How Distraction from Suffering Causes More Suffering

May 31, 2022

Dr. Jill Harrison Landsman, L.Ac., D.A.O.M.
July 28, 2022 / 5 mins read

One of my favorite quotes is, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Jon Kabat Zinn said that, and it’s a helpful reminder to me every day.

Jon Kabat Zinn is a renowned professor, writer, researcher, and teacher of mindfulness. He created a now worldwide program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which helps with so many things. If you don’t know about his work or books, they’re worth checking out.

We can Learn to Ride the Waves and Go with the Flow

Like the waves of the ocean, life brings us recurring challenges. You’ve probably noticed this in your own life -- as soon after we overcome one challenge, another is not far behind. Trying to stop or avoid the waves -- aka challenges -- brings its own set of problems.

Embracing what comes as an opportunity for growth brings a feeling of empowerment rather than the sometimes-victimizing thought of, “Why is this happening to me?”

This is something we can do in our own lives, and it’s an important lesson to help your child recognize. Having compassion for our children as their own challenges arise, allowing them to feel their feelings, and guiding them in the recognition of this pattern and the lessons that come, is a great way to help them navigate their own waves.

Acceptance is the Key

Being in the mindset of having acceptance of what IS can be simple, but NOT EASY!

Let’s say something happens in your life, or in the world at large, that you want to be different than it is. Before we can find peace, we must remember that it’s not what happened that’s the biggest issue, it’s how we navigate it. How we choose to deal with it.

Ancient Maps for Modern Times

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism offer a map on how to get through difficulties with more skillfulness. Let’s start with the first noble truth: “Life has suffering.” “Suffering” is the loose translation, but it’s a lot more nuanced than that.

We all know that life can be hard. Being human is challenging. But many of us think that everyone else has their stuff together, and we are the only one suffering in this kind of way. Understanding that our difficulties are part of the human curricula allows us an opportunity to grow and learn.

Look back on a difficult time in your life, something you got through. The growth that came with that challenge is now an invaluable part of your wisdom. After a difficult time has been resolved and learned from, most people are grateful for the experience.

What is Dukkah?

Dukkha, the Buddhist term used in the First Noble Truth, refers to the “suffering” or dissatisfaction of life. A person may feel temporary moments of satisfaction, but suffering – whether physical, emotional, or mental -- is inevitable.

Another description of Dukkha is the idea that things are unreliable. We attach to things, and that attachment creates suffering because things will always change.

How can we use this ancient wisdom in our parenting?

As parents or caregivers, we first must explore these ideals and see if they resonate with us. We certainly can’t transmit something we don’t believe and aren’t practicing ourselves. We say “practice” because none of us have this down pat, but we can cultivate this practice just like any other skill.

When things get hard, many of us run right into our habitual distractions – electronic devices, food, alcohol, work, etc. Unfortunately, running away, or avoidance, causes so much more harm than just dealing with the problem head-on.

Always More to Learn

There are three more noble truths to explore, but the first noble truth is enough to begin with for now. A little teaser for the second noble truth is that once we know that life isn’t supposed to be easy, we suffer much less.

A Resource for Further Exploration

Helping kids to understand this philosophy as early as possible can help them avoid unnecessary suffering throughout their lives. There are endless opportunities to model this. The Buddhist philosophy is rich and descriptive.

There are numerous books and resources out there with helpful, and more descriptive, tools. A good place to begin is Krissy Pozatek’s book, “Brave Parenting: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Raising Emotionally Resilient Children.”