Most of the time I know life can’t make me suffer, that the real cause of my suffering is my own thinking. But sometimes I can’t help but feel like there are a few things that are objectively horrid for anyone no matter how they think about it. Maybe the most extreme example would be having someone die. If a person loses someone close to them they’re bound to feel sad no matter what they’re thinking, right? It seems like that kind of sadness and suffering has nothing to do with thought, that certain events can bypass our thinking and somehow affect us directly. But recently I was reminded first-hand how the ONLY way life can affect us is through our own thinking, even when it comes to death.
A few months ago one of my uncles died and I went to the memorial. As I’d expected, lots of people were sad. But I was struck by a couple of things:
1. No two people felt the same way. People that were sad were sad for different reasons, in different ways, and in different amounts. Some were sad because they had regretted not seeing him more. Some were sad because his professional field would miss out on his amazing contribution. Others were sad they have to live life without him. And some weren’t sad at all. There were some that were mad at him for dying before they were ready. There were people who were inspired by him, happy to have known him, or admired how much he loved and appreciated his life. There were 200 people that went to his memorial, so there were 200 different effects of his death, because there were 200 different kinds of thoughts at any moment.
2. The reaction of each person changed moment to moment. Over that week, I saw people go through waves of sadness, fear, confusion, and heaviness, but they felt other things too, that were positive, light, grateful, or sentimental, and brought so much peace of mind. His family landed in so many different places even though the situation never changed. I couldn’t even decide how I felt. He died while he was hiking, which was his favorite thing in life, so I was grateful in one moment, then I’d think about how he was young and healthy, and the whole thing felt tragic and wrong. Like everyone else, the impact on me was a moving target.
What I saw so clearly was that people’s feelings in life are up for grabs. We don’t actually live in life, in the events that happen, we live in our thoughts. The good news about that is that while everyone goes through upset and lows in life, those feelings change as our thoughts change, so we get feelings like appreciation and resolve too. And that’s what gives us the heartiness and maturity to handle the bigger things in life that we’ve all gotten through so far.