Radical Acceptance, Desire, Suffering, And the Ways of the Universe

As a child I had a great sense of fairness in my mind in the way I thought things worked in the world.  For one I was a good hearted kid.  I liked people and found comfort and strength in relationships.  I was also raised in church.  From the pulpit things always seem to turn out right for God’s people by the end of any given sermon.  The preacher never hooped and hollered a sad ending when climaxing the point of his message.  Then there was Hollywood.  In movies and television, the good guys always won at the end.  Justice was always served.  I recall the first time I saw the good guys ‘lose’ and a bad guy get away was in an episode of “Hill Street Blues.”  Though I don’t recall the exact details I do remember feeling jarred emotionally with a sense of loss and injustice.  Nowadays that’s pretty common for TV.  Seasons 1-5 of “The Wire” crystallized the realities of life more than any other show in television history.

For me there has always maintained this inner struggle between right and wrong, truth and justice, fairness and hardships.  All of these factors mentioned above made muttering through life mentally and spiritually difficult many a day.  I struggled with questions like why do people hurt others on purpose?  Why do good things happen to bad people?  Why do bad things happen to the good people?  Why would an elected official do evil things to the people he/she serves?  Why would a friend betray you or someone hurt you if you gave them your all?  All my life I’ve heard that doing the right things, working hard and treating people justly will bring good fortune and a good life.  I’m almost 45 years old now and through the study of history, events from around the world and life in general, it feels as if I’ve seen it all in some form or another.  And all that I’ve seen show that life is way more complicated than this.

The above mentioned formula didn’t seem to work true to life.  And most of my internal struggles have been an attempt to decipher the ways of how I fit in within the schemes of constant contradictions and suffering through good intentions.

It was my counselor and life coach Mrs. Francis Thomas (Miss Francis I call her) who first introduced to me the concept of ‘radical acceptance.’ Sitting in her office she forced me to consider ‘Letting go of fighting reality and accept your situation for what it is.’  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  Folks have a term for it nowadays.  “It is what it is.”  How many times have we heard that one?  Taking a closer look however, the concept of truly accepting things as they are is not natural to our culture.  There is and always has been a push and pull to try to influence or change reality.  And why not?  That what this country has been since immigration.  People came to this land to be what they wanted and live in a fashion empowered by personal ambition.  Those causes weren’t altogether pure either in that often living a chosen life rarely included allowing others to do the same.  And so there was and is conflict for the remaining up and comers, even till this day.  (See Colonization, Slavery, The fight for Civil Rights and Immigration)

And so we live, we love, we compete, and we pursue a vision not for what we accept but for that which we desire personally, vocationally, culturally, and institutionally.

This is our living.

And yet the midst of pursuits in happiness there is always a fly in the ointment of the oil that flows through what we call life.  Suffering.

No matter what we do, suffering seems to be inevitable.  I’ve tried to minimize mine as much as possible by following the golden rules.  But that’s too simple in the scheme of things.  So I sought knowledge.  How can I eliminate or reduce suffering?

Buddhist teaching reveals that the very cause of suffering is the attachment to ‘desire’ or craving.  The Second Noble Truth for instance include:

The Cause of Suffering– samudaya
The principle cause of suffering is the attachment to “desire” or “craving” (tanha). Both desire to have (wanting) and desire not to have (aversion).
1. Desire for sense-pleasures–kama-tanha
The desire for sense pleasures manifests itself as wanting to have pleasant experiences: the taste of good food, pleasant sexual experiences, delightful music.
2. Desire to become–bhava-tanha
The desire to become is the ambition that comes with wanting attaiments or recognition or fame. It is the craving to “be a somebody”.
3. Desire to get rid of–vibhava-tanha
The desire to get rid of the unpleasant experiences in life: unpleasant sensations, anger, fear, jealousy.
The clinging to desire comes from our experience that short-term satisfaction comes from following desire. We ignore the fact that satisfying our desires doesn’t bring an end to them.

Part of the Third Noble Truth simply says:

The end of suffering is non-attachment, or letting go of desire or craving.

In my spirit I totally understood and resonated with the substance of these words.  I sensed a light or a glimmer of hidden wisdom that I had never seen.  This was especially enlightening because by nature I am a doer, a man of action.  If I want something to be a certain way, I did what I could to make it happen.  I used action in an attempt to gain the reaction I desired. (Good deeds, hard work etc.) The thought of letting go of desire seemed to be a game changer.  A freeing experience if you will.  I started the process of embracing this concept slowly in my life.

