At the core of Buddhist teachings are four principles, the key one being that life is painful. I’m talking about emotional pain, the kind one suffers when events don’t go your way, or people don’t act the way you want them to. Every time life falls short of our expectations there is some degree of emotional pain.
Everyone feels pain, usually on a daily basis. Some people experience that pain—as a mild disappointment or a gut-wrenching catastrophe—and then let it go, move on. Others wallow in their pain, blow it out of proportion, latch on to it for years or decades, and wrench every ounce of emotion out of it, worry it like a dog worries a bone.
Buddhism, simply put, is a method to avoid, or at least minimize that pain. And the principle way to avoid life falling short of expectations is not to create those expectations in the first place. If you fully embrace everything in your universe as if it is exactly what you desire, then there is no emotional pain.
That’s easy when we talk of losing a game of tennis, or even losing your wallet. It becomes more difficult when a loved one dies, or your job is eliminated. I’ve heard Christians deal with such pain by saying, “It’s God’s will.”
As a Buddhist, I remind myself of this lesson several times a day: accept what is. Not only accept, but be grateful, thankful for every failure, every disappointment, every thing that angers me. And once I accept it, then I work to improve the situation in whatever way I’m able. Acceptance does not mean you don’t “fix” things, it simply means you’re okay with it now while you work to improve it.