Life opens up
I remember the very first time I experienced life opening up a little bit, or I was available to the grace of life, which I shared in my book.
“On a very cold Monday morning in February I was waiting for the treatment to begin, but for one reason or another it was delayed by a few hours. This wasn’t one of those days when I could force myself to smile and walk five feet above the ground. For me, mentally preparing for treatment always involved finding a quiet place in the hospital and clearing my mind in readiness for whatever was to come. Just sitting, breathing in and out slowly, and trying to find some peace and quiet in my mind. I found that paying attention to my breath slowed everything down. Paying attention to it became an anchor – unwittingly, I had found my own way to meditation and an unexpected introduction to mindfulness.
That day, the only place available was on the huge balcony that wrapped around the cancer ward. It was the middle of a very cold eastern European winter and nobody else was willing to be outside. At least there was space to sit. I remember feeling cold at first and the voice in my head yelling “GO BACK INSIDE YOU ARE GOING TO FREEZE”, but I paid no mind to it. My body, while shivering, was genuinely happy to be in the cold. I sat there in peace, my mind getting quieter, and I could feel a strange sense of warmth spreading throughout my body. The outside noise was gone, my mind grew completely silent and for a good while I don’t remember hearing anything at all. It felt like everything around me stopped existing and I was surrounded by a warm, unfamiliar light. I simply sat on the bench, slowly breathing in and out. There was an emergency at the hospital with a lot of commotion, and a medical helicopter landed nearby, but I barely noticed.
An hour must have passed as I sat outside in complete bliss when I was jolted back to consciousness by the shouting of a nurse. “You should come back inside. You shouldn’t be outside in the cold when you have cancer. You’ll freeze to death. You should dress warmer. You should be more careful!” She spoke from a place of love (and probably reasonable health concerns) but I didn’t want to pay much attention to her reprimands. I was reluctant to let this beautiful feeling go and return to the present. I had an inner vision of where I wanted to be and calmly said to myself, “It’s okay, whatever is coming just let it happen.” After the initial delay the treatment went surprisingly well and I recovered fast from the side effects. My mind and body were playing for the same team, that day. It was another moment of grace. No fighting, no ego, only letting go.”
To clearly see and experience, at least for a short while, that I’m beyond this body and mind, to touch something so miraculous, was life changing.
I really had no idea what happened to me but rest assured I’ve been searching for answers under every rock since then. I was just a list of endless questions. Answers came and went, more questions came and went. I’ve looked everywhere, I read everything I could get my hands on, I have tried everything, you name it I did it, but all I got was still just experiences. It felt like I was going in circles. What’s in the way of experiencing the core of my being?
Then one day, some time much later, it clicked.
It was myself.
I was in my own way: my psyche with it’s set of thoughts, feelings and emotions and my body with it’s own set of compulsions. The very first experience that had happened to me, that moment of grace, did so because I got beyond myself. For whatever reason it happened. When I was beyond myself, I was in the lap of grace. When I was staring at myself, well I was in my own lap.
It is not that grace is only available to certain people, at certain times etcetera. Grace is always on, it’s just a question of our availability. Grace is not an event or an experience – some big success or avoidance of a big loss – it’s not a physical thing. Grace is the process of this very life. Life is grace itself.
The fact that a few elements, like oxygen and hydrogen, bond together and form something called as H2O, which you drink and makes your and others’ life can be explained scientifically but we still don’t know why it’s happening. We can explain how the planet we live on spins around the Sun, but why is it happening in the first place? Why did the Big Bang happen? Still no clue after all these years. If you look carefully grace is all around you but the question is are you willing to take your attention off your mind and truly be with life the way it is. Just for a moment. No judgement. If you did, you’d see something so overwhelming that you’d have no chance but to be present to it. That’s what has happened to me in a very small way on that balcony all those years ago.
So, if I’m in my own way, how the hell do I get out?
Taking the first step
First of all, why get out?
I mean, that’s where everyone you and I know seem to live. It seems like a cool place. Like a feel-good conspiracy, no? I won’t tell, if you won’t kinda thing.
And in any case, you probably think this “surrendering to grace” business is total nonsense: how can I pay my bills with grace? Is there a $grace token yet? Does it come in a plant-based version so it’s at least good as a dinner meal? Show me something tangible, man.
Alright, alright. Let me ask you a few questions first.
When you go to bed do you fall asleep with a big smile on your face? When you wake up in the morning do you wake up excited, ready for the day or you can’t wait to smack the alarm clock for having the audacity to disturb your sleep? When people ask you ‘how is it going?’, do you go ‘wow, it’s just joy, bliss and love all the time’ or ‘not too bad, you know hanging in there, surviving, getting by, anyway tomorrow TGIF!’. Or, when you meet those people who seem to be perennially happy, do they just annoy the hell out of you? “What are you so happy about anyway, huh?!” Does what’s happening outside have a lasting effect on how you feel inside? Do events from your past still make you uncomfortable? Are you anxious about the future (once year, once a month, once a day…maybe all the time?)?
If you’re like most people, well then you know what the answers are. But do you know that it need not be that way? Do you know that you need not suffer? Your suffering might be normal to you but it is not normal. Do you know that it can stop?
Do you want to know the tried and tested formula, an ancient mantra, a closely held secret for generations that will eradicate all suffering? Are you ready for it?
Stop doing it!
That’s it. That’s all you need to know. If you’re suffering it’s your making and if it’s your making then you can stop it. There. That’s it. You’re now enlightened and I can stop writing. But first, I’ll touch your feet.
My question is: do you want out? Would you like to feel at least okay inside, no matter what’s happening outside? I can’t take your pain away, the very thing that causes your suffering, but I might be able to offer you another perspective on why you’re suffering. I simply want the best for you. There is a way to live here, which might not be considered normal by our modern societal standards, but one that gives you the freedom to experience life the way it is. You might not know how to do it (don’t worry the vast majority don’t) but that’s a different matter. Your willingness is what matters the most.
This is not a practice you do once on a meditation retreat and be done with it. No. This is the work of a lifetime but you’re going to be doing something anyway, would you not like to do something consciously? The results are so worth it. I’d love it if asked you, ’How you’re feeling inside?’ you’d at least say, ‘You know, actually, I’m feeling peaceful’. Then you can go to any heights you want, there are no limits, but I want you to extricate yourself from this trap you’ve created for yourself.
Clearing up some misconceptions
Lot of things have been said about surrender and in my humble opinion a lot of it misses the mark. It is not about surrendering to someone or something rather it is simply letting go of the preference for how the present moment should be. This very moment in front of you. Not the moment just passed, not the next moment, but the one in front of you. It is simply accepting the present moment just the way it is. It is you responding, consciously, to the present moment the way it is.
Notice, I said preference.
It does not mean abdicating your capability to change the next moment, it does not mean becoming passive and it certainly doesn’t mean giving up. No, no, no! It is not a philosophy and you don’t have to read books on it (or essays like this for that matter). It is a split second, intuitive decision. This is what’s happening in this moment and it’s perfectly fine with me. The next one I can change it any way I like. The future possibilities are unlimited. You might have played a role in the reason why the present moment is the way it is, you might have not, you might think it’s unjust, unfair or incredibly frustrating but the fact is it’s happening. You might not like this ‘problem’ happening on the outside but would you like to create another problem inside as well?
This moment is the way it is. It is the truth. If you can be in communion with truth you can see clearly. If you can see clearly you’ll know what to do next. It’s that simple. This process has also been called letting go. It’s the same thing. You let go of the preference for having this very present moment any differently.
Stay tuned for part 2.