Reading this may give the impression that by letting go of desire we are to just stand pat and allow whatever happens to happen in our lives.  That brings me to another teaching form Miss Francis.  “A life or inner peace will not consist of embracing an all or nothing paradigm.”

My journey of living is a continuous evolution of learning that the colours of life are rarely black and white, but shades of varying schemes that paint the world.  If there are no desires, there is no progress.  I believe we were created and the Universe calls for us to make contributions towards giving and receiving from the earth, as well as it’s inhabitants.  We can’t make a difference without having a ‘desire’ for something better.  Our humanity provides that we are creatures with feelings and emotions, as well as creativity and logic.  We not only want to survive, but thrive in serving and fulfilling a purpose all the while enjoying pleasure and senses of accomplishment.  The key is balancing all of life’s journey with a certain brevity and perspective.

In the bible Paul deals with this dichotomy.

In Philippians 3:14 he says he continues to press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.

In Philippians 4:11 he says he’s learned to be content with whatever state he’s in.

Ecclesiastes 3 goes in great detail identifying the cycles of seasons and change in our existence.

The reality is that as long as we are living there will always be this struggle in understanding the push and pull of life; What to try to change and what to accept, how to love in the midst of hurt, pain, or rejection; Whether we are indeed living in a season or if it’s within our power to change the climate.

For in our flawed sense of justice through our blurred lenses the wicked do often prosper, good is not always rewarded, the good die young, love is not always returned gracefully.  Neither the good nor the bad are always what they seem.  And even the very best of us are often guilty of doing to others that which hurt us the most.

I submit that walking in the balance of universal harmony in the midst of it’s seemingly continuous contradictions is impossible for the natural life.  Indeed it requires a supernatural experience and existence which must be practiced if not perfected.

We should desire to be significant though not necessarily popular.  (Though being significant can bring fame.) By focusing on the process of living as well as the intent and ramifications of our actions rather than the results, in the end, I believe the Universe will balance and pay, and regulate accordingly.

And if not,… well then hey, it is what it is.

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Where is Cmac? or a Drastic Change In Direction

Well back to the blogs!  At least this is what I desire as I know I have not written in quite a while.   It’s because I’ve been through quite a lot.

Without getting into all of the gory details I will share some things that perhaps will help someone else.

After months, heck years of struggling greatly with depression and a variety of other mental challenges I had a complete nervous breakdown on Christmas Eve.  I had given up on life and was perfectly willing to leave this world behind.  Some of the problems I had I brought on myself with series of bad decisions and just flat-out wrong thinking.  Other things were put upon me all the way back from childhood. 

During the holiday things came to a head and I ended up spending Christmas in the hospital.  Boy what that an adventure.  I volunteered to go only because they said it would be better for me when it was time to get released.  My family pretty much took things over.  Between my sister who showed up at the door totally by surprise, my mother of all people flew in from Los Angeles via the red-eye the night before and came in right after her, I had no choice though I had totally hit rock bottom.

The experience in the hospital was wierd.  Sometimes I was calm and enjoyed the quiet.  But most of the time I was just reeling, bored and worried about life after the hospital.  The staff was minimal because it was Christmas.  I wanted to get some help since I was there.  But of course there weren’t any doctors and counselors around to treat us.  We were just kept. 

I met some cool peeps there.  Victoria was this sweet lady who wore a hat cause she had lost some hair.  She’ll talk you to death.  I tried to chill to myself most of the time but she was persistant.  One day she just broke out on me.  “Christopher, you are a wonderful man.  God has something special for you to do and your going to do it!”  She was just too sweet.  She tried to buy pizza for everybody on Christmas but Dominos wouldn’t take a check.

Delphine was cool.  A tall black woman who seemed to regulate the entire ward.  She wasn’t forceful but she had this presence about her that said she’s cool people but don’t cross her.  She knew the lowdown and seemed comfortable in the hospital… a little too damn comfortable.  I figured out she was a lesbian because when I told her I was to see Dr. J, (a female psychiatrist) she said to me, “Oh you’ll know her when you see her.  Cause she is the finest white woman you’ll see walking the floor!” 

In the meantime I read Andre Agassi’s book, “Open” and waited for my mother to visit me every evening.  On one occasion  in particular I remember sitting in a room with her alone and crying on her lap like a baby.   I’ll talk more about her later in another post but it was all a part of the bottoming out process.  I had not lived with my mother since I was 14.  Again I’ll explain that later.  The point is, here I was a 42 year old man just brought down to pieces laying in his mommy’s lap in pieces.  But I got nothing but love from her.

