The hardest, freest thing.
A notebook entry.
“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you'll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you'll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.” —Cheryl Strayed
I have been thinking a lot about acceptance lately. I’ve noticed it has been an ongoing theme in much of my private, personal writing. Not accepting something we truly have no power to change can be one of the most warping, painful experiences out there. But it is also one of the most human.
Acceptance is not, of course, always a small, quiet room. Strayed wrote those lines in an essay that took the form of a letter to her younger self. She may have even meant something specific when she used that image. But acceptance can feel like a lot of things. Acceptance can also be a cage of green parakeets, finally released. It can be a wide, open path with a spiced wind blowing over it, or the clear dawning sky of a fresh new planet.
Lately I have been struggling with how best to love someone with whom I have always had a difficult relationship. How can you give that love the space it needs, to be what it wants to be, to flower in its most positive qualities, without letting the harder aspects get in the way and snarl the whole thing up? How do you honor and protect yourself while still trying, thorn-scratched and for the hundredth time, to reach out?
In case you can’t tell already, I’m from Northern California, and I grew up in the thick of a certain kind of language. They used to call it New Age or hippie language, but now it’s pretty much gone mainstream. We honor our truths, and nurture our inner child. We consult Tarot cards and lunar phases and our astrological charts. (And FYI, just about everything is retrograde right now, in case you put stock in that sort of thing.) We burn palo santo or sage to clear negative energy, and collect rose quartz stones to attract love or heal our heart chakra, or something like that. Of course “we” don’t really do any of this. Some people do this, while many others do not, but there is no denying that these sorts of occult dabblings and cosmic wellness practices have been integrated into mainstream popular culture and thoroughly embraced by capitalism.
The truth is, I don’t believe in any of it, because science, but also, at the same time, I do. Like a person who was raised Catholic and can’t ever quite get away from it, I sometimes can’t help but bend to the inexorable pull of Woo.
Where was I? Oh right, acceptance. Accepting what we can’t change is often so hard that it leaves the world of normal problems and enters the realm of spiritual practice. To truly accept, at least for the stubborn among us, we end up having to transcend. The old self has to die and a new one to take its place.
“Die while you’re alive, and be completely dead,” wrote the 17th century Zen master Shido Bunan. “Then do whatever you want. All is well.”
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