The Problem by Anna Aysea

In our final post on the theme of “Hello”, Anna Aysea comments on a very relatable situation and offers insights into the cause and effects of “The Problem”.

“The problem must be on your end” insisted the female support line rep of my hosting provider.
“Well, I don’t think it is, I mean, we have just gone through everything here, several times in fact, and..”
“Pease hold.”
“Hello?! Hello?!!”

As I was put on hold once again for the 4th time after the same circular conversation, I was forcefully reminded of the movie “Groundhog Day” about a man caught in a time loop.
Looking for the cause of the connectivity issue I had reported, we had gone through all the possible causes on my end and eliminated them. Three times. Causes I had eliminated before making the call anyway, but never mind. So, there was no issue found on my end, yet the rep was insisting it was not on their end. I had the distinct feeling she was determined to stay with that position no matter what and she was only pretending to look into the issue.

As I sat with the knot of frustration – and I had ample time for that since the subsequent holds were getting longer each time – it suddenly hit me: She doesn’t have a clue how to solve this issue and she cannot say that, probably out of fear for the consequences. Hence the frustrating head-in-sand policy.
The flash of understanding of the situation on the other side had a profound effect. My frustration and irritation evaporated like a puff of smoke as I realized the predicament of this, inexperienced employee. Even though the situation wasn’t resolved, I was not resisting. The sense of freedom that followed the dissipation of tension in mind and body was absolute and instantaneous.

When the representative returned to the call with the predictable: “The problem must be on your end”, I thanked her for her time and ended the Groundhog Day loop. Half an hour later I called the support line, again, and got a different rep. Within minutes the issue was identified and fixed. The cause was definitely on their end. The freedom from suffering I experienced may be subscribed to understanding and empathy. I believe understanding and empathy do certainly ease the way but freedom comes only from acceptance.

Life is full of interactions where someone fails to meet a reasonable expectation – after all, it is a reasonable assumption that a support line employee handles a reported problem professionally. I did register this representative was not handling the situation well, but instead of acknowledging it, I resisted that. I rejected her refusal to help. Frustration and irritation, the manifestations of resistance, were the resulting suffering. The flash of understanding led to acceptance and the freedom that comes with it, that is, the end of suffering. I could however have reached the end of suffering more directly, simply by accepting the fact of the situation right away, without necessarily understanding the reasons.

Why not accept the fact of the situation right away? After all, registering a given fact and then rejecting it is a form of madness. The resistance is in truth not so much about the situation as it is about the feelings triggered by the situation: feelings of being dismissed, of not being heard, of not being respected, wanting to make the feelings go away by trying to change the situatio. Understanding the situation on the other side can help dissolve the “me” feelings and pave the way for acceptance but it is a roundabout way. It may not always be possible to gain sufficient insight into the situation of another to help dissolve resistance. Focusing on the situation is in fact a diversion act to avoid the real issue. A more direct and failproof route is to simply accept a given fact right then and there. Acceptance of a fact doesn’t mean resigning, agreeing or subscribing to it. It is an acknowledgement, like the acknowledgement that it is raining today. Whatever the needed course of action, it will then be based on facts rather than denial and rejection and will be more effective for it.

The choice between suffering and instantaneous freedom sounds like a no-brainer, and it is. Except that the tricky part is the resistance to the me-feelings of hurt, triggered by the behaviour of someone. The default reaction is to resist these feelings and attempt to eliminate them by trying to make the other person behave differently in an attempt to appease the hurt. Enter the house of conflict and dependency: I need you to cooperate, to hear me, to respect me, to not dismiss me, I need you to not make me feel hurt.

