Many of the causes of suffering come from our reacting to the people, places, things, and circumstances in our lives, rather than accepting them. When we react, we stay locked in judgment and criticism, anxiety, and despair — even denial and addiction. It’s impossible to experience joy when we’re stuck in this behavior. Acceptance is the guidance and the blade that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly, and to respond appropriately.
Much of traditional Buddhist practice is directed toward the ability to see life accurately, beyond all the expectations, projections, and distortions that we typically bring to it, but this is something we should all strive towards no matter what our beliefs may be. Taking time to meditate on how to quiet the distracting throughs and feelings so that we can perceive reality can be very beneficial in helping us respond more skillfully. The ability to be present in each moment is nothing more and nothing less than the ability to accept the vulnerability, discomfort, and anxiety of everyday life.
With a deeper understanding of reality, we can go beyond appearances and relate to the world in a much more appropriate, effective, and realistic manner. For example, imagine living next to a difficult neighbor. You could judge them and criticize them, or live in anxiety and despair thinking you could never have a good relationship with them. You could deny the problem altogether and pretend that you don’t have a difficult relationship with said neighbor — or any relationship at all. But neither of these solutions are very helpful. Instead, you could accept that you do, in fact, have a difficult relationship with your neighbor, but still maintain the desire to improve it and drive to try. You may or may not succeed, but the least you can you is try. And although you may not have control over your neighbor, you do have control over your own thoughts and feelings so instead of fear, you could cultivate compassion for them. You could cultivate kindness and warmheartedness toward them. This is the only chance to improve the relationship — through yourself. Who knows, maybe, in time, they will become less difficult. Maybe not. But since you cannot control them, you will still have your piece of mind and you will still be able to be joyful whether your neighbor becomes less difficult or not.
It’s worth noting that acceptance isn’t a passive thing. It’s actually very powerful. It doesn’t deny the importance of taking life seriously and working hard to change what needs to change and redeem what needs redemption. Instead it transforms the hate toward those who do harmful things into compassion to stop them from harming themselves. It might seem like a contradiction to pursue a goal yet have no attachment to the outcome, but peace and equanimity come from letting go of our very attachment to the goal and method. This is acceptance. This is the deep recognition that while we should do all we can to achieve the goals we seek, whether or not we succeed often depends on many factors beyond our control. So our responsibility is to pursue to the goal with all the dedication we can muster, do the best we can, but not become obsessed with our preconceived outcomes.
Our life on this planet is constantly unpredictable, uncontrollable, and often quite challenging but being here is our time to learn to be good, to be more loving, to be more compassionate — to build our spiritual capacity for acceptance. Just like how muscles need to be exercised to be strengthened, we learn when we are tested. When we learn to accept what is happening now, we can grow a curiosity — even excitement — for what might happen next.
When we accept the present, we can learn to forgive and release the desire for a different past.
DAY 34. Love, Ro