Originally posted on June, 2016—Re-posted August, 2017
Think Relaxation, then Action
Here’s a powerful passage from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 441:
“Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in this world by mistake”
I have tugged and tussled and tangled with this concept for a while now. Acceptance? The answer to every single thing? That can’t be right. What about the things that are simply wrong, simply righteously and deeply wrong? Are we to accept them blindly? How will things ever change if we just walk around in acceptance? Does living mindfully mean becoming a little sheep in a lovely pasture with a whole bunch of other, accepting and bleeping sheep? I think not. Over time and practice and pain and life unfolding, this is my understanding of this concept today.
Like on the yoga mat, when we struggle against the moment, when we fight against sensations, pushing and prodding them to be different, everything becomes harder. Constricting around the moment is like putting our foot on the brake—everything slows and tightens. Relaxing into what is happening, EVEN IF WE DON’T LIKE IT, is the doorway to transmutation. (Yes, I am intentionally yelling, damn it!) Again, just like on that yoga mat, breathing and relaxing into the sensations that arise (of course they arise—life in a body guarantees sensation) is like putting your foot on the gas, giving the moment a little fuel to move on. Fighting against life doesn’t work. It causes more suffering.
Then, of course, there are actions to take. But I believe the seeds of action must be planted in the earth of presence, in the earth of acceptance. Simply said, what is happening wins—no matter how wrong it might be. Reality is relentless; it always wins. Righteous indignation spins us out. When we are relaxed with what is, actions we then take can become impactful and sustainable.
Here’s an example from my life. I had a major and traumatic loss several years ago. The Inner Quest Intensive, a profound off the mat program that I taught for twenty years, was taken off the schedule. Not being involved in any discussion about it, I was informed after the decision was finalized. Accepting this change in my professional world and in our larger curriculum has been a long and arduous journey for me. I have had to be present with my heartbreak, with my terror of such a deep emptiness, with my fear of economic diminishment—and on and on. Over time and practice, I am slowly outliving the feelings. Now, as time passes, I find myself able, from a place of deeper relaxation, to accept the reality of this loss, and to slowly to take steps to rebuild my life.
I’m enclosing a visual image for us: this is Richmond Pond at dawn, one early spring morning. The entire lake was smooth as a shiny mirror, while the sky was filled with billowy, dark stormy clouds. The picture is remarkable to me. As you can see, half of the lake has absorbed the image of the storm clouds on its surface. The other half of the lake has maintained its smooth, mirrored surface. Somehow this image supports me today in my journey of acceptance. The clouds, the struggle, the darkness—to stay present with them long enough, until they release and integrate, allowing the mirrored surface emerges again. That is my hope for us, all, today.