Tools for learning acceptance
One interesting thing about meditation is that if we try too hard to change it actually makes it harder to change.
I’ll tell you a story. There was once a man who wanted to become the finest swordsman in Japan, so he went to seek out a hermit who was reputed to be the best teacher, although it was said that he lived in a remote place and rarely took on students. After a long search, the seeker found the hermit deep in the mountains and asked how long it would take him to become a great sword master.
The hermit looked him up and down and said, “Maybe five years.” The seeker thought this sounded like a long time, so he asked, “How long would it take if I tried really hard?” The hermit stroked his beard and thought about it. After a while he said, “Maybe ten years.”
Desiring to change is okay, but longing for change actually hinders our growth. An important aspect of developing acceptance is learning to avoid craving. Craving is when we long for something, and unfortunately craving can make us very unhappy. One common form of craving is to crave experiencing something different from our current experience. This longing actually creates an unhealthy form of dissatisfaction with what we’re currently experiencing since the flip-side of craving is aversion. Craving and aversion are polar twins. When we crave to be experiencing something different then we reject our current experience.
Mindfulness involves an attitude of acceptance, which is the opposite of either pushing an experience away or longing for an experience. With mindfulness we’re prepared to take on board how we actually are. This doesn’t mean that we want to stay the way we are at the moment. On the contrary we almost certainly will wish to move on from there, but the first step in moving on is to recognize fully where we are, and to accept it.
It’s possible to want change without that desire involving craving, because not all desires involve craving. For example when we say “May I be well” in the metta bhavana practice that can represent a desire that is free from craving. It’s only when our desires lead to us rejecting our experience or longing after other experiences that we create difficulties for ourselves.