Well, too late. The action-reaction qualified as hurtful is already a given and the whole universe has cooperated for this interaction to take place, so it is not just a case of these two limited entities, me and you, colliding. Like the rain, the interaction and whatever arises as a result is a cosmic event, courtesy of myriad ways and means coming together to manifest this. Refraining from resisting what arises ends the conflict and cuts through dependency: This person is unable/unwilling to meet reasonable expectations, what is needed to deal with this fact adequately? This is a position of openness, the opposite of resistance which says: you should not be acting this way because I don’t want the feelings your behaviour is triggering. There is always the liberty to remove oneself from the interaction if someone oversteps what is acceptable in the given context. This innate freedom becomes hampered and inaccessible by resistance: If I am rejecting or denying what is arising I am preoccupied with being in conflict with it and I am stuck; I am not exercising the innate power and freedom to choose the best course of action. In this case, ironically, what was arising was denial and rejection and I was rejecting the rejection.
It is raining, what is needed to deal with it adequately? I have usually no problem with simply acknowledging the rain as a given and dealing with it.

Without resistance there is no conflict, no psychological suffering, so dealing with the situation is a practical matter. Without resistance to the me-feelings, there is no conflict with them arising, nor with the behaviour triggering them. And without conflict, there is power and freedom to act, to choose the right course of action. Even if the answer is not obvious right away to the question “what is needed to deal with this effectively?”, adopting the position of openness, refraining from rejecting the triggered feelings and refraining from trying to make the other person behave differently is already a true taste of freedom.

Once I was able to fully accept the unhelpful head-in-sand policy and the frustration it triggered, I was able to act effectively, remove myself from the repetitive interaction that is characteristic of resistance and conflict and the situation was reduced to a practical matter. Miss Headinsand was right on one thing, this particular problem of resistance was not on their end.

Prince and the Buddha – by Mo Henderson

Our last posting on the topic of “Hello” is a very poignant photograph, called Prince and the Buddha, with accompanying haiku poem, by Mo Henderson. A short backstory to this companion pair is below.

The moment is now,

Prince is sleeping in the grass,

Who knows what’s to come.

 

We lost Prince last October. An old cat, he kept going off into the long grass to sleep. We never found him. This reminds me of the Buddha’s words, ‘was, is and will be’. I don’t know where he is, but there is always a ‘becoming’.

Silver Threads ~ by Karen Richards

It is morning; late summer, before the daily throng of vehicles begins to pass my bedroom window but long past sunrise. I wash and dress then, looking into the mirror, take a brush to my hair. There you are! A glistening silver, peeping out from around my ears.

‘Hello’, it says. “‘I’m here! Let me out!’

Through social convention, more than vanity – although vanity is surely in the mix – I had coloured my hair since my mid-twenties when the first of the white appeared. It is the ‘done thing’ for women of my generation, particularly in my family. To accept the passing of years gracefully is looked upon with a curious suspicion, perhaps sympathy of sorts, but going grey is definitely not encouraged.

This is not the first time those stubborn, hard to colour, strands have spoken to me. But now I’m listening. I decide to release them from their bondage. No more hair dye.

And with the decision comes a joyous release of heart. A spiritual, “Phew! Finally!” and I find myself laughing, all alone, in the bathroom.

In the weeks and months that follow, my decision is met with many questions and disapproval from some. My husband and children are supportive. My mother is horrified.

“You’re too young to be grey,” she says

“ Evidently not!” is my defiant reply.

“ Well don’t expect me to stop tinting mine”

“ I don’t Mum,” I say more gently now, realising that she thinks I’m introducing some new social rule that I expect her to follow.

My hairdresser, reluctant at first, comes on board and makes a feature, in her salon, of helping women who want to ‘transition’ from colouring their hair to ‘embracing their natural blonde’. There are three ways to do it: the first is to have highlights (dyeing strands of hair a lighter colour so the grey comes in gradually). I decide against this – it’s still hair dye and I’m not convinced it will work.
The second is to cut out the dye and sport extremely short hair for a time. I’m not keen on this option, either – I remember the conversation with my mother and know she won’t like it. I don’t want to cause more controversy than I have to.

The third is simply to stop colouring it and let it fade and grow out so that with each haircut, there is simply less dark and more light. I am told it can take up to nine months to fully transition, if I take this route, and it will look ‘odd’ for a period of time. The significance of the nine months timeline is not lost on me. I choose this method for my ‘rebirth’

Before long, my appearance does indeed look odd – like the head of a badger or a skunk, dark at the sides and with a white stripe through the middle. But I am resolved and inch by slow inch I feel that I am being liberated from a pretence. I am facing my own humanity directly and it is joyous.

