The happiest people I know have something in common: they are whole-hearted in how they engage in their lives…whole-hearted in relating with others, in work, in meditation, and in play. They have a capacity to give themselves thoroughly to the present moment.
Yet for many, it’s challenging to engage with this quality of presence. Take this personal ad for example. It says:
Free to a good home, beautiful 6-month old male kitten, orange and caramel tabby, playful, friendly, very affectionate, ideal for family with kids. OR handsome 32-year old husband, personable, funny, good job, but doesn’t like cats. He or the cat goes. Call Jennifer and decide which one you’d like.
How often do we find that in our relationships, rather than loving presence, we have an agenda for someone to change, to be different? How often do we find that our insecurities prevent us from being spontaneous, or whole-heartedly engaged with friends? You might think of one important relationship and ask yourself: “What is between me and feeling fully present when I’m with this person?” Notice the fears creeping in about falling short, the urge to get your needs met, the sense of “not enough time,” the wanting for your experience together to unfold a certain way!
This same conditioning plays out in all aspects of living, and it is well grounded in our evolutionary wiring. We need to manage things, to feel in control. We try to avoid disappointments, to prevent things from going wrong.
While we have this strong conditioning, if it runs our life, we miss out. Carl Jung said, “Nothing has a stronger influence, psychologically, on their environment, and especially on their children, than the unlived life of the parents.” Unlived life happens in the moments when we’re not whole-hearted, the moments when we’re busy scrambling to get somewhere else, or holding back to avoid what might be painful. Unlived life is the relationships where we really don’t allow ourselves to be intimate with each other, the emotion that we don’t let ourselves acknowledge. Unlived life is that passion we didn’t follow, the adventures we didn’t let ourselves go on. Unlived life, while it happens in an attempt to avoid suffering, actually leads to suffering.
What I’ve noticed in myself, and when I talk with others, is that in order to be completely whole-hearted, there is a need for giving up of control. By letting go of our usual ways of holding back and protecting ourselves, we free ourselves to express our full aliveness, creativity and love.
If we experiment with this letting go of control—if we engage wholeheartedly with each other and in our activities—our sense of being enlarges. More and more we discover the innate curiosity and care that leads to giving ourselves fully to this moment, and then this one, and again…this one. Rather than racing to the finish line, we choose, with all our heart, to be here for our life.
Adapted from my book Radical Acceptance (2003)