Turning 50 years old recently has offered me yet more opportunities to deepen and reveal more layers of my becoming. I decided to go back to therapy to work on some issues from the recent past that have been creeping into my heart in ways that feel limiting and depressive of my spirit.
The second session with my therapist left me uncomfortable and annoyed. I was not able to immediately identify what was amiss, but later I sent my therapist an email explaining some of what I thought was happening. In the session, we had veered into a philosophical discussion about whether events in life happen for a reason (I believe they do), and how one lives in ways that accept this belief without often knowing the reason, while balancing needs and desires, as well as discerning when to push for change and when to surrender to what is. My email ended with the revelation that I feel the need to work on surrendering to what is and to understand what is getting in the way of that process.
Then I read an article by Tara Brach titled, When We Don’t Make Anything ‘Wrong.’ She wrote a book called Radical Acceptance. The article tells the brief story of her encounter with Jacob, a man in his 70s who has mid-stage Alzheimer’s. At a 10-day retreat Tara met with Jacob and he shared with her that his attitude towards his disease was: interested, sad, grateful and even good-humored. Intrigued by his resilience, Tara asked him how he came to be so accepting. He said it didn’t feel like anything was wrong because it all feels like real life.
Jacob went on to tell a story of when he was leading a Buddhist meditation talk early in his disease process. After talking his seat in front of hundreds of people he went blank. He didn’t know what to do or what to say, or even why he was there. With his heart racing and mind spinning in confusion he gently put his hands together at his heart and started simply naming his experience, “afraid, embarrassed, confused, feeling like I am powerless, shaking, sense of dying, lost.” For several minutes he sat head bowed continuing to name his experience. As he began to relax and feel calmer, he named that too. At last, Jacob lifted his head, looked around and apologized.
The response he received from the students was one of deep and tear-filled gratitude for the teaching of pure presence.
Perhaps Jacob’s teaching is not about struggling to accept what is in any moment, but accepting by starting with naming, “lonely, excited, tired, open, confused, hopeful, hopeless, judgmental, avoidant, loving, grateful.”
Surrendering to what is starts with identifying it. Naming without judging, or analyzing or intending to fix. Surrendering is becoming intimately connected with my own process, whatever it is, whether I understand it or not in the moment, and to whatever end it may reach.
Real life is not wrong, it is …now…and now…..and now……