After the hospital there was intensive outpatient therapy.  After the first day where I mostly observed, I decided that I wanted to go all in on this therapy stuff.  I wanted to open up and be so honest that it hurt.  I wanted to go places where I was always afraid to go to before.  Places inside that I was afraid to admit even to myself about the way I felt about myself.

I learned some things.  Things like that as much as I wanted to be loved, I was not able to accept or receive the love that was offered to me.  I heard people talk about ‘loving yourself’ and I asked the question, “What the hell does that mean?”  Nobody could answer my question but finally my social worker in group therapy gave me some insight.

Change the word love to ‘accept.’  Once you learn to accept yourself and who you are and what you are, the love will be there.

Finally, I could understand that!

Group therapy was great because I also got to hear about what others were going through and I got to share in their pain, offer support and sometimes advice.  We all did that for one another. 

While I was in therapy I didn’t work at my 9-5.  I only did some basketball games and was mostly able to focus on my healing.  In that time I leaned on my family and the people who really care about me.  Thats one thing that you learn when you bottom out.  You learn who is really down for you and who is not!  Very few people know what I’ve been through or what really happened for the last 30 plus days till this day.  But I learned a lot about the circle of people I kept around me.  I learned what love and acceptance is all about.  I learned what condemnation and guilt was all about too. 

I just went back to work on Monday.  That in itself is a source of stress that I won’t get into. 

But I will say this.  I want to live.  I want to be happy.  I want to live right and reach my full potential.  I want to be ferociously honest and tremendously free.  I want to help and inspire hope and greatness in others. 

With that I have made some decisions that I believe are best for me.  Not all of them were easy.  But I know that now I have been more courageous than I’ve ever been before.  I have also sensed more blessings than I’ve ever experienced too.  I pray and believe that the rest of my days will be better than the former. 

Writing and sharing in this blog is special.  I’ve missed it.  And while ill I couldn’t create and write just as I could not listen to and enjoy music.  (my other love)

But I’m back – I want to be back.  And I want to share in this space.

 

Encouragement, And Words that add Life

Proverbs 12:25

  Worry weighs a person down;
  an encouraging word cheers a person up.

My regular readers may remember when I officiated some basketball games and had this inward moral conflict going on inside me as to whether to take this extra money the tournament director tried to pay me.  I decided to give the money back but he let me keep it.  Read here if you didn’t see it.

Anyway that school had a tournament again this past weekend and I made my first return there since then.  I saw that same director who greeted me with a smile and said, “Man I am sure glad to see you.!”  I said, “Why do you say that?”  He said, “Because you are an excellent official, and a great person.”  Later on he joked with me about not wanting to take his money, and we had a laugh about it.  Needless to say he didn’t forget that incident and it made an impression on him.

I bring this up not to pay myself on the back.  Just last Thursday a parent greeted me on the floor after a championship game of 6th graders ended in an exciting buzzer beating finish.  I thought it was his kid that hit the shot and as he walked towards me with a half cocked grin,  I stopped, held out my hand to shake his and asked, “Was that your kid who hit the shot?”  He said, “No…  and you suck!”  There are times I literally leave a gym depressed and weighed down after having every single thing I call or don’t call loudly second guessed and throughout the course of a game been called everything BUT a child of God.  Sure some parents and coaches really know the game and some don’t know Sugar Honey Ice Tea!

The point of this post is just to say that Saturday I was really having a challenging day from an emotional perspective.  No matter what I try to be a top notch professional and have a positive attitude with the students I ref.  But I thought it would be a long day mentally and a part of me wanted to be someplace else.

Hearing the tournament director’s encouraging words really did a service to my spirit however.  For one I know that he is hard on officials.   I have read his emails to others criticizing officials who are lazy or those who may seem incompetent.  Bad officiating is bad for business as teams don’t want to pay to get in tournament if the refs are horrible.  Win or lose, coaches and parents will talk about who they think called a consistent game.  So I have a pretty decent reputation for handling myself a certain way.  That aside the fact that a guy took the time to say something good and meaningful to me pushed me to the point where I was able to manage the thing that was bothering me and really step my game up even more.

The world is really hurting out there.  And flowers are often needed when one is living, not at the funeral.  If you have something good to say about someone out there – something that you really mean from your heart that will add life, by all means say it.  You never know the effect it can have.  And you never know what someone is going through at the time you say it.