I have recently adopted this as my new mantra.
In the wake of shock, loss, humiliation, despair, helplessness, usually an inner voice pipes up: “ok, I just need to deal with this.” The voice reassures us with affirmations: “I can deal” or empathizes with helplessness: “I can’t deal.” It is so often brought into my office: “I need help to deal with this, what can I do?”
Anxious mind is always trying to bargain with experience. If this, then that. Please, just this time. Ok, after this, then that. If this doesn’t stop, I’ll…
Well, no deal.
Who are you dealing with? You cannot bargain with an emotion. There is no way around, no shortcuts or time machines. The loss is lost. The worry worried. The feeling felt. The self-critical voices voiced. Relating to reality includes the reality of protest, the reality of automatic and ugly thoughts, the reality of feeling powerless and abandoned.
Compassion begins at the moment we can say No Deal.
Author /researcher Christopher Germer defines mindfulness as: “Witnessing of here and now experience, without judgment, with acceptance.” Buddhist author Tara Brach defines radical acceptance as: “clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion.” Acceptance doesn’t mean that the events in the world are okay. I am not consenting to injustice. Acceptance also doesn’t mean I reject my protest. It means I am willing to have my experience. The alternative is a perpetual loop of self-aggression.
For instance, when I extend myself in a risky social encounter like public speaking, I know that for a day or two afterwards a self-critical voice will occasionally shout “you idiot!” no matter how well I present myself. I know that when I experience a rejection, I’m going experience a wave of hurt, and for a few days my mind will churn up a dramatic litany of lost futures.
Being a mindfulness practitioner doesn’t mean my practice gets me a way out of this. I don’t get to trade in fear for acceptance. Cultivating bodhicitta is not a get-out-of-hurt free card. Acceptance means accepting pain on its own terms. I don’t get to stop being an ego that wants praise and status and control.
But when I say No Deal, I get everything back. All the cards on the table, every wager, every ante. These reactions are a pile of gold we are sitting on. They can become the most precious thing in the world. Anger, embarrassment, hurt – contain the energy of caring, the fire of wanting, the enormous power of a unique, individual life force expressing itself and trying to find a way to connect with the world. These feelings are completely precious and nothing to be ashamed of.
Acceptance, compassion, and willingness allow negative thoughts, feelings, and reactions to be part of my experience: the tape loop is going to keep playing, and it will play louder at times. Sadness will flood in, as an expression of caring and connection. Accepting this, I can start to relax, and appreciate the movement and energy that comes with being alive.