Another source of ongoing stress in our life is our resistance to our experiences, our difficulty to accept what is happening, what Jack Kornfield calls being at war with ourselves, all our inner judgments and inner conflicts. We make war with the way things are, and this creates stress and tension inside us.
In a Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield quotes his teacher Achaan Chah:
“We human beings are constantly in combat, at war to escape the fact of being so limited by so many circumstances we cannot control. But instead of escaping, we continue to create suffering, waging war with good, waging war with evil, waging war with what is too small, waging war with what is too big, with what is too short or too long, or right or wrong, courageously carrying on the battle”.
Jack Kornfield continues : “Genuine spiritual practice requires us to learn how to stop the war. This is a first step, but actually it must be practiced over and over until it becomes our way of being. The inner stillness of a person who truly “is peace” brings peace to the whole interconnected web of life, both inner and outer. To stop the war we need to begin with ourselves.”
We don’t stop the war by an act of will. Remember how short lived most New Year’s resolutions are? In fact, when we struggle to change ourselves, we only continue the patterns of self-judgement and self-blame. We keep the war against ourselves alive.
Meditation practice gives us a way to stop the war, not by our force of will, but organically, through understanding and gradual training. It helps us cultivate a new way of relating to life in which we let go of our battles. It helps us to see clearly our conditioning and habits of behaviour and talk, all our likes and dislikes, our prejudices, our hidden fears…We learn to open our heart to things as they are and to rest in the present moment, without needing to change anything to our experience.
To rest in the present moment means to experience things as they are here and now, instead of being caught up in plans, expectations, ambitions for the future and in regrets, guilts or shame about the past.
In the present we encounter whatever is here: our pain, our grief, our love, our hope, our loneliness, our boredom…we learn to face these parts of ourselves. We learn to connect to all our feelings and sensations in the moment.
This new period of domestic confinement brings us face to face with all the parts within ourselves. We can choose to seek distractions in order to avoid feeling what is unpleasant, or we can commit to stop and listen deeply. This is an ongoing practice. Over and over we will notice thoughts and reactions that take us away from the present, our resistance to things the way they are, our false ideas of how we would like life to be: if we listen deeply, we get close to our fear of what’s here, and our craving for something different. We begin to sense how we are limited by these fears and cravings.
In our practice we can learn to open to what is here in the present, to make space for it, to see it for what it is. We practice saying “yes” to all our experiences. And when we let ourselves feel the fear, the discontent, the difficulties that we were avoiding, our heart softens. We learn to embrace our own personal griefs like our joys.
In her book Radical Acceptance, clinical psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach invites us to the practice of saying “yes” to all our experiences: “We bring alive the spirit of radical acceptance when instead of resisting emotional pain, we are able to say yes to our experience.”
“Walk with your heaviness, saying yes. Yes to the sadness, yes to the whispered longing. Yes to the fear. Love means setting aside walls and fences, and unlocking doors, and saying yes”
People often worry that we should not say yes to everything we experience, for example if we want to hurt someone or if we experience deep depression. Saying yes does not mean acting on our harmful impulses or sinking into any of our feelings. And it does not mean saying yes to external circumstances that can hurt us. If someone is abusive, we must say a strong no and create intelligent boundaries to protect ourselves. But we can still say yes to the experience of fear, anger or hurt that is arising inside us. By saying yes, we willingly allow our thoughts and feelings to naturally arise and pass away. It is not a way of manipulating our experience but rather an aid to open to life as it is.
Word of caution as always: in the case of trauma, it is not wise to say yes to overwhelming emotions. If we feel that it is too much, it is wise and compassionate to say no and to turn towards practices that bring us back to balance (resourcing and grounding practices).
This softening and opening in the heart allow us to open to the people around us, to our family, to our community and to the whole world. We can get touched by the pain in everyone else’s life, this is what Jack Kornfield calls “wise understanding”: “Wise understanding sees and accepts life as a whole”. We can connect with something greater than “I”, “me” and “mine”, greater than our small story and our small self.
“Compassion and greatness of heart arise whenever we stop the war. (…) It is possible to stop the war and come into the timeless present – to touch a great ground of being that contains all things. This is the purpose of a spiritual discipline, and of choosing a path with heart – to discover peace and connectedness in ourselves and to stop the war in us and around us.” – Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heart