Stress & Anxiety is Caused by the Drive to Avoid Suffering

The first of the Four Noble Truths given by Sakyamuni Buddha is that life involves suffering. it is our wish, our strong desire, our struggle to avoid suffering that is the root cause of stress and anxiety. Buddhism fundamentally teaches to accept suffering as part of the condition of living. if we can accept the truth of suffering as part of living, then the struggle to prevent suffering diminishes.

of course we have goals in life and we do what we can to achieve them. the struggle against obstructions in our path to achieve our goals causes stress and anxiety due to fear of the suffering involved in not achieving our goals. if we can accept that suffering is part of life, then the stress and anxiety involved in the struggle to prevent this suffering from occurring diminishes.

Sakyamuni Buddha taught that the acceptance of suffering as a noble truth of the condition of living is fundamental to the path of enlightenment. if we can accept that life involves suffering, then when we are confronted with suffering in our lives our inner struggle against it diminishes. we still do what we can to achieve peace and happiness and freedom from suffering for all living beings (which includes ourselves) but we are able to accept the suffering that arises in our lives as a natural course of life. this acceptance of suffering as a natural condition of living decreases stress and anxiety.

the Dalai Lama emphasizes in the book “The Art of Happiness” that adversity is necessary for spiritual development. Mark Howard, MD, elaborates (p181) that if we continually stay in the cocoon of infancy: being coddled, fed soft food and so on, there is no impetus for spiritual growth. the Dalia Lama asserts that the adversity, negative emotions such as anger, hatred, resentment and so on provides the shenpa or the hook. in recognizing shenpa while it is occurring, we are thankful for the opportunity presented for emotional and spiritual growth. (pp178-9) the struggle with avoiding suffering provides the motivation for spiritual growth to occur. emotional and spiritual growth is essential in order to transcend suffering.
so, the Dalai Lama says, we should thank our enemies and the suffering that arises in our lives for the opportunity that comes with it for emotional and spiritual growth. without the shenpa, we will stay wrapped up in our cozy cocoon. while that seems warm, pleasurable and inviting, there we are in a place of emotional and spiritual stagnation. no transformation can occur in that place.

so by accepting that suffering is part of the condition of living, when we are confronted with situations having the potential to cause suffering, we acknowledge that we are going to face suffering in our lives, and this may be one of those instances. that acceptance diminishes the inherent struggle against suffering, thereby decreasing stress and anxiety in our mind. we still try to chart a different course, but with the necessity of avoidance of suffering negated, we preform our actions with the peace of mind that we are getting by as best we can. that suffering may occur. we cannot prevent all suffering from occurring in our lives, and that suffering is necessary for emotional and spiritual growth. thereby we accept our situation with grace, dignity and peace. KB