Acceptance: Put Your Head in the Demons Jaw

Amongst the most relaxing moments in spiritual growth are the times during which, after so much struggle and resistance, we give up battling our difficult states—depression, grief, awkwardness, loneliness, frustration—and choose to surrender to what's present, opening to and accepting the experience. It's liberating, for there is nothing more futile and stress inducing than being at war with the emotional mind, wrestling with obsessions and moods.

The practice of acceptance is not resignation, agreeing that we will always feel encumbered; rather its a realization that resistance, as the Buddha taught in his second arrow teaching, lies at the core of unnecessary suffering. Nor does it mean we act out on every impulse, or wallow in despair, or give up the practices that bring about balance, such as meditation, exercise, medications if prescribed, support meetings and on. We continue to take positive actions. Rather, acceptance lies in acknowledging and welcoming what's present as the place we're starting from, rather than wishing we were somewhere else. 

Try it: no matter what the experience is, what happens when we say "Hello! There you are, [sadness, anger, fear, irritation, frustration, loneliness]." Investigate what occurs in the body and mind when we surrender to what is. 

It's a kind of rebirth, when we realize that labeling an emotional state as “wrong” creates a comparison to an ideal state that doesn't exist. Instead of touching actual experience, we've been comparing our moods and urges to expectations, that we should feel otherwise. 

Such inner acknowledgment often runs counter to our early training, when parents, teachers, friends, bullies, television and other cultural institutions instructed us that certain emotional states are unacceptable and result in punishment and exclusion. For example, as children we learn to conceal disappointment, as our caretakers treated it as ingratitude. So we journey into adult life battling with inevitable, human emotions, trying to suppress or shame ourselves out of our historically vulnerable emotional energies. It doesn't work. 

Spiritual practice rests on the realization that our present mind state is exactly as it should be, given our actions, experiences: messy emotions, awkward feelings and all. No matter what boils up, the journey lies in embracing experience. Every state is a platform for growth.

Letting go of the struggle, of course, takes a lot of practice, as we may feel that resistance is all that's keeping us from being consumed by darkness and shadows. Yet when we stop running from fear and other difficult states, we can practice turning towards our struggles: As the story goes, it was only when the spiritual searcher Milarepa, alone in a dark cave, put his head in the demon's jaw and said aloud "Kill me if you want" that he achieved freedom from fear, and the demon disappeared. So why not choose now to put aside views of what our experience should be, and agree to experience what actually is happening?