Around this time, I need to attend a meeting at the monastery. I am a little nervous about both the meeting and facing the monks with my weird hair. The meeting goes fine and afterwards, in a quiet moment, a most senior monk makes the remark “I like your hair”. I thank him but am surprised by the feeling of being caught out in some way. Quickly, this gives way to a quiet gratitude for the remark, which acknowledged the intention behind my actions.

True to the prediction, nine months later, after several haircuts, the transition is complete and I feel a renewed sense of peace with myself. Choosing to show the grey is not for everyone. We live in a world of judgement, where appearances matter. I don’t think that I could have made the decision whilst I was still working my very busy job. The pressure in the workplace, to be a certain way, would have prohibited this. As with most things, timing is everything. For me, I was not merely transitioning hair colour, I was transitioning, from a phase of life that was outward-looking, to a time of ‘coming home, of asking more deeply, “who am I?” And welcoming the privilege of old age.

Hello? ~ by Chris Yeomans

 

Over the next few weeks, the Dew on the Grass Team is posting on the theme of “Hello!” Our first piece by Chris Yeomans is both moving and insightful.

 

 

 

‘Hello? John? Are you here? Hello?’

I walk through the ground floor rooms and there is no sign of my elderly and slightly demented husband. He was here. I heard him rattling the grate with the poker. I heard him go into the office. I walk upstairs, because always in my mind there is the thought that he might have collapsed on the floor. No sign of him in the bedrooms, nor in the bathroom. He must have gone out.

I can’t see him through any of the windows. Often if he is in the garden, a thought jumps into his mind and he goes off down the lane in pursuit of an idea. Mostly he forgets to take his phone.

I think that the dog might like a walk. I pull on my boots and coat and prepare to set off after him, just to set my mind at rest. Then he walks in through the back door. I am intensely irritated.

‘Why can’t you tell me if you’re going out?’
‘I was just in the greenhouse. Have I got to tell you every time I go in and out?’
‘Yes…’. There is irritable body language.

Another time, I will know that he has gone out, perhaps walking or perhaps on the bike. He doesn’t go far anymore. As it gets gradually darker, I start to worry. He’s been out a long time. Has something happened? I stand and watch the sky behind the trees on the horizon turn pink then grey. The garden is in deep shadow. Then I hear a movement upstairs.

‘Hello? Are you there?’
‘Hello?’
‘What are you doing up there, for heavens’ sake?’
‘I’ve just been asleep.’
‘You could have told me. I was worried that you hadn’t come back.’ Again, I am irritated. Again, I am made to feel that I am being unreasonable.

I try to explain. I am on 24-hour alert. In my head, I am constantly aware of where he is and what he is doing, in case something goes wrong, in case he needs me. And then I make assumptions, based on the most recent data that I have. I assume that he is in the house, I assume that he is still out for a walk. The difficulty is that my experience moves from some kind of reality (I do know where he is) to a complete illusion (I think I know where he is, but actually I don’t, because he has relocated himself without telling me).

So, when my mind makes an assumption, and the assumption turns out to be incorrect, and I find that I am acting on a delusion, I am cross and disappointed because I believed one thing and actually was completely wrong. And it feels like it was through no fault of my own. And I have worried and fretted unnecessarily.

Our nearest and dearest are the best, if sometimes the least welcome, teachers. I am repeatedly compelled to look at the way my mind works, to question my responses. And I am always fearful that, one day, I will call out to him, and he will indeed be lying on the floor, or by the roadside, and I will have been unable to keep him safe.

Acceptance of Dear Life – by Mo Henderson

Our final posting on the theme of Acceptance is by Mo Henderson. In it, she describes the experiences of Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor, in the book, ‘Dear Life’  alongside her own experience of acceptance. Finally, she shares the poem The Summer’s Day by Mary Oliver.

