The Facts

Acceptance is a theme that comes up over and over again for me. I know enough to realize that what I haven’t learned and incorporated into my life will repeat over and over until I do. In this morning’s reading from The Daily Stoic, I read how Marcus Aurelius told himself not to give circumstances the power to incite his anger because the circumstances really don’t care at all how he reacted. Acceptance of what is, regardless of whether I like the reality before me or not, is imperative if I am going to move forward in this life.

I can easily balk against what is going on around me. There is always someone, or something, to blame. I can always pin my emotions and feelings to the first scapegoat I see and rail against the injustice, the unfairness, the cruelty and the pain that this is causing me. But in the end. It is a fact; it happened. All of the expressed or unexpressed emotion in the world is not going to turn back history to change what has occurred. That ship has sailed. It happened and I have to accept it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you agree with what happened. It doesn’t mean that you wanted it to occur on some level. It doesn’t mean that you caused this to happen. It is a simple acknowledgement of the fact that something occurred.

I remember almost ten years ago now, as I was lying on the grass beside my motorcycle, me facing uptown and my foot facing downtown, knowing that things were about to change, a lot. Ignoring my broken leg, railing against the driver who had not signaled and cut me off, wishing I had left the house five minutes earlier or later would not have changed the situation. My leg was broken and I would have to allow this fact to carry me forward to the next set of circumstances: ambulance, hospital, cast and recovery. It also meant surrendering my obsessive control over my business to others who could run it in my stead. No denial, no anger, no deal with the devil was going to turn back time and change the present fact of my circumstances. I still carry a plate and ten screws in my leg to remind me of this lesson.

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Change is the inescapable part of being alive. The birth of a child, the death of a pet, a slip on the ice or new technologies can toss us into the sea of resistance. It doesn’t mean I sit idly by and watch a fire consume my home, it means I call the fire department. The sooner I can get to acceptance, the sooner I can respond and incorporate change into my life.

When I am in acceptance, I am in the present moment. I am not in the past of woe or regret. I am not in the future of fear and worry. I am present in this moment. And when I am here, I can make wiser, saner choices for the next steps that I need to take.

Meditation shows you again and again a very simple yet powerful reality –

whatever you resist disturbs you, and whatever you accept cannot disturb you.

Seeing this simple truth at work in an almost infinite variety of ways in your life

can evoke a deeper letting go. We cannot always, or even often, control events or what happens to us.

We can, however, choose whether or not we obsessively resist and react to them.

And therein lies our freedom.

Letting go of resistance is an act of heartfelt surrender.

It is devotion to WHAT IS.

~Sacred Inquiry by Adyashanti

In this life, change is inevitable. Suffering, however, is a choice. It all depends upon my attitude.

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My Owner’s Manual

I bought a new car last year, well, new to me anyway. One of the first things I did with it was look online for an owner’s manual. Yes, it is 2002 model and way past any warranties. But it’s helpful to know what all the buttons do and where to locate things like interior air filters, which would have been impossible to find or even know about, or discovering what that white button on the side of the gear shift does. I have better knowledge of how to maintain and service the car because of this manual. And yes, I am one of those folks who usually does read the manual when I buy a new vehicle, appliance or gadget because, well, there are so many features on things these days that it’s hard to know all the things they can do.

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I discovered some years ago that it would have been very nice if I had been born with an owner’s manual. It would have been so much easier when I was 10 or 11 to read something like: “Tim is a gay male model and will feel an attraction to men.” Or later when I was in my 20’s: “Tim has a tendency toward addiction so it would be best to keep his consumption of mind altering substances completely controlled.” As well it would include some of the basic things about life I never learned in school and had to pick up as I went along. It would have made life much easier to read, “You must learn to live life on life’s terms, not your own.” That would have saved me a lot of heartache, self recrimination and resentments. How about something that said, “You are free to do whatever you want in life as long as you are willing to pay the consequences.” Or, “You can only control things that are within your circle of control which does not extend to other persons, places or things.” Had I read these things somewhere in my Owner’s Manual, how different my life would have been.

My Owner’s Manual would have told me that anger would not solve anything, regrets and resentments cannot change the past. Ninety-nine percent of my fears would not be realized. And that I would survive the other 1%, whatever they were. It would have been nice to know that just because a thought popped into my head I didn’t have to act upon it. That while there would be lots of bad days, they would be tempered by many, many more great days. As well, that whole days aren’t really all that bad; they’re just a few moments that don’t go as expected and I need not label the whole day, sometimes weeks, as a ‘bad’ time.

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And like a vehicle or appliance, I might have found a maintenance schedule that would have included regular rest, proper nutrition, exercise of the body as well as rest, nourishment and exercise of the mind and the soul. It might suggest that every couple of years I go on a retreat, take a course or create an incredible experience for myself to help rejuvenate and restore me to an acceptable level of sanity.

I’m sure that near the front of the manual I would find the words that I have the ability to change. Perspectives can be changed, new skills learned and great people can be invited into my life. It might have included a list of classics that I could read and movies I could watch, classes that I could take that would help me understand the things in life that were happening around me.

