Seasonal Optional Suffering

As far as I know all human beings suffer during life.  We lose those we love, we lose our youth, the list goes on.  We all know that suffering is not fun.  But I have noticed that many of us engage in what I call optional suffering.  This is suffering that seems to make sense to us, but really gets in the way of life enjoyment.

Even though I grew up in Rochester, New York, I have never enjoyed winter.  I like lots of sunshine and lots of warmth the way it is here in St. Louis, MO. in the summer.

Every year around this time (August) I start noticing “signs” of summer drawing to a close.  I notice, for example, that birds are no longer in their breeding behavior where they are highly intolerant of other birds in their territory.  I see that large groups of them are on telephone lines, side by side, and flying together in flocks.  I notice that the sun is lower in the sky.  It appears to me as though I am wearing my sunglasses as I walk through my home (when I’m not).  Goldenrod, a late summer flower, is beginning to show up in fields.

Every time I spot one of these telltale signs, I feel a cold stab in my gut.  An intense feeling of dread spreads throughout me.  “Oh, no!  Winter is almost here again!  It’s going to be freezing cold and dark and dreary.  I’ll have to put on tons of clothes every time I step out of the door.  The sidewalks will be treacherous as they’re covered with ice.”

It’s important that you understand that it is 88 degrees outside with a bright blue sky as I write this.  This is the kind of weather that I love, but here I am whining about something that has not yet happened.  This is optional suffering in at least 2 ways.

First, I am not enjoying the present moment.  I am up in my head imagining what I predict will be the winter to come.  I’m missing what I love which is here right now in this very moment.

Secondly, I am not accepting life on it’s terms.  I am resisting what will “probably be” in a few months.  I want things to be different than they probably will be.  That is definitely an uphill battle.  I have been fighting this uphill battle for decades with the same results.

But there is a better way to look at this.  This better, mindful way is to develop an acceptance of what is, an acceptance that life is going to unfold on its own terms no matter how much I fuss about it.

When I settle myself down into this awareness, I begin to relax and invite myself to enjoy this present moment of my life.  This immediately lowers my stress level.

I then am able to remember how invigorating the crisp autumn air can be, how glorious the turning leaf colors are, how the variety of winter is a part of what causes me to savor summer, how grateful I am to be able to be  warm and comfortable in my home during the cold weather, how delightful it is to see the neighborhood children playing during a snowfall.

Once again I recognize that life  is all good when I am able to quit putting on my parking brakes in anticipation of the parts of life that I don’t approve of and remember that I will be able to deal with whatever arises when it arises in that present moment.

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