In considering my own response to our theme of ‘acceptance’ I would like to share my thoughts, about a book I’ve just read. The book is by Dr Rachel Clarke, its title ‘Dear Life’. Rachel Clarke specialises in palliative medicine and works in hospice care. She shares her experience caring for people diagnosed with a terminal illness. The book illustrates her own and their stories about what truly matters in life, which she states is what we all naturally wish to share love, strength, kindness, joy, tenderness, grace and compassion.

She argues there is a difference between people who know they’re dying and those who live as though we have all the time in the world! It is basically about human connections and being able to live life each day and all that it brings, in an honest wholehearted way. The stories she shares speak of the joys, suffering, sadness and expectations of her patients and their families and how the staff in the hospice work to help create an environment where truths, regrets, illusions and potential loss can be accepted and even transcended to allow space for many to welcome new possibilities, even in the sunset of their lives.

When she first began this work, she talks of her initial temptation to assure patients (dishonestly) that all will be well and of her own struggle not to defer grief with false promises and magical thinking. Given all her subsequent experience, what she does have is confidence to tell them that people’s fears about the manner in which they will die do not match their lived reality, this is based on the thousands of patients under her care.

There are very moving stories of how people care selflessly for their loved ones, whether they are the patient or the carer, with the awareness of another’s needs having been listened to and scrupulously attended to fully. Those who have lived alone, often experience a renewal of life at the hospice leading to new comforts, friendship and gratitude.

At one point in the book, Dr Rachel speculates:

“Maybe you only really appreciate the joy of being alive when you accept that all of it, every single one of your experiences, is destined to be lost. That’s when you savour it. Maybe death makes us love life.” 1.

— Rachel Clarke

Change and loss are a part of living and grief can be suffered on many different levels. It struck me that I must have lost many moments of dear life when I have felt fearful of future possibilities or pondered over past losses and regrets. I guess we’re all human and vulnerable to a preoccupation with our fears and trying to make ourselves comfortable for the future. Fears and regrets really exist when they come to mind, to accept them when they arise without projection or excessive self-blame, letting them die naturally when they dissolve is not always an easy task.

For me, learning to live with losing a close family member through a sudden accident has involved a deep acceptance and much work to manoeuvre around the obstacles of distraction and habit. In the early years of grief, I would throw myself into projects of work to avoid what I thought would be an inevitable falling apart. After some years, I noticed the feeling of falling apart was part of the reality and gradual acceptance cleared space for healing naturally. Perhaps the falling apart was letting go of a grip on my story? Still, there are times for tears and joyful gratitude for the time we had together and the love we share. In hindsight, even the distractions may have been shock absorbers, filters to help guide through the transitions of life. Good friends who listen and a supportive community are so beneficial, which is similar to what the hospice offers too, albeit in a smaller way and more limited in time.

“To see and accept the feelings behind the story is important; it is those feelings we need to accept and then discover how they dissolve in our acceptance.” 2.

—Daishin Morgan

This is what struck me about the book, the way patients’ stories and subsequent needs are listened to in the safety of the hospice environment. Encouraging people to express real needs and know themselves in a natural sense, allowing space for respite from underlying fears about life and death. I don’t know how I will be when faced with my own impending death and would like to think I will accept things as they are. How many times have I tried to justify why things are this way or that way based on the knowledge of my own story? Simply having faith to accept things and to still question life’s conditions is important. I question my responses to the current changing conditions of life, the suffering of others with the pandemic, wars and the deep sadness that comes with all that. What is it that helps now?

Acceptance is already present in reality, life is happening all around, listening and seeing it as it is, is not dependent on our personal stories, but calls for our part to be played within the world of changing conditions. What is the next step, whether brightly alive or dying?

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes?

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life? 3.

—Mary Oliver

References:

1. Rachel Clarke Dear Life (page 81)

2. Buddha Recognises Buddha-Daishin Morgan (page 69)

3. Mary Oliver ‘The Summer Day’

Upcoming Topics on Dew on the Grass

The Dew on the Grass team has been exploring different topics, recently. Currently, we are reflecting on the word ‘Acceptance’. Tomorrow we will be posting our final piece, written by Mo Henderson – lookout for it, in the morning!

