A shorter one today, as sometimes our minds need a rest, mine in the writing, and yours in the reading. This, today, will be a restful day, a simple reminder from a simple man living in a not-so-simple world, that there are always things we can do to feel better about the life we’re living. There are always things we can notice, be mindful about, and influence in healthier ways so we don’t feel so damn tired all the time. I think, and I think a lot as you well know, too much probably if you ask those that are forced to deal with all the fallout of that thought avalanche, and what so much of that thinking has lead to is a single understanding about life that explains, at least to me, part of why we suffer so much. The little graphic I found above sums it up in a single image, but I wanted to expound on it for a moment or two, from a Buddhist perspective, as I believe that if there’s anything at all I can do that has even the slightest chance of helping any of you feel a bit less weary, I owe it to you to do so. Let’s go.
The image shows two circles, one spiraling in on itself, and the other taking a single lap around that spiral, before exiting and moving on. The first says “resisting what is,” whilst the latter says “accepting what is.” But WAIT Tyler, you just said in your little intro that there are always things we can do, change, and influence to feel better about this life we’re living…what gives? Ahh, my friends, here is the rub, and the challenge of this life: Deciding which things we can change, and which we cannot. Which things we shall accept, and which we should rebel against. There’s an idea in Buddhism that there are only two kinds of problems in life, problems we can do something about, and problems that we cannot. For the first, if it can be fixed, why worry? For the second, if there’s nothing we can do, worrying will do no good. The work of this life, is deciding which is which, and I think that the only practice we can reliably do, is accepting more, and resisting less.
As human beings we are built to fight. Built to survive despite long odds, built to stay standing through all that tries to knock us down. We fight against everything that runs counter to what we know, and it’s taken millennia to unlearn those instincts. If we, conscious and brilliant and evolved we, spend more of our energies and efforts on gently accepting the realities we are faced with, if we let go of our attachments and misconceptions, what relief would come? The circle diagram that spirals in is how we have lived for thousands of years, resisting all that is in an attempt to control all that we want it to be. It spirals in and in and in ad infinitum until we we are crushed by our own desire and inability to shape everything around us. We are, quite literally, claustrophobic due to chaos, boxed in and buried alive by our own attempts to change the unchangeable.
The other circle, the one we should spend more of our mindful and wakeful hours trying to emulate, takes a lap around, sees what is, accepts, and finds liberation in escape. No longer burdened or bound to the endless treadmill of trying to fix everything, shape everything, control the uncontrollable, a kind of freedom emerges. What that graphic does not show, however, is that the longer that arrow flies straight from the circle it came from, the more it will find new obstacles it must orbit around, new laps it must take before escaping again. This will continue forever, until we no longer return and begin again, until we no longer need to. This is the practice of a life.
I say these things because I see so many I know and love spiraling in. I’ve spoken about this a lot over the last few weeks, and part of my accepting what is, is understanding that I can only do so much, say so much, and the rest must be done by those I love. I do not wish to watch anyone spiral in on themselves, desperate to change things not destined for the alteration. I hope I am clear when I say that in no way does this mean I believe we should all stop trying to improve our minds, our bodies if we wish, our kindness, empathy, or try to right the many wrongs being done on this planet, to this planet, to one another. No, it is in fact the opposite. It is the acceptance that these evils do exist, and that we must do what we can do to try to help, but that we will never be able to fix it all. It is the letting go of the idea that anything will ever be perfect, but that does not mean it will never be beautiful.
Bottom line, I Don’t know exactly where I wanted to go when I started this essay. I saw the two circles, and I immediately thought of that spiraling in, the crushing I too have felt many times in my life. There is a peace that comes when we recognize the difference between resisting what IS in our lives, and accepting what we cannot change. What we are to do, is to ask ourselves, ask those who we feel have found a higher enlightenment than we have, “How can we improve this? How can we hold on less tightly to the things we cannot fix?”
And so I turn to you, all of you, and seek your advice as well. We are all students to one another, all ears made for listening. Perhaps if we share, if we open up and spill, we will all find new ways to calm.
Sound off, please. I cannot wait to learn.
One path spirals in,
one path circles then escapes.
One leads to freedom.