By Suma Varughese
Acceptance is a resounding yes to life that dissolves all resistances and negativities. In its still witnessing presence, transformation happens. sinners becomes sages, illnesses recede, problems vanish
Ever since I launched into the process of self-transformation, two words have guided my progress. One is awareness and the other is acceptance. It became clear to me that these two words and what they implied were the torches that would show me the way. All else was darkness.
My fall into grace was incidental. An inner experience taught me that true happiness was only through focusing on the happiness of others. Because the experience had been so internal, I had very little support at the external level. No guru, no Gurubhai or kalyan Mitra, no satsang, no books of wisdom. Just the two words.
These words constituted my path. Awareness brought the entire contents of the subconscious mind into the conscious level – greed, repressed anger, extreme inertia, indiscipline, lack of concentration, a fractured memory, indifference, and various other characteristics that I was not proud of. On the contrary, I had an extreme resistance to them. Having lately come out of the enlightenment experience, where I had experienced myself as being loving, compassionate, balanced, peaceful, joyous and effective, it was agonizing to see the shadow side of my personality.
My expectation of myself was so high that I could not bear to act in a way that was not aligned to my values and ideals. And alas, I was always doing this. My uncontrolled appetite for food made me cringe with shame. My flaming anger that lashed out at one and all with little heed for consequences had me aghast at my own destructive ability. My poor memory, zero concentration and indifference made it almost impossible to live and I was petrified of bumbling into disasters and catastrophes. I lived in utter distrust and horror of myself, filled with a deep and all-encompassing fear of life. One part of me actually took up the role of a policeman, and began to keep a 24/7 vigil on my thoughts, words and actions. There is nothing more unnerving than having a part of you watching the rest of you. I became almost paralyzed with self-consciousness and fear of displeasing this tyrannical me. My entire focus was on this self-surveillance, leaving very little for the outside world. Naturally, I was always goofing up and the tyrant was always beating up on me.
The Healing Balm
In the midst of this inner kurakshetra, acceptance would steal in like a balm. Cocooned as I was in layers upon layers of resistance that made me feel compressed and suffocated, I would work on the immediately accessible outer layer and affirm that I accepted it. The practice always made me feel a little better. I would breathe more easily and feel as if a little space had come between my resistance and me.
“Acceptance is the true test of having let go of the ego”
- Geeta Rao
It has taken me years and years of this assiduous practice to peel off all the layers that I was shrouded in. Today, I am busy reclaiming all the parts of me that I had rejected and resisted all these years. I tell myself that it’s okay to be angry, okay to have forgotten to buy my mother’s magazine, okay to be slow at work, okay to have eaten the things I know I should not have eaten and so on. I also affirm that it’s okay to resist them. And you know what? It actually is okay. The burden of resisting rolls off me and I feel light, free, liberated.
Of course, the process is ongoing. Every moment brings on a fresh emotion and a fresh resistance to it. But each time I defuse it, I feel a little more integral – as if all the scattered parts of me are fusing together. For that is the great quality of acceptance. It brings together what is riven apart; it dissipates the false and the negative and it brings out the true and the positive. I have a long way to go still – I still react, I still resist, but the momentum is so much less and more easily defused.
The tyrant in the head has actually packed up his bags and left, finally convinced that I will not plunge headlong into disaster. There are moments of great peace and stillness. Joy bursts upon me occasionally, such as when the piercing sweetness of the koel cry seduces me during my morning walks or when I stand by the window on quiet afternoons and respond to the breeze caressing me and playing over the water of the creek outside my house. Fear has almost vanished. I m ready to accept whatever phantoms and demons it conjures, right from growing old alone, to being ill and bedridden, to dying. I am finally beginning to get that resistance does not change a thing. It only makes life a whole lot harder. Instead, I ask myself these days, can I do something to change the situation? And what I cannot I am finally learning to let go and allow the Great Wise One to carry for me.
What is acceptance?
Acceptance is a great resounding yes to life; an unconditional reception of all that life brings. Acceptance is the final answer to the crippling uncertainty of life. We finally accept in the very depths of our being that life is change and there are no guarantees and that this is okay. Through acceptance, we align ourselves to the nature of life and flow with it. Acceptance defuses all conflicts, releases all resistance. Says advertising tyro and ardent Vipassana meditator, Geeta Rao, “Acceptance is really the true test of having let go of the ego. It is not a passive state as people often assume – it becomes an active and natural choice. The root of all conflict is our lack of acceptance because we subconsciously want things to conform to our script and we all have a script.”
Acceptance means that all the fractured parts of the psyche have come together and one is just one, not a multitude. Acceptance is one step short of surrender, for one has not yet fully given over charge to God. One is still in the process of gathering oneself up. But as soon as acceptance is complete, then it flows into surrender. Then one no longer needs to consciously orchestrate one’s growth – the process is given over to God and all we need to do is to live, fully, completely, unconditionally.
On the path
So where does it all begin? From which context does one step into the path of acceptance? So difficult to say because the cyclical process of growth makes generalizations impossible. Acceptance can be accessed at any point. For most, it is an outcome of assiduous spiritual practice. It begins to grow gradually allowing for a progressive reduction of resistance until one fine day, one wakes up to find that resistance has taken wing and fled, like a swallow returning to its native climes in summer.
But for those who choose to make it a path, perhaps the key ingredient is good self-esteem. In my case, before I embarked on the path, I was graced with an insight that I was whole, perfect and complete at the soul level and the rest was conditioning. This insight enabled me to distinguish between who I was, and the behavior I manifested, preventing me from mistaking the latter for who I was. This was crucial, for otherwise I would not have been able to stand to see the extensive damage I had done to myself without cracking up.
Self-esteem, or the knowledge that we are okay at the deepest part of ourselves, affords us the courage to really look within and contain what we see. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves: “There are times when its (awareness or skull light as she calls it) reports are painful and almost too much to bear: for also the fiery skull points out where there are betrayals brewing, where there is faintness of courage in those who speak otherwise. It points out envy lying like cold grease behind a warm smile; it points out the looks which are mere masks for dislike. As regards oneself, its light is equally bright: it shines on our treasures and on our foibles.”
The second parameter when using acceptance as a path is to twin it with awareness. We can only accept what we are aware of. All too often our emotions, feelings, reactions and so on govern us. Helplessly, we must submit to having them firing over our shoulder, for we are completely identified with these states. Only a certain level of awareness can bring on a separation between them and us, to enable us to see them rather than simply be them. It is this detachment that accesses acceptance.
Affirmations, from personal experience, are also useful on the path. For a long time out there I simply affirmed that I accepted what I was going through, whether I did or not. Eventually, I actually did get to the stage where the affirmation manifested into being.
Can the mind remain with the pain without any movment away from it?
- J Krishnamurti
Natalie DaCunha (name changed), a college lecturer and an avid student of Vedanta, says, “Acceptance is at the cornerstone of my spirituality. I always recite the prayer of St Francis of Assisi, ‘Oh. Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.’ In many situations especially at the college front, I ask myself what is it I cannot change about this situation and try to accept it. Right now, I have put on some additional weight. It’s a small issue but it is not easy to accept for one who has never had to worry about it. Accepting the body is a daily challenge.”
As a path, acceptance fits more readily into jnana yoga than any other. For acceptance involves a modification of the mind, a change in the way the mind sees. Vedanta advocates the concept of prasaddha buddhi to access acceptance and equanimity. We are advised to accept whatever befalls us as prasad from God. No matter how unwelcome the event, we need to cup our hands reverentially to receive it. Job loss? Prasad. Angry wife? Prasad. Cantankerous mother-in-law? Sheer manna from heaven. A very powerful practice if we can summon up the awareness to do so.
The modern teachers most associated with preaching acceptance are the maverick philosopher, J. Krishnamurti, and Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author of the books, The Power of Now and A New Earth.
Krishnamurti, in fact, radically rejected all wisdom traditions and bodies of knowledge for the simple and stark act of engaging with your mind stuff; choice less awareness, he called it. His entire teaching revolved around the process of being able to see what was and accepting it. If greed was there, one had to recognize it; if envy was there, ditto. Instead of feeling guilty about it, or trying to get its opposite, one simply had to come to terms with what was.
