Not long ago I revisited the Eckhart Tolle work A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Within one chapter Tolle recalls a help session he conducted with a woman who was experiencing considerable emotional suffering.
This suffering wasn’t new to the woman: she considered her childhood and adult life both to be quite unhappy. Her suffering then could be described as chronic and so it must have taken Tolle quite a bit of time to “cure” her.
After the woman told Tolle her unhappy story he suggested she do something simple… but quite profound. He asked her to recognize and become very much aware of her present despair, and to accept this despair as her current state of being. In other words, Tolle asked the woman take inventory of how she was feeling and then to accept how she was feeling as her present reality.
Tolle didn’t suggest the woman accept that she was sad and despairing; Tolle suggested the woman accept that she was experiencing sadness and despairing now. This is an important distinction: had the woman embraced being sad and despairing overall it would have suggested an identity and possibly turned into a story.
I am sad and despairing.
But by remaining present, by dealing solely with the now (which is all there ever is), no identity, no story, and no mental creations of past and future were taken on. Just the facts — so to speak — and the facts were that the women felt as she did within that moment.
Three important things come through in Tolle’s suggestions to the unhappy woman. The first is to have presence, or an awareness, of what’s happening. I am experiencing upset. The second is to remain in the now, which is the only reality, and to not fall into mental constructs about past and future. I am experiencing upset at this time. The third is to accept — to not resist — what presently is. I accept that I am experiencing upset at this time.
Tolle followed up the recollection of his encounter with the unhappy woman with two additional valuable insights: First, unhappiness cannot take hold without an accompanying unhappy story. Tolle expounded on this by asking what would happen to our unhappiness if we didn’t buy into any mental stories about it.
I am depressed! I am anxious! This shouldn’t be! I should be feeling happy and content! Something is wrong and I must do something to fix it!
Tolle’s second insight is very much connected to the first: Resistance leads to suffering. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung expressed this as ‘what you resist, persists’. Consider Tolle’s insight above and the example dialogue I provided. In the face of depression or anxiety — or some other uncomfortable experience — most people will mentally complain or fret, become physically tense, reach for drink or drug or food, etc.
All of these acts amount to trying to push the uncomfortable experience away — resisting it. Prevailing knowledge seems to be that the best way to reduce the impact of a negative is to resist it somehow. This is not true however, and is certainly not true in the case of negative internal experiences (negative thinking, negative emotions). In fact acceptance is what reduces, and ultimately eliminates, a negative.
I am experiencing depression at this time, and I accept this.
I accept that, right now, I am feeling anxious.
I’m feeling very angry right now. I accept this.
I’m experiencing a great deal of emotional or physical discomfort presently. I accept that I don’t feel very well right now.
If we’re ultimately unable to accept whatever our present reality is then we can accept our resistance.
I don’t want to be in my present circumstances, and I accept this.
I want my life to be different than it currently is. I accept this resistance to life that I’m experiencing.
When you feel any form of emotional dis-ease you are mentally, in some way or another, denying or resisting what currently is. Be present, be aware of what’s happening with your internal state of being, and you will observe this truth for yourself.
When we stop resisting what is — even if what is amounts to resistance itself — then there’s nothing more to resist: we immediately come into alignment with life as it stands and there’s no longer a problem.