“You’re going to suffer. You’re going to suffer so much.” This is what the shop owner repeated to me as he handed over my package, which had been delivered to his store. “You’re going to be miserable. You’re not going to make it,” he said, shaking his head at me.
Allow me to back up: last week I walked 3 blocks from my home over to a UPS access point, which turned out to be a store with, curiously, mostly empty shelves. It was the first opportunity I had had to make it to the store during business hours to retrieve my package, so, drenching rain notwithstanding, I went.
(Side note: if you don’t live in New York, then you probably can just receive a package on your doorstep with zero coordination or drama. But package delivery for non-doorman building New Yorkers involves winning the lottery of 1) likelihood of someone being there at the 1 second the UPS person rings the buzzer; 2) safe place to store the package until you get there to pick it up; and 3) delivery location not involving super long haul on subway or foot in case of heavy packages. Let the games begin!)
I expected this to be a 1 minute transaction at most, but, no, apparently not today. The owner first berated me for taking 5 days to pick up my package (I had 7 days until it would be returned to the sender). I thought to myself, “this guy must really like to keep things ordered around here. Seems like the uncertainty of when people are going to come pick up their packages is stressful for him.”
I was feeling mildly sympathetic towards him. But then, he made a production out of needing my drivers license to verify my identity: “Silly girl, you think UPS would let me hand out packages just based on package delivery emails? What kind of illegal production do you think I’m running here? You don’t know how things work.”
My eyebrows went way up. Silly? Girl? I don’t know how things work?
Cut to the announcer: “This UPS package pickup is brought to you by pervasive everyday sexism!” (Not to mention, actually, I *don’t* know what kind of illegal production you’re running, being that you have a sizable storefront in New York City with next to nothing on the shelves. But, I digress.)
He slowly dragged my package over to me, muttering about how heavy it was under his breath. “Your package is breaking my back. You can’t carry this. It’s too heavy, it’s gonna get wet. You’re going to suffer, girl. You’re going to suffer so much.”
“I’m not worried," I said with a forced smile (because I've been cultured to respond to disrespectful and threatening people with being really nice, something that I'm still unlearning how to do.) "It’s only 3 blocks.”
“3 blocks?!” He exclaimed, shaking his head again. “You can’t make it!”
Let’s talk about what suffering is.
Why am I sharing this story? Because there is a lot of power in the way we choose to see things. And we always, always have a choice.
As I slowly walked home with, yes, my incredibly heavy package in, yes, the soaking rain, I turned over the bounty of food for thought in this interaction. Blatant sexism aside, there was one thing that stood out to me above all else: choice.
This person chose, at every opportunity, to see the way things were as a problem. A customer taking 5 days to come in, even though it’s within the allowed window of time? Problem. Weight of the package? Problem. Woman picking up a heavy package, alone? Wrong. And carrying it herself, in the pouring rain? No way.
Not only was all of this a problem to him, but he was very invested in transferring that point of view to me. Getting me to see his way, that I had gone about things all wrong and I was going to be punished for it, since I was just a “silly girl” who clearly didn’t know how things worked.
To me, this person was a beacon of light. He illuminated all the suffering that’s available for the choosing every time you take on arguing with reality, as Byron Katie puts it. And I am interested in what is, not "how things should be."
Reality is that it's raining. Is the rain a problem? Of course not. It’s just weather.
Reality is the person picking up the package. Are they a problem? Nope, just a person, picking up a package, on time.
Reality is the carrying of a heavy package. Is the carrying home of a heavy package in the rain a problem? Not at all. (Sure, it would be more convenient If I had a cart of some kind, but, like, my apartment is small and I don’t keep things around that I don’t use often. No cart. So be it! Rain? C’mon people, it’s literally just water, and it dries. Who cares!)
Would it have been really easy to spin a great story about how hard things are for me? “It’s pouring rain, I’m always wet and cold, now I’m gonna get sick, if I'm sick I'm going to have to reschedule my patients, no one is ever around to help me, why am I always doing everything alone, this package is so heavy, I should’ve worked out more and gotten stronger, why can’t I just receive packages at my home in the first place, this is UPS’s fault for not buzzing my apartment, living in New York is so hard….” And so on. Sure, I could go there. I know how to do that.
Instead, I literally laughed my way home, zero moments of chosen suffering. Like the shop owner, I was shaking my head, but for entirely different reasons.
Where, in your experience, do things as they are feel like problems?
And do they have to? Can it be a little more peaceful instead?
We have big expectations around how our bodies are supposed to work, and it can be disconcerting or downright terrifying when they don't behave or look or feel how we want them to. The health issue as it is is one thing; the terror is another. It's the extra chosen suffering. What might life be like for you if you decided that what is, simply isn't a problem? Or as Byron Katie would say, who would you be without that belief? Is there a pain-free reason to hold onto it?
This is something I ask my patients pretty often. I'm not trying to be an asshole, and I'm definitely not suggesting that what is is fun, pleasant, or comfortable; sometimes it's excruciating, physically and/or emotionally. I empathize with your pain, I know it, I've lived with it too. And, I mean, people don't come to see me unless they need support with something heavy they're carrying.
So, yes, I see that eczema is covering most of your body. Does it also have to be a problem? And what if, just today, it's ok? Or, yes, I know that your digestion is way off and painful when you're going through periods of stress. Is it possible to take a time out from all the additional pain of the stories about what it means about you? And what about this one: yes, I hear and see that you’ve been depressed for a month, or a year, or 20 years. What if even that is not a problem?
Let’s find the opening together, the way through whatever it is you're navigating that doesn't involve the chosen extra helping of painful story on top of the reality.
(Additional info: I love Byron Katie because she gets right down to the essence of this, but other teachers are also awesome. Perhaps this episode of Bliss and Grit is for you, or kind of any talk by Tara Brach, but especially this one.)