He says, “The thought that I had no pain yesterday – in that duality arises. Can the mind remain with the pain, without any movement away from it, which brings in the thinker?”
For K people, as his followers are called, the what-is is all. They stay with it relentlessly and thereby access an unusual level of psychic energy. One of his followers underwent dental surgery without anesthetics simply by a single-minded grip on what is.
Eckhart Tolle is an updated, simpler version of Krishnamurti. Where Krishnamurti often chose a torturously complex way of explaining himself, Eckhart’s penetrating clarity lends simplicity to the most complex of thoughts.
But he too is relentless in his advocacy of staying in the now. In his book, A New Earth, he shares an interesting anecdote regarding his predecessor, J Krishnamurti. He says, “At one of his (Krishnamurti’s) talks… he surprised his audience by asking, ‘Do you want to know my secret?’ Everyone became very alert… ‘This is my secret,’ he said. ‘I don’t mind what happens.’”
Tolle adds, “When I don’t mind what happens, what does it imply? It implies that internally I am in alignment with what happens… To be in alignment with what is means to be in a relationship of inner nonresistance with what happens. It means not to label it mentally as good or bad, but to let it be.”
Elsewhere in the book, Tolle writes, “Do I want the present moment to be my friend or my enemy? The present moment is inseparable from life, so you are really deciding what kind of a relationship you want to have with life. Once you have decided you want the present moment to be your friend, it is up to you to make the first move: Become friendly toward it, welcome it no matter in what disguise it comes, and soon you will see the results. Life becomes friendly towards you; people become helpful, circumstances cooperative. One decision changes your entire reality. But that decision you have to make again and again and again – until it becomes natural to live in such a way.”
With both Krishnamurti and Tolle, the basic paradox is this: the ‘choice less awareness’ or the ‘being in the now’ that they urge are aspects of the enlightened mind. It is a state that requires a tremendous level of psychic energy to attain. It is not always easy to do so. Followers have explained that the hammering in of these central points was to get people at least a glimpse of the enlightened state, which they could then actualize gradually.
This works too, I daresay, but for myself, I found that I simply had to accept that I could not accept, all too often. I could not accept my anger and therefore I would burst out and then I would not be able to accept my guilt. It took me time to accept these. Talking to others, especially non-judgmental people, helped enormously in helping me to come to terms with myself. Keeping a journal helped too. And finally, the determination to keep going on the path buoyed me. Along with the deconditioning, I also worked on reconditioning, affirming tirelessly to myself that I accepted what was and used it to focus that much more on the here and now.
Acceptance at work
While achieving acceptance as a state of being is a very high state, all of us have learnt to cope with or accept certain troublesome aspects of our lives.
Says journalist and practicing Buddhist, Ashish Virmani, “Due to karmic causes, I never got married, which to an emotional person like me can be pretty devastating. However, at the age of 40, I have come to accept the fact that thanks to this I can devote so much more time to my career, to making others happy by spreading Buddhism, and by being a source of support to my parents. Besides, I have enough time on my hands to work out at the gym like a 20-year-old! I can’t think of many others of my age who have these luxuries on their hands”.
Behroze Khajatia, a body-mind therapist and mediator, recalls her experience when a beloved aunt had hemorrhage and went into a coma. She says, “It was very difficult to accept this in the beginning. She had been there for me unconditionally, but I had often vented my anger on her. I felt so guilty about it. However, during the 45 days she was in a coma, I gradually became conscious of her wonderful qualities. I prayed over her, gave her reiki, and talked to her. Even in her coma, I knew she responded. Our relationship really went to a higher plane. I could tell her, ‘It’s okay, you go. Don’t worry about us.’ And she did go, exactly one day before my birthday, which was exactly what I wanted because I did not want her to suffer on my birthday.”
When acceptance happens, things change. What we resist persists, as the old saying goes; and only acceptance can release its hold. What had seemed hard and unyielding when we pitted our heads against it, yields under the velvet touch of acceptance.
