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.
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”: