Last Updated: November 6th, 2018
In life we’re often challenged by situations, our emotions, our work and other people. We struggle to make things the way we want them to be, or struggle to be comfortable with things that aren’t going as expected, or we struggle to be comfortable with how we feel about things, or struggle to get along with people who are different or that rub us the wrong way. At the heart of it all is the inability to accept life as it is presented to us. Typically we’ll feel frustrated, disappointed, annoyed, tense, angry or victimized when we aren’t accepting things as they are and we’ll blame others or life for the way we feel.
Acceptance from a broader perspective doesn’t require us to just “be OK” with the things we don’t like or just “appreciate” the differences in people and the world. In doing so we’re still separating ourselves, still resisting, and all we’ve done is choose to not speak about or reveal what we’re still holding onto so as to appear to be accepting. This is not acceptance. Internally we’ll still struggle and when faced with real difficulty our thoughts will bubble to the surface in destructive ways.
Acceptance requires us to embrace these differences in totality, not just to the point where we feign compliance, appreciation or compassion, but to the point where there’s no internal separation at all. In this way there’s no resistance at all within ourselves because there’s no separation between us and them, or our want and reality as it is. This is true acceptance.
As individuals it seems almost impossible to actually know what someone’s experience of life is like unless we’ve been through and actually experienced it, until we’ve “walked in their shoes.” You can’t understand the taste of apple unless you’ve actually eaten one. Understanding someone’s pain or problems or the way they’re to accept them is the same. As individuals, our experiences to us are individualistic, but as human beings the way we experience the world and the way we suffer is universal. We struggle in life to understand others because we get caught up on the content of the experience instead of reflecting on and seeing the context by which those experiences occur. In this way we don’t understand this universal common denominator that we all share.
Without this understanding we separate ourselves and our experiences become individualized. We cling to suffering like it’s our suffering. We cling to our wants and views like they are unique and different to everyone else. We then struggle to make our wants and views happen in opposition to other people or in contrast to what is actually happening in life. In doing this we fail to be accepting because we don’t understand that which is common to all of us. So the content of a person’s experiences may be unique but the way they experienced it is the same for all people. This is where we find the common ground to be accepting.
Our problem is that we don’t really understand how we experience life and we don’t really know suffering so we assume our experience is unique and criticize other people for their views and experiences and push them away. If we really know this universal experience, and if we really know suffering and how it occurs, then we’d accept other people and their lives fully because we’d see it is exactly the same as ours. In this space separation dissipates and with it our struggles dissipate—compassion, understanding, generosity, loving-kindness arise from within this acceptance. In this way we are all “walking in the same shoes.” How can you not accept?
How to apply this
At a finer level, in our meditation practice, how can we apply this when it’s just us sitting alone with our breath? As anything arises in the meditation you’ll notice a grasping or aversion to it. Let’s say some emotion or pain arises. As this experience arises a rippling in the mind occurs and consciousness arises with it. We then have a feeling around that sensation and we either want to move away from it or get it, in the case of emotions or pain we move away from them because we don’t like them. Sometimes, like in the case of anger we move fully into the emotion, but at the same time away from what we’re angry at. In both of these cases we have separated ourselves from the emotion, pain or thing and so a push-pull struggle ensues—“who’s going to win, me or the emotion/pain?” A whole cause-and-effect relationship develops and will perpetuate endlessly, for eternity, until we accept and absorb ourselves back into the full experience. That is, we remove the separation between ourselves and the emotion or pain.
In Meditation Tip #5 – Body Tension I talked about how to place your awareness on what it is you are experiencing, and on your next out breath to breathe into the experience and to feel it fully. Don’t shy away from it, sink yourself into it fully like diving into a big pool. Sit with it fully, absorb yourself in it, explore it, build a relationship with it and come to know it like an old friend—its mannerism, its texture, its dynamic, how it works and how it exists. Lose yourself in it, until there is no you and no pain, just an open awareness experiencing life as it is. This is acceptance. Here is where you truly experience what acceptance is, the absolving of the self completely such that “acceptance” isn’t even a word any more that needs applying, there is simply life as it is. This internal process during meditation is the exact same process of acceptance on a larger scale between you and others or between you and life’s circumstances. Don’t get caught up on the content, focus on the process of how it occurs.
Next time something doesn’t go your way, or someone upsets you or you are around someone you don’t like notice the feeling that arises. Use this exact same technique mentioned above, that you practice in meditation, to be accepting of that moment. Focus on your breath, place your awareness on whatever it is you’re feeling breath into, absorb yourself into it, be with it. If a person is being angry just try to listen, notice what reaction is created in you. How does it make you feel? Angry, annoyed, victimized? Absorb yourself into this feeling while the person is angry at you. Breath with it. How does the process of this emotion work in yourself? How is it you are suffering now? As you come to understand this fully, then regardless of the content of the current dialogue, you’ll also come to know how the other person is angry at you too, you see clearly what they’re going through because you’ve seen clearly what you’re going through. Herein lies understanding, herein lies acceptance, herein lies compassion. The separation between you and the rest of life, or other people, is dissipated here. Notice the same when life serves you a big slap in the face. How does it make you feel? Frustrated, disappointed, victimized, annoyed? Sit with that emotion, feel it fully, come to understand how it works. When you understand this then you’ll know how someone else feels and reacts in the same way when life doesn’t work out for them, or when you’re the person between them and what they want. This is understanding the universal experience, this is “walking in their shoes.”
Republished from Jagaro