“Happiness can exist only in acceptance”
In his book ‘Being Dharma’, Ajahn Chah tells us that old age and knowledge don’t bring one insight or wisdom on their own, but experiences in life, both good and bad ones, do. Buddhist scholar Thich Nhat Hanh tells us in his books that everything in life has to be in balance. Good and bad things come in a cycle. For all the bad thing, goods things will come to happen as well in equal matter. I recently replied to a fellow blogger applying this wisdom: “In the end, you will recognise the good things in life and because you know how bad things can be, you will understand life even better.”
It has been an unusual week for me so far. On Monday my BPD completely overtook me. I felt heavy emotions of powerlessness, which for me translate into extreme attacks of anger. I have learned a lot in therapy and from Buddhism, so I immediately went outside when my rage became uncontrollable and I destroyed a cardboard box (instead of breaking my knuckles or limbs on a wall, furniture or something similar). It hasn’t happened for a long time, but now I responded the same way to this anger I usually did: I felt sorry for erupting into uncontrollable rage. I felt like I failed myself once again. I broke down into a spiral of negative thoughts and ended up wanting to give up on life, despite all the good thing there are. My girlfriend eventually (and she is the first person to ever do so) got through to me and I also called my therapist (that’s also a first time in a crisis situation). They both told me of the power and importance of acceptance, something I have learned from the Buddha’s teachings over and over again.
I’ve been walking the Noble Eightfold Path for over two years now, fuelling my lamp with wisdom and insight. I envision the path as a clear forward path that I just have to walk to find my way through life. Along the sides of it are marshes, swamps of suffering and very often a foul wind blows from those foggy swamps, blowing a thick mist of impatience, hatred, anger, ignorance, a thick mist of suffering onto the path. If I don’t fuel my lamp again, the flame starts to flicker and I lose my way. Luckily there are the voices of those who care for me which tell me to fuel the lamp with the Buddha’s teachings and common sense again, so I can see through the mist and walk on. They cannot walk my path for me, I have to do it myself, as Dhammapada 165 states:
By oneself is evil done,
by oneself is one defiled,
By oneself is evil left undone,
by oneself is one made pure,
Purity and impurity depend on oneself,
no one can purify another.
The next day things got even worse (yesterday). I was driving my father’s car when all of a sudden I had to make an emergency stop because people in front of me did so as well. I had to make a split-second decision and drove my car into the verge of the road, choosing between steering my car into a trench full of water or bang into a tree head-on. I have had some good driving training, so I yanked the handbrake and eventually steered into a tree. If I hadn’t done that, I would have ended up in a V-shaped ditch and most certainly would have drowned. If I had hit the tree some 50 centimetres to the left, I would have been dead as well. I didn’t panic and I feel quite ok now, I was even able to brace for impact, as skill which I partially owe to this little book.
Of course I broke into my BPD fuelled rage again due to the feelings of powerlessness, of not being able to change anything, not being able to accept the situation as it was. But eventually my girlfriend arrived to help me out and call me back onto the path. I came to realise that just the day before I gave up on life and now I had done everything to stay alive and I am still here. I don’t fear death, I know and accept that the fact that I will die is the only certainty I have in my life, but still I am grateful that I am here again. I accept the fact that my life is precious, since it is the very single thing I truly own: my life, my mind. If you accept life, you will also learn to accept yourself. If you see that your life and your mind are the only things you truly own, you will have to accept yourself.
This is a story of acceptance. Acceptance is a main Buddhist principle. Acceptance that everything in this world, including you yourself is perishable. Acceptance that you will die. Acceptance that there are things in life you cannot change (and thus can make you feel powerless). But you cannot change the past and thoughts of others, you cannot change the weather, you cannot take another’s diseases away, you cannot push away a mountain. Many external influences and factors in life are unchangeable and the harder you try to change them, the harder it will become to cope with them.
If you love someone for example, you love that person for who he or she is now, not for their past, which you should also never held against them! If you want to change that person, if there is the desire to radically change their way of life or thinking, you are not accepting that person for who he or she really is. That will lead to suffering and an unhealthy relationship. You cannot change who that person is by trying to change him or her! You can only communicate together and adapt to each other without making big concessions. The harder you try to change each other, the more you will grow apart.
