When we accept the way things are, without resistance, possibilities abound.
Once again, I’ve been assigned a chapter that has the potential to change the way I am in the world. How perfect is that? But before I get to the part of the blog where I confess my smallness, and my inability to shift into the Zen-like understanding and behavior you expect from a life coach, a brief explanation is necessary.
The concept of acceptance without resistance is foreign to most of us, as we immediately interpret it as submission or resignation. The Zanders’ example is the cow in the movie “Babe,” who is resigned to his eventual fate at the dinner table. Such resignation makes every day hence an exercise in worry (Is today the day?) and grief (My life is over!), precluding the possibility of happiness in the present moment, and preventing the cow from seeing the duck’s vision of possibility: escape.
Acceptance without resignation means allowing yourself to simply be with whatever circumstances exist, and hanging out for a while with the reactions and feelings that arise as a result.
In order to achieve this emotionally mature understanding of the world, the trick is to be conscious of the distinction between the facts, and our assumptions and feelings about the facts. This isn’t easy “considering the ongoing inventive power of perception” (read Kayce’s explanation of that concept here). It requires some thoughtfulness (and in my case hours of meditation), because we get caught up in our thoughts and feelings about events and can’t separate them from the events themselves.
I am experiencing the challenges of separating fact from feeling first-hand. The story is far too complicated to relate here, but it has caused me (and many of my neighbors) to fall into every trap the Zanders identify that indicate refusal to remain with the way things are, and the narrowing of possibilities such refusal creates. We have individually and collectively ignored each of the Zanders’ suggestions below for how to stay present and open.
While you’re reading, see if you can remember a time when you violated the pathways to possibility listed below. Yes, you WILL be quizzed.
1. Being with the Way Things Are by Clearing “Shoulds.”
When I don’t like a situation, I encumber it with “shoulds.” I resist the circumstance: They shouldn’t have done that. He should have considered my feelings. Byron Katie knows exactly how to handle such ‘arguments with reality.’
I definitely don’t remember ever “shoulding” all over a situation I was happy with.
It’s another example of how we get more of what we focus on: “When our attention is primarily directed to how wrong things are, we lose our power to act effectively.”
2. Being with the Way Things Are by Closing the Exits: Escape, Denial, and Blame
I want the intense grief, anguish and rage I feel to stop, so I look for ways to do that. Blaming others is the most convenient way, and it temporarily diverts my attention from the pain.
The Zanders suggest that instead of bailing out, staying with those feelings and letting them run their course, however long it takes, improves our ability to do the heavy emotional lifting that complex situations often require.
3. Being with the Way Things Are by Clearing Judgments
My automatic reaction, honed over many years of creating deep neural pathways of judgment, is to label the good guys and the bad guys, the villians and the victims, and the lousy, unfair outcomes. In my current situation, I am ashamed to say, I have gone completely overboard in this regard. I have raised name-calling to a fine, dark art.
What if I stopped judging the situation, or particular people involved, as “bad” or “good” and stayed with “is”? How might that open up possibilities for healing? How might I reduce my own suffering around it?
4. Being with the Way Things Are by Distinguishing Physical from Conceptual Reality
This is the most complex and confusing part of being “with” reality. In my own imagination, which is my invented perception, my ability to think in abstractions permits me to “traffic with the future and the past.” I make up worst-case scenario stories that cloud my judgment and keep me spiraling downward into an increasingly discouraging quagmire.
“The nature of abstractions is that they have a lasting existence exempt from the contingencies of time and place.” In other words, these ideas, these constructs, have no basis in physical reality, and so, left unquestioned, can last forever.
“Abstractions that we unwittingly treat as physical reality tend to block us from seeing the way things are, and therefore reduce our power to accomplish what we say we want.” Boom!
This brings us to the power of language, which we can use to create the thoughts that stand in our way, or to open up new worlds of possibility. The language of possibilities is an optimistic language, which often causes those committed to “downward spiral talk” to dismiss possibilities as Pollyanna’s dreams. But those who are committed to possibilities understand that “what we say creates a reality; how we define things sets a framework for life to unfold.”
Cut and paste this beautiful summary of how to be with the way things are, and put it on your mirror, because it’s worth reviewing every morning:
Being with the way things are calls for an expansion of ourselves. We start from what is, not from what should be; we encompass contradictions, painful feelings, fears, and imaginings, and—without fleeing, blaming, or attempting correction—we learn to soar, like the far-seeing hawk, over the whole landscape. The practice of being with the way things are allows us to alight in a place of openness, where “the truth” readies us for the next step, and the sky opens up.”
OK, your turn. How have you been, or not been, with the way things are? How did it affect your ability to see the possibilities—for growth, for healing, or for making the world a better place?