In Western culture, we are taught that if suffering exists, something is wrong. It is a mistake. I had a boss years ago who, when something didn’t work out, demanded, “Whose fault is this? Who is to blame?” When I would explain that sometimes things just don’t go according to plan, he would yell, “Don’t be ridiculous! This is somebody’s fault.

When we believe that suffering is a mistake, it’s no wonder we do everything in our power to steer clear of it. Our avoidance instinct is also due to the fact that our culture has decided that suffering has no value. “Why suffer?” we have been trained to say to ourselves. “You’re better off escaping this pain by any means possible!

As a result, we have become masters of distraction. To a great extent, this is our primary human practice. A large portion of our day is consumed with activities that are attempts to protect ourselves from discomfort: surfing the Internet, watching TV, working long hours, drinking, eating. Our approach naturally leads to epidemics of alcoholism and drug abuse; compulsive overeating, gambling, and shopping; and an insecure attachment to our technological devices. We have become a society riddled with unhealthy addictions.

Do any of these strategies really work? Sure, we get some temporary relief by ignoring problems or substituting a more pleasant experience for an unpleasant one. But when I look closely at my life, I see that such benefits are short-lived. What sticks around for the long run is the habit of self-deception and its negative consequences.

Suffering is exacerbated by avoidance. The body carries with it any undigested pain. Our attempts at self-protection cause us to live in a small, dark, cramped corner of our lives. We accept a limited perspective of the situation and a restricted view of ourselves. We cling to what is familiar simply in order to reassert control, thinking we can fend off what we fear will be intolerable. When we push back, hoping to get rid of a difficult experience, we are actually encapsulating it. In short, what we resist persists.

– from The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully a new book by Frank Ostaseski