Monday, December 13, 2010

Acceptance: Friend Your Self

Irritable when your shoelace breaks as you prepare to leave?
Frustrated to discover you are short of lentils for your walnut lentil loaf?
Defeated to find they don't make that specific wallet anymore?
Angry that there are no seats left on that cheaper flight?
Upset that the frame doesn't come in that size unless special ordered?
Anxious that your right hip won't let you Ardha Chandrasana or Vrksasana?
Disappointed when you get home to find the 2nd delivery was attempted in your absence?

These are all normal situations that can escalate a feeling of helplessness and anger, especially when the pressure is on to squeeze things in to a tight schedule, or there are deadlines and holidays coming with their own special requirements.

Acceptance is a very deep and rewarding practice. It provides a base from which to observe the reactive self; and with an openness and kindness a bit like a friendly arm around your shoulder, it can allow the moment to pass without the clutch of despair to cloud your view or your action.

It seemed to me growing up that political activism and "fighting" for what seemed right was a noble interaction in the world. I took it as my personal mission to try to make other people happy in a strained family dynamic and thought it was normal for people to try to "fix" each other. This kind of well meaning but destructive idea assumes that there is a better way to see or do or be than that which comes naturally to each of us. I think the schools perpetuated this attitude of "fix it" rather than one of growing what was there already. I'm sure there was a striving for good purpose and intention in all this, but acceptance was not a foundational part of it. Reactive nature provoked more reactions, emotions could hijack intellectual understanding and pit each person against themselves and each other in a blink of an eye. Many a moment was saturated in defeat, self-rejection, blame of others, and helpless sadness. I see how this created an external and internal idea of who each of us could be. I came to understand that there is a common core to all of us, a strand that binds the heart in love, not judgment. Acceptance is part of the path to this understanding.

Everything that happens is transient - it comes and goes. If we can keep our response in the moment as well, we are liberated to react and to act in very different ways than if we allow every little bump in the road to be felt judgmentally, as part of a cumulative defeat, a negative judgment upon the self, an excuse to blame or distrust, and on and on with external and internal negativity. When we bind the moment to these rising emotions of judging ourselves and others in response to fleeting conditions, we trap ourselves further in the emotional cycles of blame and shame, anger and frustration. Of course, this limits our ability to see or experience the range of possibilities and make choices for non harming, non judgmental behaviors.

Imagine approaching the object of discontent as a friend, something like: Ahh, someone I recognize, know well, and though respectful of some distance between us, feel warmth and curiosity. At first it can take an active intention to feel this, to take this approach. Like training oneself to follow a procedure, it is assuming a particular pattern to shift away from other possible reactive patterns. In time, though, it becomes a natural response, to look with affection or at least kindness upon the person whose action or behavior might have disappointed in the past, or upon the shop clerk who informs you that what you seek is no longer available in that size, and even upon your desire to have that thing.

How we function in the world is much more a choice we make when we take this approach, rather than blowing around in the winds of reactive nature. We do not have to let reactivity define personality and character, and create so much negativity in the heart towards the self and others. This is a first step in the practice of acceptance, seeing through the reaction, cultivating the awareness in the moment of reactivity. Once we begin to see the layers and possibilities, we can choose to water a different seed, so to speak.

The practice deepens beyond the surface behaviors into a level of understanding that liberates the attachment to assigning meaning and value in all directions. And even with the occasional negative reaction, while still under the thumb of attachment to control and judgment, the way of being in the world is transformed.

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