My Wednesday “learning to keep my shit together” class reconvened this week after a holiday break. The topic for the evening was acceptance, a mindfulness practice. The purpose of mindfulness is to reduce suffering. Acceptance is one process by which suffering is reduced.

I am working very hard to accept some hard truths about my life, some about my present and some potential truths in my future. These are truths about my life as an individual, as a wife, and as a parent.  As I was thinking about this, one of the instructors wrote two equations on the white board:

Pain + acceptance = pain

Pain + non-acceptance = suffering

I think of pain and suffering as synonymous.  But this is not a dictionary course or a vocabulary test. And I have to admit that “suffering” sounds worse than “pain”. Suffering sounds like pain with a large side dish of something nasty. Perhaps the space between pain and suffering, within this framework, is filled with a roil of self-inflicted things. Another way to say this is that suffering may result from coping with pain in a way that enhances it and perhaps makes it last for a longer time. Everyone does this from time to time.

There are “hot button” issues for me. There are experiences that I have for which I have an immediate, negative response. They push a fear button, an anger button, or a grief button. And as I am having the response, I often know that it is out of scale. I have gotten upset too quickly and too intensely. There are also times when I feel stress in the back of my mind and it wakes me at night or invades my dreams. I think these are examples of suffering.

Acceptance is a process, a continuum. I am trying to work my way. So far I am learning that there is a cognitive part. In order to accept something I need to acknowledge it. I need to name it. I need to reason with it. That is what I have mostly been working on for the past couple of years. The acceptance that takes place in my mind. On Wednesday, our homework was to think about what acceptance would look like for each of us as behaviors. If we accepted the aspect of life with which we were struggling and suffering, how would our behavior be different?

Changing my behavior, making it consistent with acceptance, is really hard. I have been making a concerted effort on this for the past month or so. I have seen changes. I have experienced shifts to a more positive place. My anger and fear are reduced. My pain and sadness are still there but the suffering is getting less.