. They start grabbing your attention and get louder and louder. They distract you and you start to feel sensations. You feel frustrated, distracted, tense and angry.
You have a choice.
You either stop the bus and go back to engage with those thoughts, get those thoughts off your bus (knowing more may come on!), or acknowledge that those noisy passengers are there, glance at them in the rear view mirror and mindfully keep focusing on what’s in front of you.
As you go about your week this week, notice your thought passengers. Do you stop and derail your day by engaging with them? Or can you glance back, tip your hat in the rear view mirror, take a pause, breathe and re-group, re-focus mindfully on the task at hand and gently guide yourself back to what’s in front of you?
It’s helpful to accept that negative thoughts are inevitable and commit ourselves to our value system of what’s really important to us. So this week as you go about your business, try to keep driving the bus – stay mindfully in the moment of what you’re choosing to focus on and don’t allow yourself to be too distracted or upset by anxious, fearful or distorted ‘thought passengers’ who hop on for a ride every now and then!
To learn more about ACT visit their website