The only thing you can change in life is your mind and your mind-set, because only from your own mind you can experience and understand the world. Once again, there is no-one who can do this for you, you will have to do this yourself. The Dhammapada says in verse 25:
Your own mind is your own mainstay, your guide.
Therefore, watch over yourself as a trader over a fine steed.
I have been frustrated by the disinterest, incompetence and ignorance in modern day society. People are attached to fleeting lives, feed their ego and race on towards their own death. There is no love, no empathy, no friendship. I always thought that people are stupid, I have been a misanthrope for a great part of my life, detesting mankind and its stupidity. Buddhism taught me that there is a lot of ignorance, that ignorance leads to disinterest and suffering. My car crash yesterday proved this right. I stood there along the road-side, my car smoking, I was in physical shock so I was trembling. I stood there in the rain, making phone calls, trying to stay calm. Hundreds of cars passed me and saw me standing there in the rain, hurt and confused. It took twenty whole minutes before someone actually stopped, pulled over and tried to help me. Hundreds of ignorant people had passed me, only caring for their own interests and their own lives, completely disregarding the fact that someone badly needs help. They just seek to ignore it, to be ignorant. I can be frustrated by the fact that they ignore me. But I cannot change it. Instead, I can also be grateful for the man that DID stop after 20 minutes later, I can be grateful that my father and my girlfriend came to me to help, I can be grateful that I am still alive! What I can also change is the fact that I CAN pull over and help others when they need me.
I always thought I could change that ignorant mindset. I always thought that I could change that egoistic and suffering way of life that so many people nowadays lead. I watched the news and the media and I was always angry, frustrated and fed-up with all the lies, deceit and stupidity around me. But there’s no use to that. You cannot change anything by reacting this way. The only thing that you can do is to accept the situation, think about it or meditate on it and then let it go, don;t attach yourself or grasp onto something you cannot change. The only change you can make is to change the way in which you perceive that situation. It’s a matter of perspective.
I am annoyed because people are stupid.
Looking into this, I see they are merely ignorant.
Ignorance is the root of suffering. These people are suffering.
I accept the fact that they are suffering and
I cannot change this suffering directly.
I can also choose not to be annoyed by them.
Seeing that they are suffering, I instead feel compassion for them.
Accepting that I cannot change their suffering, only my mindset, I let it go.
I continue on my way, hoping that my example will inspire them.
I am not annoyed anymore, simply trying to inspire others with what I learned.
Does this mean you have to let all your moral principles go and accept whatever is happening around you? Should you just tolerate everything? Should you accept that someone humiliates you? Should you accept that someone tries to steal from you or tries to hit you? Should you just let go of what you believe in? Of course not! Acceptance is not submission. It doesn’t mean that you have to stand for nothing and let everything just happen. Acceptance is about finding peace with your own thoughts and your own mind. Acceptance is the way of acknowledging the facts of situations around you, so that you can decide what you do with those situations in your own mind. Is there a problem? Then ask yourself why this thing is a problem! It’s only a problem because you recognise it as such! So if you don’t make a problem of something, the problem doesn’t exist! That might sound simple and easy, but it’s the only truth! If you suffer from a mental illness, it is not always possible to accept things and to think about them this easily and clearly, but in the end, this insight is true and it will bring you lasting peace of mind.
After the crash my anger settled down again and my girlfriend drove me to the salvage depot where the car had been towed. I could feel sad or angry or miserable, but eventually I realised (after my girlfriend make me laugh again) that I could change my mind set. So we made some stupid jokes, took silly pictures of me posing on top of the car as some kind of hero and we laughed it all away. I thanked her for always being there for me and she replied “That’s obvious. You are always there for me too.”
A dear friend responded to the crash on Facebook today: Well, you’re alive. Your story goes on! What an exciting life you do lead! I could have been dead, but I’m not. It’s just another story and a lesson during my journey through life. I just needed a car-crash to show me that acceptance is part of living life in peace.
But I also took a piece of the tree I hit back home as a reminder that life can be over any second and that it is extremely fragile.
“Death twitches my ear. ”Live,” he says, ”I am coming.”