In the meantime, we thought you might like advance notice of our next topic, which is ‘Hello!’. The word opens up many possibilities, for exploration. If you find the word inspiring, then please do contact us with your musings, art or photographs around the topic.

On Acceptance by Anna Aysea

The third article, in our feature on Acceptance, is a reflection, by Anna Ayse, on the true reality of painful situations and how to transcend them.

Ball of Light Mandala
Ball of Light Mandala by Dennis Smith. Light painting photography with an open shutter to capture the path of a circling light source.

Looking up the etymology of the word “acceptance”, amongst the definitions I found, what stuck out for me was: to get without effort, to assent to the reality of a situation.

Some years ago I wrote an article called “Dealings with Pain” on dealing with excessive physical pain. The article is in fact about the process of how to assent to the reality of a situation. The keyword here is, I think, “reality”.

When we find ourselves in a situation that feels unbearable, unacceptable, we feel that we, that is “I”, the self, is in that situation and limited by it. That is a very narrow perspective of reality, of the self, a belief that warrants closer examination.

Taking direct experience as the starting point, all experience consists of thoughts, feelings, sense perceptions and bodily sensations, arising and passing within the space of awareness as the wider self. The space of awareness is the lasting aspect of reality, which contains the transient aspect of reality within it. Right here, the idea that “I” is in the situation, does not align with direct experience. There is nothing outside of the space of awareness as the wider self. Whatever is arising within that space is made out of that space, is a manifestation of it and not something coming from outside. The experience we label as “pain”, as “unbearable”, as “unacceptable”, when broken down to its raw components, consists of thoughts, feelings, sense perceptions and bodily sensations, arising and passing within the space of awareness. When we, as awareness, believe “I am this arising thought, feeling, sense perception, bodily sensation”, in that instance the wider self contracts into a name and form, and becomes the limited self, finding itself in an unacceptable situation that appears dense and opaque. Resistance is an added layer of thoughts, feelings, sense perceptions and bodily sensations, and further identification with that layer results in the familiar inner conflict and inability to “assent to the reality of a situation”. The conflict is the erroneous belief that the limited self is reality.

From the above perspective based on direct experience, acceptance is not an add-on to the limited self, it is not some advanced level of spiritual practice, some extraordinary achievement which the sage has acquired through arduous effort and which the ignorant lacks. Acceptance is the natural result, not of an add-on but of a removal, that is the removal of the belief that the self is limited to thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations. The true self as the space of awareness is so much bigger than whatever is arising within it, it illuminates all experience. Whatever the circumstances, that is the reality we can always assent to effortlessly.

Links to “Dealings with Pain”:

Dealings With Pain – Guest Post

Part 2 -Dealings With Pain – Republish of Guest Post

 

Coming to Rest

‘Acceptance’, it turns out, is a trigger word for me, bringing with it some strong emotions, which have made writing this blog difficult, despite several attempts to do so.

Mostly, it has brought into sharp focus, remnants of non-acceptance and feelings of grief, through remembrances of the breakup of my parent’s marriage, some sixty years ago, and also the feelings of loss that I feel for my own marriage, not through abandonment, but through the illness and decline of a spouse.

All attempts to push myself, to get the writing done, have ended in a feeling of utter misery. So, I stopped. Instead, I have brought you four things, which I have stumbled across during this time and which have helped me to accept my present state.

The first is the photograph of a tree stump that I observed over several seasons. I photographed it in various stages of erosion. but can now only find the above picture, which was probably the second one that I took. Over a period of years, the stump broke down and eventually became just a scrap of wood, upended and black from dampness. Yet, at each stage of decay, it had a beauty about it that the camera did not do justice to. I found this demonstration of dignity, in decline, quite wonderful.

