If one understands
The law of cause and condition,
One can find spring
In the midst of autumn frost and winter snow.
Buddhist verse

It is easy to be frustrated in this world. We see how things should be, but they are not that way. When bad things happen to us we may think they shouldn’t have. We choose to define reality the way it suits us, rather than the way it is. If we have a pain, but don’t accept that we should have it, we are going to suffer. As long as we live out of sync with reality, with the way things are, we suffer.

Suffering and pain are not the same. Pain is a signal. It is an action of our nervous system that makes us aware of problems. Suffering is the pain plus our negative emotional response to it. When we reject the pain, when we can’t accept it, we get suffering.

Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. is a psychologist who helps people learn to manage their painful emotions more effectively. She teaches that suffering is pain without acceptance, and the work of getting through suffering is “Radical Acceptance.” That is complete and total acceptance of reality. She defines reality simply as “what is.” Further, she observes that everything has a cause. When we accept that everything has a cause we no longer wonder “Why me?” We no longer live with the phrase, “This shouldn’t be.”

When we enact radical acceptance, we can remove the suffering from pain. If we get ill, we can spend a lot of energy crying about it, rejecting the reality that we are ill, wishing that it weren’t so and railing against God for allowing this catastrophe. Or we can accept that the illness has a cause. Perhaps we have a genetic predisposition to it, or we smoke, or we eat foods that contribute to the condition, or we have a lot of stress, or we live in a world that exposes us to unhealthful conditions. The illness didn’t befall us because life is unfair or because God is angry with us. Something real happened and certain conditions existed that enabled it to happen.

That is not to say that the illness or any other loss or disappointment is desirable, or that we shouldn’t do what we can to get better, but we are not going to get better by staying in our denial of reality and holding ourselves in our destructive emotions. We overcome suffering by accepting reality and finding ways to make the best of it.


When you find yourself frustrated or angry at a situation you can’t change. Remind yourself that this is how things are. This is reality. Remember that everything has a cause, and so everything is as it should be, given conditions as they are. Allow yourself to let go of your conceptions of how things should be and let yourself relax into acceptance. Relax your body as you relax your mind. Remember, you are not approving of your problem or being passive. You are taking the early steps to making things better. Once you have accepted reality as it is, you are in a position to begin working on changing the causes and conditions that lead to suffering. This practice of acceptance requires repetition. Keep turning toward acceptance over and over again.

Reference: From Chaos to Freedom a video series of Behavioral Tech, LLC featuring Marsh Linahan,  Ph.D., 2003.

To the Meditation Archive Menu

To the current Meditation of the Week