People often tell me that sometimes they are still anxious, even after practicing peace for such a long time. They feel bad for it and want to eliminate it completely. But the truth is that anxiety, just like any other human feeling, cannot be eliminated completely. Because it is natural. And there’s nothing wrong with it, just like there’s nothing wrong with any other human feeling.
I have my own set of fears, just like everybody else does. Sometime I feel like my mind just picks a random worry off its big shelf of worries to bother me with. The shelf is never empty, it always has something to throw at me. I don’t think it will ever be empty. And that’s okay.
What I realized is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that the shelf is full. It doesn’t matter what the mind throws at you. And I’m going one step further: It doesn’t even matter what life itself throws at you. Because there is only one thing that matters, one thing that determines life.
And that is how we react to it.
This was one of the very first reminders I’ve written in my meditation diary: “Life is determined by our reactions to it.” Because many things are out of our control, even our thoughts sometimes. But what will always remain in our control is our reactions. And through our reactions, we make life.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine a person who is scared of public speaking because of what people might think about her. That’s a very common fear. Now imagine that person going up to speak and messing up in the worst possible way. This is our main situation. There are two ways to go from there.
She either collapses mentally and scolds herself for being so stupid, never really getting over it, making it into one of her most horrible memories. Or she can shrug it off, accept with peace that it happened and move on. Will anyone in the audience care? No, everyone will forget after a short time. Of course they will, because it’s not a big deal. It’s nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Nothing is nearly as big of a deal as our minds make it out to be. It’s good to remember that, so when the time comes, we can choose to react with peace. What happens doesn’t matter as long as we choose to react to it with peace. Because whatever we react to in such a way will become a peaceful experience.
This is one of the most important things I’ve learned and I still remember what a freeing experience it has been to realize it. I don’t have to suffer. I don’t have to panic. I don’t have to worry. I can choose to react with peace. To anything. Inside and outside of me.
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional,” is one of my favorite quotes. Because it’s so true. Things will happen, everyone goes through pain, hardship, bad thoughts, uncomfortable feelings. But those don’t determine a life. What determines a life is how we react to all these things. Because that makes all the difference in the world.