The manual would have been several pages under the title: CAUTION. Things like, “This model is equipped with a introvert personality that tends toward aloofness.” And another caution might read, “This model has a self destructive mode which once activated is not guaranteed to turn off.”

Finally, my Owner’s Manual would end with some notes that might say there is no reset button or a factory restore option anywhere on my body. It only continue in a forward direction regardless of how much I might wish to start over. And that it has a variable life expectancy based upon how it is used and maintained over the course of said life.

No. I didn’t arrive with an owner’s manual. I had to find my own way with the guidance of parents, family, friends and teachers who did their best to show me how I and life might function. For those things not covered, it was up to me to discover them; sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I am still figuring thing out and I suspect that it will be so until my final breath. Actually, I am enjoying this journey of discovery. Everyday heralds new possibilities that are full of promise, as long as I look for them.

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What’s written in your Owner’s Manual?

Some Awe!

I was struck this week by the comparison of the size of an atom. If the proton at the centre of an atom were the size of an apple, the electron that is floating around it would be the size of sugar cube and be spinning in an orbit two kilometres away from the apple. The rest of the ‘sphere’ that makes up an atom is, as far as we know, empty space. The presenter I watched went onto emphasize that an atom is 99.99999999999999999% empty. A whole lot of nothing!

I read recently that our body is made up of about 100 trillion cells and each cell is made up of about 100 trillion atoms. That multiplies up to: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms (28 zeros there) or to make it easier, 10 Octillion atoms (thank-you Siri), in the average human body. But if this is true, then my body is also 99.99999999999999999% empty space. So why do most of us believe that the body and everything around it is solid? Perhaps there something filling the space that I think must be empty? Perhaps it is filled with energy, vibrations, dark matter? Perhaps solidity is an illusion, as is all of reality. Einstein said so, but he qualified it by saying that it was a persistent illusion. Thinking like this causes me to pause and think deeply and wonder.

Hubble Photo of the Cosmos

For me, this is a moment of Awe. I am struck by the wonder of it all. Where there is virtually nothing, I can sense a whole world. When quantum physicists got together with cosmologists, they discovered that the images they saw when looking into an electron microscope and looking through a powerful telescope were pretty much the same: a lot of empty space dotted by the tiniest of lights. This is incredible! This leaves me in a state of disbelief and yet at the same time, full of wonder at this truth. The British expression, ‘Gobsmacked’ fits here. It’s somewhere in between Homer Simpson’s ‘Doh!’ and Archimedes’ cry ‘Eureka!’ Yes, gobsmacked: the wonderment and astonishment of it all.

I watched a video last week on YouTube presented by Andrew Kirby. He’s a young chap from the UK I discovered last year when I was looking for information on Stoicism. In this video he said he believes being filled with a sense of awe can affect our lives even more powerfully than gratitude. When we are in a state of awe, we acknowledge that we are in the presence of something far, far greater than ourselves. We feel extremely small and insignificant relative to it. Perhaps you’re at the top of a cliff looking down at the waves crashing down below, sitting quietly inside a magnificent cathedral or gazing into the eyes of the Mona Lisa. And even though we sense how great this thing is and how infinitesimal we are, we still feel a deep connection to it.

Raphael’s School of Athens, Vatican City

When I was on the tour of the Vatican Museum years ago, we were escorted through room upon room of many of the great works of art: oils, sketches, frescoes, sculptures. There is so much art that great artworks lose their significance; it’s just one more Titian or another Michelangelo. I was following the crowds going at a fairly quick pace through gallery upon gallery when I turned. There before me was Raphael’s masterpiece, The School of Athens. Having studied art history as well as having studied the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, I knew the fresco. I had seen photos of it, heard about it’s significance to art, to the politics and to competing philosophies at the time. And there it was! I wasn’t expecting to see it. I didn’t know it was in the Vatican Palace. And suddenly, there it was in all of its eight by five metres renaissance splendor! I was filled with awe: a feeling of reverential respect mixed with wonder or fear (thank you Oxford Dictionary). And I was connected to the subject, to the artist, to the ideas expressed and to the moment, a moment that, obviously, has stayed with me ever since. I couldn’t say anything; I was gobsmacked!

Yes, we hear the word ‘awesome’ so often that most of its true meaning has been sucked out of it. It is still a good word to use in situations like this. When I am at the cliff edge staring down, I have a feeling that goes beyond being grateful to experience this moment. It’s a ‘be still and know’ kind of moment. It’s a ‘OMG’ kind of moment. It a ‘being completely in the now’ moment. It is a very humbling moment and a deeply spiritual moment.

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We need more of these awe-some moments in our lives. We can seek those moments out. Find a place to live that inspires you. Visit the Grand Canyon, climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, witness the miracle of birth, watch a flower unfold. Discover places and moments that fill you with awe in the truest sense of the word.

And what will this do for us? How does being full of awe help us? We connect. We step back. We relate. We are grateful. We are happy to have been a part of this experience that no video or still, no description nor writing and no telling could ever completely encompass; a moment that will impress feelings and emotions so deeply into our psyche that it can never be erased. We will have a sense that in some respects, although we are insignificant, and realizing that there may be more stars in the heavens than there are atoms in our bodies, we have communed with the divine.

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Find your awe!