We sometimes have trouble understanding concepts like awareness, release, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, non-attachment, surrender and so on. I suppose these can be called ‘spiritual’ concepts but ‘spirituality’ is word that gets caught in my throat. It really doesn’t want to come out cleanly. It’s like God—it’s so filled up with assumptions that it’s a dead end.
The trouble is of course that we try to understand these as concepts. If we learn to let go, we realize a strange revelation that all of this seemingly-complicated stuff is really all about letting go.
As a concept, we think acceptance is tolerance or resignation or passivity. So the question that come up is how can I accept something I don’t like? If someone is beating me over the head should I accept that? If you tolerate someone beating you over the head–that is not acceptance. That is insanity.
Acceptance is not something we do. It is something we stop doing.
Acceptance happens when we let go of the inner resistance to what is happening anyway.
Notice that the ego always wants to resist. The ego thinks that by resisting it can muster up motivation and energy to change something. The ego feels if it does not resist, then things will never change.
Acceptance is simply letting go of the mind’s lurching and resisting to what is happening anyway and then we find that the energy we put into resisting is available for easy action, if that’s what we want to do.
This is an important path for many. Forgiveness in my experience happens when the need to forgive or be forgiven is let go of. When we realize that everyone—everyone—does the best they possibly can under the circumstances of conditioning, there is no need to forgive or be forgiven. Forgiveness is the letting go of the need to forgive.
Gratitude is quite fashionable these days, made into a designer spiritual concept around the Law of Attraction, something like “ok I’m grateful already, now give me more.” It’s reminiscent of the ancients who tossed virgins into volcanoes to show gratitude to harvest gods. That’s rather wasteful of virgins.
When we can let go of all the rubbish, what remains is the easy love of life, and that is gratitude.
This is a beautiful Buddhist concept which brings up visceral resistance. What do you mean let go of attachment? Attachment is the very thing that I love, it is love.
Non-attachment is not the purposeful suppression of compassion or love or sex or music or anything else that makes up living. It is simply a detachment from the drama of the ego. It is the easy knowing that everything is simply a point of view in awareness, and when we are awareness, and not wrapped up in any particular pattern in awareness, we can see that everything is equal.
Love-joy-peace-compassion is not easy to describe because it’s not a thought or an emotion. It’s just being. We could say it is our most basic state when the rubbish is let go of. Rumi said it best when he said compassion is as the Sun loves the Earth. There is no particular expectation or direction, and yet compassion happens.
When we can let go of the attachment to thinking, we can see the whole. This is Awareness.
As we let go of our attachment to thought and beliefs, more and more we experience warmth, a creative outlook, compassion, and ease. We can call this wisdom or intuition. It is a broadening of perspective, by which we can easily see that all points of view are contained in the whole. It is an intelligence which is free of beliefs and time and the stale structures of conditioning. And we find, with some surprise, that it is much easier to float in Awareness than to be caught in the thinking mind.
It is letting go of the attachment to thinking to see the whole.
In the beginning it may take some practice and effort to release, but we soon see that letting go is not something we do; instead it is something we stop doing. We stop the madness of holding on. Most of us are not able to see this right away so a practice can help us be still enough to remember, and when we remember, it is no longer a practice.
Effort and Practice
When you read about personal development or spirituality these days there is often advice given on the virtues of seriousness. We must be serious, we must want success, we must be courageous, passionate, purposeful, disciplined, strong, smart. We must learn and understand, we must persevere, we must not procrastinate, and we must work hard.
If your instinct has told you that the answer is not in these virtuous words, that’s immensely good news.
Awakening does not ask us to create and re-arrange beliefs so we can continue to run around in mad circles.
Awakening asks only for self-acceptance. If you feel beaten down, mediocre, ineffective, depressed, anxious, failed, miserable, tired of the cycles of madness and struggle, welcome, because you are ready-people. All you have to do is realize that whatever you have become is a perfect adaptation to what’s happened in your inner world. It could not be any other way. There is nobody and nothing to blame, inside or outside. Accept. And then the play of awareness and release begins.
I talk about the practice of Awareness and Release here. These practices, like any other practice, can feel like effort in the beginning. At some point we understand what it means to let go of effort, and we let go of effort, and we let go of practice, and this is gloriously freeing. Then it is just effortless noticing, and perhaps the event or enlightenment happens, or it doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t matter, because this flow of awakening deepens on its own, and all that we struggled with before–all the seeking and clinging and chasing and learning and explaining–are seen as simply points of view in awareness, one no more or no less equal to the rest. It’s just Awareness, and everything else, including this mind and body, are points of view in Awareness.
What to do
There are many practices to help us get started. The ones that I like are ones that are easy to integrate into daily living and do not require jumping through the hoops of learning and memorizing concepts or sitting down in a lotus position at prescribed times for a prescribed amount of time.
“Observing thought” is a one such practice. Simply be a passive witness to your thoughts. Watch the voice in the head. Don’t analyze or interpret or interfere. Simply watch, and the gaps of no-thought will become apparent and expand.
Many of us come awakening when we are miserable, and so for this I suggest a release practice, like this one.
Everyone’s journey is unique and meanders in the way it will. One thing that I’ve found very helpful is to develop a gentle inquisitiveness, a gentle honesty.