Anand Shah, (name changed), a media executive, was diagnosed with cancer of the kidneys when he was just 30. At first, like most people struck by deadly diseases, he was devastated. But as he gradually moved from the denial state to accepting his condition, he was able to use the power of his mind to cope with his illness. What happened thereafter was amazing. The cancer stopped spreading, though he lost a kidney. Now, more than 20 years later, he is leading a productive life, offering hope and consolation to others similarly afflicted.
Sapna Sajnani, a middle-aged housewife, had a very difficult relative living with her family, whose presence in her life she had always resented from an early age, because she and her family had suffered a lot at his hands. She didn’t keep very good health, though her medical reports showed there was nothing really wrong with her. In recent years, however, she has began to accept him, and her health has improved remarkably, as has her level of happiness.
Healing the Body
When we stop fighting with what-is and accept it instead, a remarkable transformation occurs within us and outside too. The mind has the most powerful impact on the body and when it is no longer fighting with what is happening in the body, it allows the wisdom of the body to work unhindered in the process of healing.
I too have lately been experiencing the power of the mind on the body. Over the last one year or so, I have been affected by a breathing disorder that considerably cramped my life. I was unable to take my morning walks; deep breathing was impossible and it disturbed my sleep. However, after tossing and turning one sleepless night, I made up my mind that I might as well not add mental suffering to my physical discomfort and worked on coming to terms with the situation. What immediately became clear was that fear was the biggest agent of the mental suffering. Fear of the breathing becoming worse, fear of the consequences, and subsequently fear of anything that could cause me to get a cold.
Once I decided to accept my fear and also the consequences of the problem, I began to feel better. I am still not completely well; my breathing is still labored, but I am more convinced than ever before that the real healing is from within, not through the medicine and treatment that one may take.
“Do I want the present moment to be my friend or my enemy?”
- Eckhart Tolle
For acceptance is the way of life. It is how we are meant to live. And everything about life only conspires to get us there. All the petty irritants, all the tragedies we undergo, all are meant to teach us the one truth that we are not the agents of our lives. Our lives are lived for us and through us and when we subsume our will to the will of God, our problems either disappear or at any rate don’t cause us mental anguish any more. When we accept things as they are, suddenly we can see beyond it to the possibilities hidden in the problem.
Chintin Girish Modi, a young student doing a course of media studies in Hyderabad, faces several petty irritants at his college hostel. He writes, “I am going to be here for another year. And I don’t want to be miserable. I have begun looking at the bright side, for there is a substantial one. Professors who are more like friends. Well-wishers who quietly adore you, but won’t make a big deal of it. Pals who cherish you like the siblings you never had. A campus that’s ideal for long walks. Parents who talk to you every day, seeing to your every need even from kilometres away. And long weekends when you can go home. I guess that is what acceptance is.”
Geeta Rao writes of her experiences, “I am always in conflict and alas, after beginning my meditation practice, am more aware of it, so my state of conflict is heightened. However, I find I have let go in many ways. Recently, I made the choice to take a job where I am not the head, not the corporate diva (after years of being one) so to speak, but merely one of the team. And I watch myself and am happy to see that despite the occasional call of the ego, I can get on with my job and actually find it is much more creative and less stressful not to be the boss. Twinges arise like when I can see I do not have the plum desk, the best car park, or all the attention, but they are few and faint.”
“What are a few bruises on my body in comparison with the transformation of a human life?”
- Peace Pilgrim
Acceptance comes when we recognize that we don’t know what’s best and that we cannot control outcome. And once we let it into our lives, it teaches us the lesson with more and more subtlety. We learn to let well alone. We no longer object to capitalists destroying the environment, to consumerists buying up the planet. We do not resist the sinner any more than we resist the self-righteous saint. We encompass them all in an accepting space. We want things to be exactly as they are. We want ourselves to be exactly as we are – the tyres around the waist, the bags under the eyes, the self-consciousness when looked at, the self-doubt that surfaces, the early-morning grumpiness – just perfect! Such a space is the most powerful and transformative zone possible. Miracles can happen within it. People can shift from sinners to sages, illnesses can be resolved, impasses can be dissolved. Acceptance is simply the most dynamic stage to come from. Says Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, philosopher and former President of India, “Saintly souls cannot use force, for all their passions are killed; yet they are able to overpower evil. The hard is overcome by the gentle; even the non-hard is overcome by it; there is nothing impossible for the gentle; therefore the gentle is more powerful.”
