“The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories—in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.”
― Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road
Difficult times seem to bring out our best or our worst sides. Much of our response to difficulties is dependent on our attitude toward difficulty itself. To be avoided? Denied? Or to be faced squarely, accepted. Willing to work with it? Or not? We can say “it’s not fair” but, after all, the road is always messy the way real life is always messy.
If we’re going to do the work of being mindful then our first lesson is to practice acceptance. Acceptance is often mistaken for an attitude of “everything is fine; don’t worry.” But that is not true; sometimes everything is not okay.
You’re in a convenience store; an alarm blares; you smell smoke. Employees are panicking, running out of all the doors as you hear a siren in the distance. EVERYTHING IS NOT OK!
Perhaps a more relevant situation would sound like this:
A child I am serving comes to school agitated. He lashes out easily; can’t sit still. He’s ready to fight. The room is tense. Other children in the room are getting agitated now. And I don’t know what to do.
When we practice acceptance we commit ourselves to seeing each moment of our life as inevitable, given what has come before. As a result we’re rarely surprised, though we still may feel startled. When I practice acceptance I form the intention to notice what is happening, not taking it personally, not judging anyone involved. As acceptance becomes a felt experience, I notice strong emotions forming and arising, but they are events I am experiencing rather than the experience itself. And with acceptance, I can notice a space between the event and my response, a space that contains my freedom to act with skill rather than with impulsiveness or defensiveness, without my anger or fear getting in the way. And calm returns quickly to me, and that calm becomes contagious.
A few good quotes:
First, from an interview with Dr. Laurie Santos of Yale University in the NYTimes:
Question: What does the research say about how happiness is affected during Covid?
Answer: The message I’ve seen from the current research is that Covid’s not great for well-being; symptoms of depression and symptoms of anxiety tend to be going up. And those are systematically worse in more vulnerable populations. So if you look at, say, African-Americans right now, the effects of that stuff is worse. If you look at lower-income individuals or folks who don’t have child care help — all the folks who would normally be getting a well-being hit — it’s worse in the context of Covid.
Question: So how can we achieve happiness in chaos?
Answer: Try not to run away from those negative emotions. As parents, when kids are expressing uncertainty, your instinct is to just deny it or pretend it’s not there, to “power through it.” But uncertainty, fear, frustration, anger, jealousy — all of those negative emotions — they’re not going away. You need to give them space. One technique is to use meditation, where you really try to recognize and accept those emotions. In particular, RAIN: recognize, accept, investigate and nurture.”
Second, some wisdom from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (page 417):
And 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 God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
And the video and audio from the October 13, 2020 meditation session: