May 11 Meditation - Embracing What Is
Updated: May 19, 2020
When practicing mindfulness, even directed toward something as ordinary as breathing, we enhance the part of the mind that is aware of the way things are while diminishing the part that is stressed because things are not the way we want them to be. —Andrew Olendzki
I’m returning to a familiar theme tonight, which is the idea of embracing what IS. This is obviously a timely sentiment, but it’s also timeless, and it’s one that’s hitting home hard lately.
It’s so easy to get caught in a web of desires, which is really what’s at the root of attachment: desires for things to be the way we think they should be. And if, or when, the world doesn’t match our picture of how the world ought to be, we get disappointed, maybe depressed, even despondent. We feel such intense grief that life has not met our expectations. It’s easy to think of examples that we can all agree upon—ways that people behave that are harmful to others or to the planet, policies or corporate practices that are harmful to people or to animals or to the environment.
And I understand a strong desire for justice, which includes social justice, ecological justice, criminal justice. This pursuit can be so noble, so human. And also, I watch people get really lost in the discrepancy between the world they want and the world that is. I see so much suffering over situations that we have no control over, situations that have nothing to do with the way we live our lives. Obviously there’s a line here—be a concerned citizen, live an intentional life, but also see the world as it is and love the world as it is. This is so much more peaceful than the alternative.
This occurs in our personal lives too, of course. There are so many ways that our friends, families, lovers, coworkers don’t meet our expectations, or don’t behave in the way we want them to. Often this can feel like a matter of justice, also. But what would it be like if we just let people be who they are, and do what they’re going to do, without exerting our own expectations about what that should look like? What kind of freedom might we experience from this letting go? What kind of freedom might they experience from this letting go? I don’t have answers but I know in my life the practice of seeing and accepting people for who they are has brought me so much freedom and insight. Denying the world that really exists keeps me trapped in a bubble of idealism and resistance that keeps me really stuck, and really unhappy.
In the yogic world, we talk about aparigraha, which means non grasping. Interestingly, it can also be translated as “non greed” or “non possessiveness” or “non attachment”. I’m not a yoga scholar so I can’t speak about this at length, but I do really appreciate this concept. Not grasping. Not possessing. Not controlling. Not forcing. Letting what is, be. This makes room for gratitude, and compassion, and acceptance, which makes room for truth and peace.
I read a parable this week, this one is from the ancient scrolls of Instagram:
“When i first moved to the islands i rented a room from a Hawaiian grandmother named Leslie. she was five feet tall with a piercing gaze and the kind of smile that made me think she always knew more then she let on. i was impatient in a place that was patient by nature. it took an hour to check out at the grocery store because the cashier wanted to get to know me. the way of life felt foreign, coming from a city where everyone avoided eye contact and worshipped efficiency. one morning, Leslie knocked on my door just after dawn and told me we were going to the beach. my list of urgent to-do’s flooded my mind, but i respected her, and wanted to earn her respect. we quietly sat on the beach, watching waves the size of mountains tumble on the shore. the salty morning air was thick with humidity. Leslie scooped up sand in her palms and gripped it with white knuckles until every last grain fell out. “you see this? this is you.” the rising sun turned her brown eyes golden as an untamed flame. she scooped up more sand, but left her palms open. all of it remained. “do you see how much more life you can contain when you just let go?” (credit @alliemichellel)
“If thou could'st empty all thyself of self Like to a shell dishabited Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf And say This is not dead and fill thee with Himself instead. But thou art all replete with very thou And hast such shrewd activity That when He comes He says This is enow Unto itself - 'twere better let it be It is so small and full there is no room for me.”
--Sir Thomas Browne