The duality of a spiritual practice

The duality of a spiritual practice
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Monday's post on acceptance by the lovely Gail Brenner really struck a chord with me. As I wrote in a comment on her blog, we live in a culture of change and improvement, and I am the first to admit I've made a home there — I can't even finish one "self-improvement" book before I'm already moving on to the next because it promises to radically increase my joy, happiness, vitality and wealth (all in a matter of 33 days). Sure, as I continue to learn and grow, I feel less obsessed and compelled to ride the wave of these big promises and it's really just more of a hobby. But acceptance? Really?

When I think about this, as I mentioned on Monday, I feel like I am curling my toes over the edge of a giant stony peak, terribly afraid to dive in to what I know is actually a cool, refreshing, peace-full pool — that is, acceptance. As Tara Brach describes in her book Radical Acceptance, being okay with what is means seeing with an open, kind and loving heart — certainly, nothing to be afraid of.

And perhaps my interpretation here is wrong (although it seems both appropriate and obvious), but acceptance to me also means no longer trying to CHANGE the person, situation, condition or perceived problem.

Do you see why I'm shaking my head? Are you with me? How can we "accept" war, hunger, death? Heck, how can I accept the fact that I lose my temper, overeat, procrastinate?

I feel like this could be a doorway to such deep peace and understanding, which at the same time fuels my confusion. Is it REALLY not in "the doing" but rather in the being that we truly evolve? Do I not sound like Yoda when I say, In not moving there is much movement?

This is the duality of a spiritual practice — anyone who has a sadhana, such as daily meditation, yoga, visualization or reading a religious text knows — we sit, we are quiet, we are still...doing nothing and at the same time hoping for and expecting a "better life" by silencing the distractions all around us and coming back to the heart center. We pray, practice yoga and meditate so that we may grow to accept both the things we can change and the things we can't — and reaching a state of acceptance is, in the end, a great change for all of us.

Acceptance of emotions, for example, is often referred to as letting the emotions "pass through you." How does that happen? I am being overly analytical, but I wonder: What does that feel like? I'm picturing a ghost walking through my body like they do in movies. Or is it more like recognition? Oh — I'm doing "it" again (having a panic attack, feeling angry, insert your go-to emotional reaction here). Recognition I can do. Just yesterday I felt the heaviest pressure on my chest — undue stress because I was afraid of being late for work, which makes me nervous. Wow, this must be really bothering me, I thought to myself. And the feeling dissipated within minutes. My goal, however, has always been to STOP before I reach panic stage or yelling-at-my-kids stage, and we all have long lists of coulda woulda shouldas.

I'm trying not to use the word "resistance," but I am clearly butting up against this logic even though I know it promises peace and release. Acceptance is surrender. And although I know we are created in the image and likeness of God, I could draft a pretty detailed list of my "flaws" — physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. Although I know the greatness of God and the abundant nature of the universe, I experience doubt: Will God really provide this time? Shouldn't I do something about it? Will he answer my prayers? Maybe I should do this, or that; shouldn't I take action?

What comforts me in the midst of these swirling thoughts are two things, and I hope they comfort you as well:

  1. God loves me, and the universe has my back, no matter what. I picture God chuckling at me with his arms crossed, wishing I wouldn't try so hard. Which brings me to my next point...
  2. It's probably okay to relax a little bit around all of these issues, knowing that transformation happens in an instant and I don't have to wait (and shouldn't expect to) for some big life-changing moment when suddenly I see everything crystal clear and sparkling.

That right there? That sounds like acceptance. Acceptance does not mean "it" (war, hunger death) is okay; acceptance means YOU will be okay — yes, really — even amidst those things. Perhaps that is the big promise (gulp) — surrender, acceptance, is the ultimate declaration of faith. You will be okay — you ARE okay — even if you lose your temper, overeat and procrastinate.

Where are you with acceptance? Do you find it difficult to wade through the bad and accept it all as God's good? Leave me a comment and share below — I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Filed under: Chasing peace

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