Acceptance is the force that won India its independence. By choosing to respond to British oppression through civil disobedience, while treating the oppressor with courtesy and love, India gave the world a stunning example of the power of ‘soul force’ as Gandhi put it. Writes Louis Fischer in his book, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, “The British beat the Indians with batons and rifle butts. The Indians neither cringed, nor complained nor retreated. That made England powerless and Indians invincible.”
In the presence of acceptance, evil drains away. In his book, Emotional Intelligence, journalist Daniel Goleman quotes a Vietnam veteran recalling an incident during the war. American soldiers and their Vietnamese counterparts were sniping at each other across a rice field. Suddenly a line of monks began walking slowly, calmly, across the field directly towards the Americans. Their perfect poise and unhurried demeanor virtually compelled the soldiers to hold their fire. The soldier recalls, “After they walked over the berm, suddenly all the fight was out of me…It must have been that way for everybody, because everybody quit. We just stopped fighting.”
The still witnessing power of acceptance can cause incredible shifts in those who are consecrated with it. The Peace Pilgrim, a dauntless American pacifist who walked ceaselessly for more than 20 years to spread the message of peace, narrates several fascinating experiences with acceptance in her book, Peace Pilgrim. She once undertook to take a mentally challenged but physically powerful teenager for a walk up a hill because no one else would agree to go with him, for he was wont to violent spells.
All went well until a sudden thunderstorm frightened him and he began to assault her violently. She allowed herself to be assaulted, putting up no resistance whatsoever. In a while the boy stopped and said in a puzzled manner, “You did not hit me back. My mother always hits me back.” Something fundamental changed in the boy that day and he never became violent any more. She writes, “What are a few bruises on my body in comparison with the transformation of a human life?”
Most sages and wise men have advocated the path of acceptance and their autobiographies are full of inspiring examples. Swami Ramdas, the founder of Anand Ashram in Kerala, once went across the country in blind surrender to Lord Ram. He put up with irate ticket collectors who threw him out, slept on the cold ground, suffered hunger and deprivation and was also the recipient of astonishing solicitude by fellow men. He accepted both the good and the bad with total equanimity, always finding something good in the negative. Once he and his traveling companion were being harassed by a ticket collector who toyed with them by ordering them to sit now at one place and now at another. The companion grumbled to the swami about the TC’s whimsical ways but Papa, as he is called, responded, “We had been so long sitting in the train and as a result, our legs had become benumbed. To remove the stiffness and to induce brisker circulation of blood, the kind friend makes us walk this side and that, and asks us to sit and stand.”
The transforming power of gurus rests in their ability to accept the faltering imperfection of those around them. Pupul Jayakar’s meeting with Krishnmurti in her book, J. Krishnamurti, dramatically illustrates it. At that time, she was dynamic, involved in a number of social causes and activities, full of zeal. Krishnamurti looked at her and commented that in repose her face was sad. The pain, so long repressed, gushed out. She says, “In his presence the past, hidden in the darkness of the long-forgotten, found form and awakened. He was as a mirror that reflected. There was an absence of personality, of the evaluator, to weight and disturb. I kept trying to keep back something of my past, but he would not let me… And so the words which for years had been destroying me, had been said. Saying them brought me immense pain, but his listening was as the listening of winds or the vast expanse of water.”
In his book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle recommends three modalities to constitute enlightened doing: acceptance of whatever we have to do even if we do not particularly care for it, enjoyment, which infuses activities we like and finally enthusiasm, which occurs when we have found our life mission and are focused on the goal. According to Tolle, unless we operate from one of these three states of mind, we had far better not do anything, for whatever we do will bring suffering for us and others. On the other hand, these three approaches will bring about a new earth.
Acceptance heals us, it heals others and it heals the planet. We’re talking win-win-win here!
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