“We can learn to open our heart to all of it, to the pain, to the pleasures we have feared. In this we discover a remarkable truth: Much of spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it. Indeed, in accepting the songs of our life, we can begin to create for ourselves a much deeper and greater identity in which our heart holds all within a space of boundless compassion.”
(Jack Kornfield, A Path with a Heart)
Most of us think that the cause of our suffering is outside of ourselves – our partners, our boss, our children, the government, the weather and much else besides but, if we learn to watch our minds very carefully, we begin to see that it is our minds that are the cause of most, if not all, of our suffering.
Our minds habitually want what we don’t have and don’t want what we do have. This happens thousands of times a day. You get up in the morning and you’re not feeling very well and you feel irritated that you have a cold and that you have to go out. You wish that you were well and that you could stay at home. You get dressed and you dislike the fact that your clothes are feeling tight. You wish that you were a bit thinner. You go outside and the sky is grey and you feel disenchanted: “it’s cloudy again!” You find yourself longing for blue skies and sunny days. Getting to your destination is taking longer than normal and it irks you. You wish that you didn’t have to do this every week day. You feel irritated that you have to do some chores that you’ve been putting off. You would rather be on holiday. At some stage you log in to your computer and are presented with dozens of emails that you wish weren’t there. You long for a pristine inbox. Later, at home, you find yourself angry with your partner. You wish they were a different in some way – more of a partner, more understanding, more loving, less distant, more responsible, not so critical, less needy, more able to work through issues with you, or whatever it is that you wish of them.
Over and over during each day we wish that things were different from the way they are. Occasionally, this is useful. Someone may treat us badly, for example, and so we feel angry and, as a result of this, we confront them and make it clear that we are no longer willing to be treated that way. This is helpful. Most of the time, however, we are simply causing ourselves to suffer without any obvious benefit. If the sky is grey, there’s nothing we can do about it. At the moment of feeling the tight clothing, there is also nothing we can do about it except resolve to lose some weight. If we need to work or to take the children to school, this is what we need to do and we are not helping ourselves by being annoyed about it. Sometimes the commute will take longer than at other times. There’s nothing we can do about that either. We can do certain things to reduce the number of emails in the future but we cannot, in an instant, do anything about the number sitting in our inbox. Part of learning to be kind to ourselves – of learning to really love ourselves – is learning to accept things the way they are (whilst resolving to change in the future those things that are wise and possible for us to change).
Yes, you may say: “That’s all very well. I get it. We can’t change anything in the present. I also get it that we can change some things in the future. I can also see that life would be a lot easier if we could just accept things, but it’s not that easy to just accept things as they are!” And, you’d be quite right! Part of the reason for this is that when we are faced with something that we don’t like, we tend to get into stories. “Why is it raining again? I just can’t take the weather here. It makes me feel depressed. I need sun, lots of sun. That’s just how I am. This place is ridiculous! Maybe I should take a holiday? I can’t really afford to take another one before the end of the year. Bugger! This really pisses me off!” In this story we are doing what we so often do which is to look for a solution outside of ourselves and, if we are talking about the weather, this leaves us with two choices. We can undertake the mammoth task of moving to a sunnier place (and, if we have read the happiness research, we would know that this is not likely to make us feel any happier). Or, we could stay where we are with the weather as it is (and, without true acceptance, this would leave us feeling resentful, irritated and somewhat down).
But, there is another possibility and that is to turn inwards. A regular meditation practice helps enormously with this, enabling us to see the stories that our minds are generating, to see the feelings that result and to really get curious about this whole process. If we do this, at some point we will begin to really see how self-defeating it all is. The weather is as the weather is! And, if we truly accept the fact, we will experience the immense value of true acceptance. With this acceptance comes a lightness, even a joy and we might even find ourselves laughing aloud at the sheer insanity of being angry at the weather.