It is important to accept what happens and not to wish it were otherwise – good, bad, whatever. Life is what happens and our resistance to it brings us to grief, which means we only have grief to offer our brothers and sisters. Thus, lack and scarcity abound and joy – which is not so secret, not so mysterious – remains elusive.
When I was spending a lot of time drinking bad coffee in church basements – which was helpful at so many levels – we used to say that “acceptance is the answer to all my problems.” It drove me nuts, as it tended to drive everyone nuts – those rooms were not for the faint of the spiritual heart – but there was something to it. When we accept what is, we are lighter somehow. We don’t have to like what is happening – and we surely can’t stop what is happening – but we are no longer tormented by it.
I think there are two aspects to the teaching of acceptance. The first is to become clear about who or what is resisting – who or what is taking issue with how the present moment is arising. Only the ego – the narrative self we frantically compose out of wishes and fear – has preferences. Only the ego wants things to be other than they are: that is what the ego is – a desire that life not be as it is, and a conviction that it should or even could conform to our desire. It’s a belief, is all, and not a very helpful one.
We notice the ego – the narrative self – by giving attention to what is happening. We feel fear and we stay with it in a nonjudgmental, nonreactive way. Over time, the more we do this, the more we begin to perceive how flimsy the structure is that underlies fear – or sorrow, or anger, or guilt or whatever. We think we’re real – that there is some real weighty and important self “inside” that sees reality and chooses how to respond to it. But there really isn’t. There’s actually nothing there. It is, as the old stories go, “turtles all the way down.”
Life is vast and minute on scales we can barely imagine, let alone measure. Is there anything that doesn’t change? That is always present?
At first this is scary – we are not what we thought we were. What does it mean? What happens next? But the closer we look at the dissipating self and its vapor trails in eternity, the more aware we become of what is looking at it: and that – whatever we want to call that – is not dissipating at all. It isn’t going anywhere because it’s already everywhere. So it’s like A Course in Miracles says: we aren’t going to lose anything by waking up. It’s just the same old same old seen right, seen new, seen with Christ, however you want to put it.
The second aspect of this acceptance teaching is to see the way that change is a function of what is external and, in a sense, that everything is external save what is aware of what is external. We can’t change change: acceptance is really the only viable option, though it can take a long time to learn this.
Bluets emerge from tangled grasses, blossom in violet profusion, fade and fall back. Crows emerge from pale eggs, take wing in the bright sky, and then die in places we cannot go. The mail shows up or it doesn’t. Keys open doors and get lost. Our cells die off, regenerate, and die off again. Ideas show up, mutate, disappear, reappear. The sea rises and falls. Even the mountains rise and fall. Stars are born. Stars die.
Life is vast and minute on scales we can barely imagine, let alone measure. Is there anything that doesn’t change? That is always present? Attention can reveal the way that awareness of what is is always there: it is precedent to what is: there is nothing outside it because it has no walls. It is like a borderless container.
And what is interesting about being human in form is that our brains can see this: we can see that we are life itself and awareness of life itself. When we make contact with that awareness in an authentic way, then we are living the life the wise ones talk about. In our current social and cultural constellations we tend to be ignorant of how simple truth is, how clear truth is, how practical truth is, how concrete – how here and now – it is, but still. Most of us are basically there but we keep trying to embroider it a little at the edges. That is why our various spiritual practices are still helpful: that is why it is still valuable to read the text of A Course in Miracles and do the lessons and so forth. They ask us to be responsible for our awakening: and when we become so responsible, they help us awaken. We do the work but they make those early critical steps possible.
And acceptance is just a way or a part of doing this! In its fullest sense, it is about seeing through the lie that is the ego, or narrative self, and also perceiving the change that inevitably constitutes the whole of what is external. I think when we perceive all this, or as it is revealed to us, then acceptance just makes good sense. It feels right and natural so we do it.