“I accept the horror and difficulty of this experience.” The words rise up from my core releasing a great burst of energy that rushes through my lungs and into my belly, inflating me like a balloon. The hollow emptiness I felt only moments ago is now replaced by a gentle sense of fullness and relaxation. My heart beats thick life-filled drums of interconnection. I am here, in this body, in these same circumstances, no different than only seconds ago, and yet my deepest attitude towards what is happening has shifted, and with that comes a complete shift of my perception of myself and the world. It’s a bit magical and intoxicating.
I’ve been fighting my life for over three years now. A constant push/pull of control and disbelief. The idea of acceptance has only existed as a way out, a way to quickly move through what I am experiencing so that I can get on to the next phase, so that I can be done with this grieving and get back to living.
In Buddhism we talk about the three feeling tones of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral with the idea being that we crave what is pleasant, push away what we interpret as unpleasant, and often ignore or attempt to run right over the neutral. The Buddha suggests that we go below these cursory reactions to life and allow ourselves to rest with whatever experience is arising. There is nothing to run towards or from as it is all marked by the characteristics of impermanence and selflessness, and hence cannot trap us unless we allow it to.
This sounds good, right? This sounds like a beautiful, inspiring, and accessible teaching to incorporate into our daily lives. Simply stopping and relaxing into our aversion to getting up and going to work on Monday morning can be an intense and fruitful practice. We learn to approach our life with an openness and receptivity that cultivates freedom and ease — we come to feel as though we are in relationship to something more vast and mysterious than our thinking minds can comprehend.
But what happens when we encounter those life experiences that nobody wants to encounter? Those circumstances that we have come to perceive as so wrong or difficult or life-threatening, that our instinctual reaction is to move through them as quickly as possible. I see this historically with experiences that put me into survival mode, experiences that left me feeling as though I must struggle to keep up with life. I feel the anger of suffocation and the overwhelming desire to fight back. And I feel in this moment how I have placed that fighting on top of my grief, how I have interpreted the grief as something that holds me down and under. I see how I believe in a self that can be destroyed and how I fight for that self to be preserved.
What arose this morning was a deep knowing that death is not separate from life, that the duality we place between the two is simply a long-held misinterpretation of two sides of the same coin. This itself is not a rare spiritual teaching, but I’m finding that actually allowing the dharma to sink into my disillusioned bones and transform into a new lived understanding is no small feat. The mind says that death is wrong, not to mention unnatural death such as murder or suicide, and every ounce of “NO” rises straight to the surface and traps me in a cave of separation.
Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance. I hear the word and I think that the task is to accept that my life includes this dynamic I must overcome. I relax into an acceptance of this simply being life and I feel the aliveness of my grief, the gestating energy within the experience. Accepting that this is my life does not mean accepting that I have more to overcome in order to get to the good stuff. It means seeing that life is filled with an immense variety of experiences and all of them contain seeds for wisdom and liberation; all of them contain seeds of energy for further acts of creation. Any experience, if entered with acceptance — not resignation or aversion, but a true willingness to accept and hence to embody — holds the truth of our interconnection and the potential for freedom that comes with our ability to surrender to what is. And from there I gain choice — power — the true ability to act in service of liberation.
Nothing is wrong with my life. Nothing is lacking or inadequate. And there is no mountain to climb. All that is needed is right here because all that is being asked is to experience what is. I can say, “yes,” to even this. And even this can lead to liberation.