§ We came to this world to LIVE OUT LOUD!
Accepting Everything Just As It Is
This summer I went on weeklong retreat with two of my daughters to Plum Village, a Zen Buddhist Monastery in the Bordeaux region of France. I was expecting serious rest and rejuvenation but I got something else entirely.
You see, I went to Plum Village with some pretty hefty expectations. My previous retreat experiences led me to believe that I will do nothing during my retreat time other than do everything slowly and mindfully – meditate, rest, eat mindfully and take naps.
And all this slow mindfulness would lead to inner peace.
I tried to do all that this year but inner peace eluded me for the most part.
I did have a goal of sorts for this retreat, which I set as I listened to a dharma talk on the first day – to accept everything that came up. To embrace all of the physical sensations and emotions that came up without needing to change them or alter them in any way.
This was easy to do when I felt relaxed and peaceful.
However, it was a completely different story when I found myself stressed, anxious, sad or physically uncomfortable.
It rained a lot and our tent flooded, we had to sleep in a large meditation hall, everything was soaked, we were cold, I kept getting triggered by my teenager’s attitude, I kept getting urgent work emails which I reluctantly attended to with crappy internet.
And underneath all of these mundane inconveniences and annoyances was the unyielding grief of my oldest leaving home this August. While meditating, I would often catch myself replaying her 17 years with us in my mind, feeling the ache in my heart and wondering where the time had gone.
Basically, the Universe provided me with real life experience to practice Radical Acceptance.
I first read about the concept of Radical Acceptance in Tara Brach’s book of the same name when my oldest was a newborn.
The idea is that the more we can accept everything in our experience exactly as it is, without trying to change it or alter it in any way, the more wisdom, insight and inner peace we gain.
Here’s how it works:
When you catch yourself trying to do something to stop feeling anxious or sad or stressed or even feeling physical pain, you just stop doing whatever you are doing.
You name the feeling. Sadness, anger, hurt, vulnerability, shame, embarrassment, fear, etc.
You breathe and relax and imagine holding this feeling like you would a newborn baby in your arms.
You cry if you need to.
And you simply feel.
And something miraculous starts to happen.
The feeling lessens in intensity. You start to feel calmer and clearer. A peaceful space opens up inside of you. And you really get how this intense emotion is just an energetic messenger there to communicate whatever it needs to communicate to you and then get on its way.
It is a much gentler, wiser way to engage with your emotions.
As I practiced this throughout the week, I noticed just how quickly emotions change. I may be calm and relaxed one second and quickly feel angry or frustrated as I look up to see my teenager’s sullen face.
And here’s the beautiful part. I could react in that flash of anger and say something that would start a fight between us or I could accept my feelings of frustration and anger, holding them tenderly, until they softened. Once softened, they were replaced by love and compassion, for my teen who really didn’t want to be at the retreat and for myself who, trying to be a good mother, dragged her there anyway.
I was then free from the clutches of anger and could respond to my teen in a more loving and productive way.
Except for the times that I couldn’t and reacted in anger, only to radically accept the feelings generated by my adding fuel to the fire with my anger. It’s all practice and I’m only human.
And it’s somewhat exhausting at first (which is why I didn’t end the week feeling rested and rejuvenated).
But I do feel much more inner peace. And power. And strength.
It’s a powerful way to live and I plan to keep practicing this in my daily life back home.
So, what about you? What helps you deal with your strong emotions?
As always, I love hearing from you so feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.