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Acceptance: Finding Inner Peace When Life Sucks

When I started practicing Zen in 2013, I was in a very dark place. I was broke, I hated my job, and I'd just ended a long-term relationship. My anxiety was at an all-time high, and I was searching for something that would ease the pain.

As a result, I was kind of excited when I read the first noble truth which states, "The world is full of suffering." "Finally," I thought to myself, "someone understands how I feel."

I was a little less enthused, however, when I read the second and third noble truths which state, "Suffering is caused by desire," and "The way to end suffering is to end desire."  Given my situation, those two items didn't seem logical.  After all, the natural response to suffering is to want it to stop.

Despite my misgivings, meditation was helping to calm my mind, so I decided to stick with it.  After four years of practice, I'm beginning to understand how the second and third noble truths can be applied to every day life.  The key is learning to be 100% accepting of the fact that most of my desires won't be fulfilled.

I want drivers to stop parking in the bike lane, I want people to be nice to me, and I want my right leg to stop falling asleep when I meditate.  I have an endless list of wants and wishes that pop into my head unannounced, and I used to spend a lot of mental energy trying to kill those desires.

But things have changed.  These days, I simply take note of the desirous thought (e.g. I want to sleep in, and not go to work today), I accept that my desire won't be met in that moment, and I turn my attention back to what ever it is that I'm doing.

That being said, sometimes life is difficult.  And it's easy to start feeling overwhelmed.  But when I respond to those difficult times with acceptance, my frustration is replaced with calmness.  And two questions naturally arise:

     1)  What can I control?

     2)  How can I help?

The first question brings my focus to the present moment.  I look at my current situation, and if the problem can be fixed by me, then it's a simple process of doing what needs to be done.  But if it can't be fixed by me, then the only logical path is to accept that my desires won't be met in this instance, and move on with my life.

The second question reminds me that I'm never completely powerless.  No matter how bad a situation becomes there is always something I can do to help; even if it's just choosing to not make things worse.  The situation may not improve overnight, but at least I can sleep knowing that I did my part to make things better.

When I accept that my desires won't be met, focus on the things I can control, and search for ways to be helpful, a feeling of inner peace arises within me.  This occurs because my happiness is no longer tied to getting my way.  Instead, it comes from knowing that I've done my best to ease suffering for both myself and others.

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  1. Thanks Alex. You have a gift for bringing the dharma into everyday experience.


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