The second, is “The Guest House” poem, by Rumi, which I was recently reminded of and thought appropriate, here. Rumi describes painful thoughts and feelings as the arrival of guests, to be greeted hospitably.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi

The third is a quotation by the writer, Anne Lamott, which echoes Rumi’s sentiments of welcoming all states of being, equally. In it, she accepts her own non-productiveness, as a writer, seeing it as an opportunity for renewal.

“The problem is acceptance, which is something we’re taught not to do. We’re taught to improve uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings. But if you accept the reality that you have been given- that you are not in a productive creative period- you free yourself to begin filling up again.” Anne Lamott

Finally, I share with you this YouTube video of the Great Bell Chant, featuring the late Thich Nath Hanh, for the reason that it had the effect of making me feel like a leaf, coming to rest, after a great storm.

Credits:

Read by Thich Nath Hanh, chanted by brother Phap Niem. The creators of this audio track were Gary Malkin, the composer/arranger, producer, and collaborator Michael Stillwater. The work came from a CD/book called Graceful Passages: A Companion for Living and Dying, and it could be purchased by going to wisdomoftheworld.com. The creator of this video is R Smittenaar. This video can be downloaded at: https://vimeo.com/6518109 Visuals taken from HOME, Earth and Baraka

Winter Wild Swimming by Chris Yeomans

This month, Dew on the Grass is featuring articles, poetry, photographs and art, on the theme of “Acceptance”. Our first post, entitled “Winter Wild Swimming” is from Chris Yeomans. If you would like to contribute, in any of the above categories, on this theme, just get in touch, using the contact form.

I step into the water. The riverbed slopes gently and I walk forward, slowly and deliberately, into the deeper water. At waist level, I pause, giving my body time to adjust. I have to remember to put my hands into the water. My instinct is to hold them high. I bend my knees and the water rises inch by inch up to my shoulders. The trick is to do everything gradually.

I have chosen to do this, so it seems to me that there is no point in screaming and protesting and fighting the cold as some others do and clearly find comforting. I stay still and quiet. This is a brilliant group. Called the Crazy Ladies, we meet up in random numbers, to swim together and keep each other company. There is no sense of competition. Each woman swims within her own comfort zone and we are totally accepting of each other. Some will swim for 20 minutes or more in this very cold water. Others, like me, accept five minutes to be their limit. Some stay within their depth.  Others strike out into the deeper water.

The water in winter is clear and inviting. Swans, not mating, not nesting, not guarding cygnets, ignore us and sail past in the opposite direction, white shapes reflected in the dazzling water. I push off and swim. It’s impossible not to gasp. Heads up breast-stroke. The water is far too cold to put your face in. We wear boots and gloves, to protect our extremities.

For that first stroke or two, the water is like tiny darts and pinpricks on the skin. I breathe slowly, inhaling deeply and puffing the breath out until the body settles and that first shock reflex wears off. The river accepts me and I accept the river. We are one. The water is both cold and not cold and certainly not unpleasant. Nothing like as unpleasant as the one minute cold shower that I make myself have as an alternative.

I check my watch. I could stay longer but it is sensible to get out. I swim into the shallow water and stand up, walk up the bank, pick up a towel and get as dry as I can as quickly as I can. I strip off wet things, pull a towelling poncho over my head. Cold skin stays damp and thermal layers, fleeces, wind-proof fleece-lined coats, even hot water bottles are all part of the kit. I like to get out before there is any danger of the shiver reflex, which can set in about fifteen minutes after you get out, as the body temperature continues to drop.

Layered up, with hat, gloves and boots, I pour hot tea into my mug. The sky is blue behind a lattice of bare winter branches. The river flows on. Today we haven’t seen the kingfisher. And that’s fine too.

Throssel Retreat Hut

By Siafu Antony Lipski


‘Motivated by the memory of its early morning enchantment, of true freshness and hope, I am in the fortunate position of being able to commit its vision to paper; revelling in the chance to explore a return, on the tail of a long journey, interspersed over many decades with session at Throssel, to a place of peace and serenity.

Each morning began with a stroll to the hut and a quiet rejoicing. What a blessing to discover an eternal home!

Gassho’

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