When I was a young twenty-something, besotted with the writing of the Beats and of Chuck Palahniuk, I bough myself a Moleskin notebook to carry around with me everywhere I went. This accessory (combined with my Gauloises cigarettes) was partially proof to the outside world that I was a man of depth, and partially a legitimate tool for me to begin writing my own poetry and short stories. My poetry was shit, but I like to think that some of my short stories were half-way decent for a person who had never really done any writing. At some point, I began to see a thread in my writing. I would often use the image of the protagonist taking a drag on a cigarette as a symbol of resignation. The most clear example of this was the following paragraph –
I stood out on the sidewalk, gingerly fingering a lump on my neck that had appeared a couple of days ago. ‘What is this thing?’ I asked nobody. ‘It’s probably cancer. That’s fucking great, I have cancer now. I’ll probably die alone from throat cancer.’ I took a drag of my cigarette. ‘I guess I could go to the doctor and have him look at it. Nah, I’m not going to pay some fucking doctor just to tell me I have cancer. Fuck it.’ I flicked the butt into the street and went back inside.Some random thing i wrote
First, I would like to say that looking at this now, I am surprised to find that I unwittingly wrote a perfect example of Papancha (proliferation of the mind) many years before learning what it was that I was describing.
Secondly, I think this is a good way for me to set up the contrast between acceptance and resignation. In a tweet I posted recently, I said –
Acceptance doesn't mean resignation. We can accept things as they are, without being resigned to them staying that way. In fact, that acceptance helps us to see the most skillful way to respond to our circumstances.— Ben Simons (@NotBenSimons) August 7, 2019
I had a lot of different directions that this thought was going in my mind. One of my new Twitter friends, Duane Toops, followed this up with a great post that captures part of what I was thinking. He did a great job covering this, so you should read his post, and I won’t go too in depth on this part. The short version is that we all have things that we find difficult to accept in ourselves. We need to learn to accept the truth about ourselves to grow as people and to skillfully make choices and deal with our life. The key thing is that accepting doesn’t mean that we have to be resigned to those areas not changing.
There were two other directions that I was exploring when I posted that tweet, the first being my approach to my practice, and the second being my approach to the outside world.
Acceptance in My Practice
I am still learning to see my practice as being a fluid and impermanent thing. It isn’t a straight line. It is a squiggly zig-zag, filled with ups and downs. I have recently found some rigidity creeping into my sittings, which is naturally accompanied by less ease and friendliness. I can get frustrated that I am not concentrating as well as I would like. I am finding that part of the reason for both my frustration as well for the actual cause of my frustration, is that I am bringing a lot of expectations and unnecessary striving into my time on the cushion. I have not been approaching my practice with friendly acceptance for what it has to bring. Over the last week I have been trying to approach my time in meditation with a spirit of acceptance. That doesn’t mean that I am not applying effort to continuing to improve my practice, merely that I am trying to accept that this is what my practice is like in this moment.
Acceptance in the Public Arena and Politics
With everything that has been going on in the world recently, this one has been a real problem for me. How can we accept the inaction of our government (speaking as an American) on issues like climate change and gun violence? This is where the concept of acceptance vs resignation really starts to get tricky.
In the wake of two days in a row where I encountered news of mass shootings in our country, it was not easy to accept what was happening. I could feel my heart racing and tension building up with anger that this is continuing to happen with such regularity. Working with accepting what was arising internally helped me begin to accept what was happening externally, which lead to my anger turning to compassion for the people in El Paso and Dayton who are dealing with the pain of what has happened in their communities. It also directed my energy toward the question of what I could do to effect change. This wasn’t resignation, it was acceptance of the reality of the circumstances that exist and an exploration of how to skillfully deal with those circumstances.
This process is not easy, and we do have to be mindful to avoid the trap of confusing resignation for acceptance, but it is the only way that we can skillfully respond. In order to determine how to best fight the battle, you have to understand the battlefield. Not accepting leads to reaction, while acceptance can guide us toward skillful and effective response.