About acceptance, surrender and touching the mystery of life.
Trying to touch the other dimension of life, knowing that there is a different way to live than the one I previously known, I spent a couple of years on a Dhamma tour, of which I have dedicated almost a year of my life to intensive ongoing silent meditation practice. Slowly, gradually and persistently I tried to cultivate wisdom and selfless boundless love.
Looking back I can say that it’s not about accumulating, attaining or trying to be somewhere, something or someone else. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. It worked, but not really, not fully. With time I found out that those who touch the mystery are those who are fully in love with it. For them meditation is an art. It’s love. It’s life itself, not a technique. Please don’t get me wrong, a method IS very significant, following the Mahasi Sayadaw’s technique for a few years changed my life completely, no less. But at the end of the day, it’s not about obedience or compliance with a form of practice; rather, it is following or allowing a naturally unfolding process. A process of radically letting everything be and letting everything go.
Two years in SE Asia, significantly a midst Burmese, I can reflect that generally it’s culturally improper to express emotions, especially difficult ones, or what Buddhists call unwholesome (a-kusala) mental states such as grief, dissatisfaction, anger, lust or greed. (please forgive me if that came out somewhat racist… it’s defiantly not my intention here…)
One of the main goals of Buddhist practices is to overcome all afflictive emotions hence there’s a sense that ignoring them will shorten the way to liberation. For the enlightened ones, those who already overcame life, ALL thoughts and sensations ARE merely an empty selfless phenomenon. Yet, for most of us, there is a bit more to explore before we get there. As for me, after some serious struggling, I found that it was crucial for me to, first of all, unconditionally accept things as they are, no matter how bad they make me feel, no matter how much I want then not to happen, no matter how unenlightened they make me look and no matter how embarrassed I am by their (re)appearance. Jack Kornfield says that meditation practice is merely one insult after another. Thankfully, most of the time, I was the only witness to these embarrassing states of mind
Unfortunately, however, I was repeatedly encouraged to skip the part of acceptance in the name of the wisdom of impermanence – i.e. things are rapidly changing from moment to moment – which is, of course, an ultimate truth. Many times I felt that although the teachings are about being in the present moment, my teachers and the environment were encouraging me to forsake the present for a future, more blissful, goal. I have not the slightest doubt that it was all done with the most selfless, loving intentions of everyone around me just wanting me to know, as soon as possible, the bliss beyond “myself”. And “I” rushed along for a long while. But for me, this attitude proved to be dangerous. True, at the end of the day, we ARE a bunch of sub-atomic particles attached by greed and delusion. However, the same way we are dealt a body upon birth, we are also dealt a personality and although everything rises and falls in incredible speed, some thoughts, sensations and feelings, especially ones with emotional content, arises and reappears again and again and again. Their life spam begins at least with our birth. They are not just gonna go away no mater how many times we tell ourselves and them that they are empty and impermanent, even when we really truly understand that.
I finally realized that alchemy happened only when I learned to lovingly embrace things as they are. It was only then that I could apply my beloved Sayadaw U-Vivekananda’s profound and simple teaching: so I’m suffering, so I’m in pain, so what?
Apparently, we have to “kiss the frog” first…. But then we must also know who to intentionally, fully and completely let go of everything. Hence, it is only when we let go enough, that we begin to remember who we really are. The path to the mystery is a process of re-collecting our true nature. We can only do so by shading off layers of ourselves, layers of greed, anger and delusion. The more layers we remove off the dragon, the more we see that handsome prince.
Personally, from a five year’s perspective, the “spiritual quest” seems to be a process of complete renunciation: first it was ordinary: letting go of my loved ones, my partner and significant others, letting go of my home, my profession, my career, my habits, my lifestyle and almost all material things. Then, after a while, and I only noticed that a few months after my first three months retreat, I found out, retrospectively, that I lost big chunks of my character and identities. I was bewildered to find out that I let go of personal wills, views and standpoints, passions, past and future expectations and almost all the things that gave meaning to my life and the things that built up my sense of self. I even looked physically different. On the surface I was the same, but the old Adva disappeared sometime and nothing replaced it. It was very confusing, to say the least. The only remedy I saw was more meditation – as if I needed to “finish off” some process which left me “half baked”. At times, I tell you, it was extremely unpleasant. I mean very very unpleasant. Very…. Very…
Perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that for me it has been a process of surrendering. It’s not that I consciously let it all go. Some of it, yes, but some of it was simply too hard and even impossible to willingly give up. Maybe, on the most part, it’s fair to say that I was being “stripped off” my life, or that “The frog was kissing me”. I didn’t volitionally let go – I was being surrendered. Surrendered to something much bigger than “I am”.