My ankles are covered in bug bites. It’s such a little thing.
Literally: They’re tiny little crested mounds of bug-inflicted ick.
In the scheme of things: These, though I don’t know what caused them, will lose their potency in days and fade back into plains of unadorned skin in weeks or months and are unlikely to produce any ailments beyond discomfort.
That said, they are amazingly uncomfortable, tantamount to the sand fleas that inspired Theresa and me to spend the last day of an Eastern Shore vacation plastered in baking soda paste while sitting on towels on the bed of our Airbnb watching John Wick. The whole damn trilogy.
This is one of those times when the practice of radical acceptance – accepting that what is is, not struggling against what is out of our control – becomes illuminated in the most honest and annoying of ways.
Shinzen Young, the American Buddhist teacher, wrote this equation to demonstrate this very thing:
Pain x Resistance = Suffering
Notice: There’s no way to factor pain out of the equation.
As in: There is no way for me to make these bug bites unhappen or even, to my knowledge, any way to make them abate more quickly. All of my options are palliative.
Notice: The amount of suffering we experience is determined by how much we resist what is.
That is: I can feel the painful itch of these bug bites, the kind of itch that wakes a person from sleep and draws the hand to them for a scratch split seconds before the conscious mind catches wind of what’s afoot. And that’s suffering enough.
Or: I can scratch them as much as I want (which is a lot) and add the painful burning of abraded bites to the suffering. I could curse their existence and add the painful injustice to the suffering. I could generalize out this rare instance of overwhelming itch to an overarching disdain for life outside of human-made structures and add to the suffering the loss of the gratitude that swells in me when I enjoy the feeling of the sun on my back or crane my neck to see far up into an old tree or pause to listen to the free-play jukebox endlessly belting out a blend of bird song, insect calls, and the burble of flowing water.
Or: I can acknowledge my discomfort. I can smooth on itch-reduction creams gently and regularly. I can practice using my mindfulness and conscious decision-making practices to avoid scratching those alluring itches. I can focus my gratitude on Theresa’s empathy and unyielding attempts to provide me with some comfort. I can remind myself that all things – all thoughts, all feelings, all experiences, all bug bites – do, indeed and inevitably, pass in time.
And I can wonder, with annoyance and awe simultaneously, at how some sneaky, hungry insects offered me a lesson on acceptance that I will take with me into the kinds of future pain that are even more tempting to scratch and even more problematically consequential in the attempt.
Far from a panacea, acceptance is a form of intentional engagement with the complexities of self, others, and life that requires a whole lot of practice (for which we get endless opportunities). The coaching collaboration is a safe and nurturing space to kick-off and deepen this transformational practice. Reach out to find out how.