|Ramana Maharshi's lower cave on the sacred mountain Arunachala|
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Acceptance is the key to living life with an open heart.
Acceptance. I’ve been asked what was the most important lesson I learned in the caves of India. My answer: Acceptance. Most people likely share a vision of the requirements and what meditating in a cave in India would entail. First, you would need to be a sadhu; a scantly dressed holy man draped in white or orange cloth or possibly only a loincloth. Or, perhaps you’d have to be a Buddhist monk wrapped discretely in a burgundy robe. To complete the image you’d need to sit upright for hours in a full lotus posture, meaning to sit not only crossed legged but your knees should touch the ground while your feet rest atop the cradle of your bent legs. In other words, to sit for hours unmoving, in silent contemplation in what most of us would soon find an uncomfortable posture, if not outright painful.
No, for me it was much easier at least physically. I am a big fan of pillows and never was flexible enough to maintain a rigid meditation posture, other than to sit as straight as possible. The monks and sadhus likely also mastered controlling their thoughts much sooner than I. For me, the caves served as a stomping ground to recognize and deal with my deepest emotions. Just as thoughts can be observed to come and go, I started to do the same with my emotional reactions. So, I can say I learned acceptance in those caves. I learned to welcome whatever was arising—thoughts, feelings, and sensations. I returned to the caves—repeatedly. ‘Being with what is’ became my sole practice. Whatever story would rerun in my head from life back home in the states or even from years past, I welcomed the associated feelings and sensations into the space of my heart. Before long, my heart and body ached as if I was taking too much in. My past conditioning taught me how to transform feelings, or rather how to avoid what I was really feeling, such as anxiety, anger, rejection, confusion, etc. Mysteriously, I felt determined to do the opposite of what I’d learned to do all of my life. It was time to face my deepest emotions. The cave was the place where the show down was going to take place and I knew it.
Instead of creating a positive mental image to replace what I was experiencing, or to distract myself by allowing my attention to get entranced by whatever scenery was appearing at the moment—people coming into the cave or a bug crawling on me—I did the opposite. I accepted whatever was being presented in the moment. If I remembered something painful, felt anxiety or stiff legs, I let it be. And, by doing so, I learned something valuable about myself. The more I accepted life on its terms without trying to change it, the more I could be with life when it was uncomfortable. And, the more I accepted what was uncomfortable; paradoxically it was no longer uncomfortable.
My heart opened. I felt expansive with love as I welcomed my own humanity, including any perceived flaws. I allowed my breath to lead me as I entered deeper and deeper dimensions within my heart. Life was happening in whatever way it was and I was finally okay with it.
So, when I returned to “real” life—out of the caves and back to my busy job in the states, back to being a wife and stepparent—I found my heart had expanded to the roles I play. The caves of India taught me that acceptance is the key to freedom and happiness. It is easy now to return to the cave where I spent so much time learning to accept life. But, now the cave is within me. It is the cave of my own heart I return. A single conscious breath returns me to this meditative space. There I meet whatever life is presenting, and I never need to go anywhere. So, as I go about my life I simply remember: acceptance is the key to living life with an open heart. I then relax into whatever I am feeling, and I breathe.