I haven’t written a blog in ages…….so, here goes (again). And this time, you’ll be delighted to know, it’s not my usual 3000 word essay!
This morning a strong message came through about acceptance. It was this: living in the present moment is an acceptance of all that IS in that particular moment. It means being able to hold all our current thoughts, feelings and sensations in a place of harmony, love and compassion. It’s being ‘at one’ with whatever IS in this moment, being at peace.
But what actually is acceptance? What is that?
When I was much younger, I read Benjamin Hoff’s beautiful little book “The Tao of Pooh”, a sort of introduction to the fundamentals of Taoism. That, coupled with an extraordinary piece of luck whilst at university – meeting John Ferris, who ignited my passion for aikido – kick-started my journey of discovering Eastern philosophy. Now, Buddhism and Zen play a central part of my world view. Over the years I’ve spend time with some amazing people, all of whom in their own ways have shared slices of wisdom and insight into the paradox of this ‘being in the moment’. For in truth, we are always in the present moment. There is nowhere else we can be. And yet, we are also in our pasts and our futures. A paradox.
So what is this ‘acceptance’?
I was speaking with a client the other day about his situation. He was worried about money, relationships, career, home….the list was a long one. Should I have guided him to simply accepting it all, to accepting that this was his lot in life? I’ve overheard well-intentioned best friends giving such advice: “it’s just the way it is mate. People are like that. You can’t change him. You’ll never be able to stop her saying that. Some people are just born evil” etc. What is the positive intention in these remarks: to help the other ‘come to terms’ with things they can’t change? Or an acknowledgment that the only person we can really ever change is ourselves and, ergo, the behaviours of others is outside of our control.
A quote comes to mind, attributed to Angela Davis: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept.” Whatever our political affiliations, these are strong, elemental words that resonate surely?
The history of our species is defined by change. Things a thousand years ago are not the same now; yesterday things were different. Tomorrow they will be different again. Even if t’s just a tiny bit different. So, what IS different? The short answer is that WE are. Maybe not that other person, or their behaviours, or the fact that we’re still in debt, or the fact that we are still without a home or an intimate and loving relationship. But WE change. What do I mean by that?
Our minds change. That’s what changes, that’s the difference between yesterday and today. Consider your own mind, as you read this now; observe your own mind at work, just for a moment, right now. Watch it. Notice your own mind at work, right now as you read this…..doing what mind does…….busy, busy, busy, busy, interpreting, defining, judging,……
So, is the path of peace about accepting what IS? Or is it about accepting that whatever that is, it can (and does) change? Should we simply accept that things are terrible in our lives? I know from personal experience – that particular path has often led me to feeling powerless, lost and inconsequential. At worst, it has left me feeling like life is simply not worth living. Until something magical began to happen: over the years I’ve begun to notice that the quality of my life is directly linked to the quality of my thoughts. Though I’m still learning (and that ‘beginner’s mind’ conundrum from Zen is front of mind for me), more and more I know that my mind is powerful. My mind constructs reality. My mind tries, on and on and on and on and on, to justify and judge. My mind creates ideas, theories and fantasies so powerful that they become my reality, my ‘now’ moment! No-one in their right minds would not believe it! It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard: “Come on Ed, get real. That’s reality! It IS what it IS – and no amount of spinning it will change that!”
This is what I believe: the quality of this present moment rests in how well we can see our thoughts, but not be defined by them; how well we can notice our feelings, but not be caught in them; how well we can observe, without judgement, the workings of our own minds, and yet be compassionate to ourselves when we do get hooked by them. Read that again. You’ll notice that a part of you will begin to be asking a question……..one that I shall leave to the end of this piece.
There’s a Tibetan word that’s relevant here: shenpa. It’s the ‘hook‘ that has us caught up in the desire to alleviate our suffering, to be free from pain and discomfort. But the truth is that suffering is a natural part of being human. Discomfort is part of this life. But the buddhist view is that the most significant suffering comes not from ‘those people’ or ‘that remark’ or guilt, or shame, or anger, or fear, of our pasts; the most significant suffering comes from not being able to accept that suffering is part of our human existence. But this DOES NOT mean we have no power to change things. It just means that the place to start is where all pain and suffering originates: in our own mind.
In my next blog I’ll be talking about how we can get to know our own minds; how we can begin to notice that while other people do, indeed, treat us badly, what happens in our minds by way of response really does matter. We’ll be looking at how we can treat our minds with compassion and love; and what we can practice, each day, to help ease our suffering.
For now, that question. Did you get it? It’s this: who are you? And another way of asking the same question: who is thinking that thought, who is feeling that feeling?