Some of us had the great privilege of attending a retreat at Carmel recently, the subject of which was the mystical poems of Rumi. Deep Gasshō to those who shared their insights and experiences and inspired this edition of Musings.
Student: Since the last Musings article, I have been looking at the practice of “Yes. Please. Thank you. I Love you.” It seems to suggest that everything in Life is a gift for me that I should gratefully accept. I am trying to practice with this but am having trouble with both acceptance and gratitude.
Teacher: Nothing in practice is a “should.” Say more about what troubles you.
Student: Well, I grew up in horrible circumstances and went through some really painful stuff. I can accept that it happened, I suppose, but I don’t feel any gratitude that it went the way it did. In fact, I keep wishing it had not!
Teacher: Does this line from Rumi resonate? Your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror up to where you are bravely working.
Student: I am not sure. Are you saying that what I’m feeling is not wrong and that I’m working up to feeling gratitude for what happened?
Teacher: Well… Perhaps acceptance is a process? Perhaps acceptance comes over time through letting go the orientation that what happened should not have happened? Perhaps we have to learn that we are “ok” not with what happened but despite it? Perhaps gratitude arises because we are required to find compassion for ourselves as we learn to accept what is?
The human shape is a ghost,
made of distraction and pain.
Sometimes pure light, sometimes cruel,
trying wildly to open,
this image tightly held within itself.
“There is suffering.” If this were not the First Noble Truth, the significance of this simple statement of the shatteringly obvious could be easily overlooked. Through it the Buddha offers a powerful and important teaching to those making the spiritual journey. If we seek to awaken to the mystery of All That Is, it seems that we are required to accept ALL that is as it is, not just the parts “I” prefer.
A candle is made to become entirely flame.
In that annihilating moment, it has no shadow.
It is nothing but a tongue of light
describing a refuge.
As the verse suggests, spiritual transformation is nothing less than metamorphosis. It’s as dramatic a process as the word suggests, for it appears that the ignorance limiting the awareness of our intrinsic purity can only be dissolved in the fiery crucible of practice.
I am amazed at the seeker of purity
who when it's time to be polished
complains of rough handling.
Accepting that “rough handling” is par for the spiritual course is an important realization. It takes practice to comprehend that what complains of “rough handling” is what gets rubbed away. The ego kicks and screams and protests and resists its annihilation.
Our default identification with the illusion of a self separate from life causes us to believe that the pain, humiliation, shame, guilt, and resistance we sometimes experience on the spiritual journey is ours. If we stick with it, we are blessed with a growing sense of acceptance that “the blows are not against the rug, but against the dust in it.” What’s more, it opens us to the question of who or what is delivering the blows.
The thirsty man is moaning, “O delicious water!”
The water is calling, “Where is the one who will drink me?”
The thirst in our souls is the magnetism of the
Water: We are Its, and It is ours.
The path demands an all-consuming energy, effort, and willingness from us, and yet it’s accomplished by a grace that we don’t command. The realization of Grace is the joyous comprehension that we are part of a force of attraction that has union as its trajectory. Now everything in our life, no matter how difficult or painful, becomes a spiritual opportunity, something we get to work through to experience the fulfillment of magnetic resonance.
In the words of Alan Watts:
Spiritual awakening is the difficult process whereby the increasing realization that everything is as wrong as it can be flips suddenly into the realization that everything is as right as it can be. Or better, everything is as is.
While all this may be true, the last thing we want to hear when we are experiencing something painful or difficult is a glib comment along the lines of “Everything happens for the best” or “It’s a gift from Life, accept it gratefully.” What we’re really looking for in those moments of struggle is unconditional acceptance of our experience, validation of our pain, reassurance that there’s someone on our side—some sympathy, kindness, and support.
We seldom if ever receive what we need if, like most conditioned humans, we are listening to voices of self-hate.
Practice offers us a way to embrace all that arises in our lives in conscious compassionate awareness. Two-handed recording is the practice tool often recommended when the “going gets rough.” Here are the mechanics of the exercise.
- Place the recorder in your right hand and start recording. Talk to the recorder as you would a close friend or a therapist. Really allow yourself to express what you are feeling, without censoring. Say everything you ever wanted about what you are going through.
- Stop the recorder. Breathe. Sit with this experience. Then, placing the recorder in your left hand, listen to the recording you just made giving it your full attention. Really listen.
- Keeping the recorder in the left hand switch it on and offer what comes up for you to assist and comfort the person you just listened to.
- Listen to the recording you just made.
Those who have done this exercise often report feeling healed by it. This might not happen the first or even second time through. Just keep doing the exercise until you feel heard. Sometimes it is a person’s first experience of truly feeling heard, listened to, and understood. This tool, however effective, is not just a way to “feel better.” Each step is a powerful training in unconditional acceptance that transforms the candle into a flame of refuge.
In step one, we train to be present to our experience, to bring conscious awareness to what is. We learn to transcend the conditioned process of ignoring, avoiding, suppressing, rationalizing, denying, or intellectualizing our “reaction” to what is arising that only serves to maintain the ego-identity.
In step two, we learn unconditional acceptance. In listening without judgment, we open to the possibility that Life can and does contain in awareness all of the energies of existence—anguish, rage, fear, betrayal, disappointment, bliss…
In step three, we practice being the wisdom, love and compassion that can offer clear and practical comfort and assistance. This step may prove elusive but is essential. When it most counted for each of us, we received and believed the message “there is something wrong with you.” Only through the lens of compassion can we experientially arrive at the truth of the inherent goodness of Authentic Nature.
In step four, we learn to receive unconditional love. We make real for ourselves that who and how we are is unconditionally accepted and loved.
As we deepen our familiarity with this tool, we open to the fundamental spiritual truth that Life is, and that we have the tremendous capacity to be present to All that is as it is. As we practice this process of unconditional acceptance, we realize that the love we offer and receive is the Unconditional Love that we are. In the words of Rumi:
You are gazing at the Light
With its own ageless eyes.
As we practice this process of acceptance, there still may be that lingering question as to why, despite our willingness and sincerity, we continue to fall into karmic traps. We might have to accept that we may never know the answer to why it is so. Perhaps faith is the ultimate expression of the Unconditional and the portal through which we meet the Buddha within. Absolute acceptance of what is seems a small price to pay to live in the Mystery of Unconditional Love and Joy.
What stands in your way of being a flame of refuge?
For the next 48 hours, choose an issue in your life that causes suffering where absolute acceptance is still difficult and the conversation is still about wanting it to be different than it is. Practice the two-handed recording exercise as a way to expand the container of compassion, train in unconditional acceptance, and participate in the process of removing the “barriers to love” so the lover can be “consumed by the Beloved.”
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article are by Rumi.