Here is Scottish physician Bob Leckridge in a post on his “Heroes Not Zombies” blog.
I come across this issue all the time – there is a gap between reality and fantasy, and that’s where suffering occurs.
By fantasy, I really mean imagination, but that includes hopes, dreams, and idealised wishes for how things could be. It includes memories too, because I don’t believe memories are like objects tucked into some cerebral drawer – we recreate them, imagine them anew, every time we bring them into the present.
Some terrible things happen to people. Things that will never go away. And those things keep jumping into the present.
We wish those memories weren’t there. We wish those things had never happened, those words had never been said, those choices had never been made. But they did and they were. And in that gap, in that space or difference between how we wish things had been and how they actually were, there’s where suffering lies – hurt, pain, anger, sadness, regret…..
Some people imagine how things might turn out, and those imaginings might either be terrible and they live them now in the fears and paralysing anxieties which emerge in the space between the awful future and the actual present. Or they imagine how things would be so much better than they are and in that gap they find frustration, dissatisfaction and discontent.
What sense do we make of this particular suffering? What it is telling us?
What do we can we do with this gap? Can we narrow it a bit, even if we can’t make it go away?
Partly. But, wait a minute. Should our first thought be “let’s get rid of this suffering”? Because if it is, we might reach for the painkillers and the sedatives, or hit the escape routes, before we understand what this pain is about. Might it not be better to see if we can see what the roots of this pain are? Where is it coming from? Why is it here? What sense do I make of it? We are meaning seeking creatures and we want to make sense of lives. What sense do we make of this particular suffering? What it is telling us?
Sometimes, when we understand the suffering better, we understand that something needs to change, that we need to make different choices. And sometimes when we understand it better, we realise that right now, right here, in the present moment, we are actually ok. Better than that, we discover that the everyday, so called ordinary world, right here, right now, is extraordinary and amazing, and that our suffering is fear or anxiety about what might be, overwhelming the present moment and hiding from us the fact that life, here and now, is not just welcome, but something to be grateful for.
There’s another role for suffering of course – creative energy. In the gap between how things are and how we imagine they could be, dissatisfaction or discontent can drive creative solutions, generate new ways of thinking or inspirational art. (I’m not saying you have to suffer to create great art – I’m just saying that sometimes great artists turn their alchemical skills to their suffering and their struggles and create gold)
Anyway, however you handle it, whatever choices you make, next time you feel you are suffering…..Mind the Gap – and reflect on why it’s there. Then you might be able to make a different choice.