Friday, July 4, 2008

Buddhism and acceptance

In reading my favourite blogs today ran across the theme of acceptance over at MPJ's and found a blog that I hadn't seen before thanks to her. The perspective on acceptance reminded me of a story I read by Ajahn Brahm about acceptance, especially as it relates to a negative thing, in which he described the ways people attempt to achieve acceptance before they actually accomplish it.

One of the ways he described is bargaining. Bargaining with the negatives is not accepting them, it is trying to trade something for what we want.

Another was denying. Trying to talk ourselves out of the negative by attempting to deny its existing. "I don't really feel this anger, it has no effect on me."

He gave many examples of the ways we attempt to deal with negatives that we call acceptance, that only cause us more suffering. It reminded me of the five stages of grief, wherein acceptance is the last* stage. The example of acceptance is similar to what I think Indistinct was talking about; acceptance as taken from the Kubler-Ross model: I can't fight it, so I might as well prepare for it. I'm a fan of the model, and of Kubler-Ross, but this definition of accepting doesn't quite sit well with me. Maybe it's just the way I look at it, but acceptance is not negative for me. It is a struggle before I achieve it, but it doesn't feel like weak acquiescence when I manage acceptance.

Brahm spoke of achieving true acceptance by opening the door within our hearts (though I personally like the idea of opening the door within my mind a little better - my mind has a lot more capacity than my heart) to that negative thing. Not in an attempt to bargain with it, or deny it, or make deals with it, but to truly open the door to it and let it in. Allow it room to do what it will, and that is when we can achieve acceptance. We have accepted that thing on its own terms and not tried to change it or influence it.

I don't know how well this concept will work for the recovering addict, but in my spiritual evolution I love this idea. The idea that my pain and anger is such a struggle for me because I am not truly accepting them resonates within me, makes sense to me when I look back over my life and the struggles I have engaged in because of how I dealt with adversity. When I open my mind to those things that I used to struggle against and allow them to nest inside me, it has the opposite effect I thought it would. I used to think allowing those things in would make them grow and fester, would make anger consume me, and hatred would rise to a bloody boil. I have found that this isn't the case for me. When I allow them in, allow them to do what they will, they lose power. Like the rising flame of a candle just before it goes out, they burn hot and bright, and then they dissipate. They don't consume me as I thought they would. Acceptance feels good in that regard, but it takes me a long time to get there, to understand that I cause myself suffering before I can accept. No matter how many times I learn this lesson, I still go through the same struggles each time.

*It is my experience that the stages of grief are not linear, and are not always experienced in this order. One can experience them in any order, and can also experience more than one stage at a time. I don't believe that "acceptance" halts the process of the grief.


Anonymous said...

After reading this post, and the last one about Colin, I can say this simple thing to you: It was what it was.

Like your discussion about bargaining, it's when we stew over past events we get angry, or sad, or experience regret... or whatever. We stir the pot, which is useless. It's over and we can't change it, but our emotions won't let it go.

Making peace with past events by simply realizing they were what they were, and nothing more, brings some peace. And is another way to make the events and the emotions that go with them lose their power.

Lao Tzu said: By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning.


Jade said...

I used to be so good at letting go; at realizing things were what they were, and there was no changing it. It's how I have dealt with so much strife, by just acknowledging what it is and moving past it. Lately, though, I find myself revisiting certain events and feelings. I feel like I'm not done with them yet, when I thought I was. Is it good? Is it bad? Does it matter?

Thanks for the comment. You always say the perfect things to me.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

So glad JW started that club and I found you through it.

I love this: "I used to think allowing those things in would make them grow and fester, would make anger consume me, and hatred would rise to a bloody boil." That resonates so much with my own experience. I had an (unacknowledged) fear of acknowledging my own emotions. It has helped me so much to work on just trying when I can to the emotions be what they are and finding they don't consume me.

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