And even when we are sitting there, we are often still trying to do something. We feel we must do something about ourselves. There is something (many things!) wrong with me that must be addressed, I want to be different to how I am, better somehow. However you experience it, the question boils down to “what do I do about this?”
The question comes from a good heart. We know that we want to be kinder and more compassionate, more patient and loving, to act more wisely. We know that we want to relieve our own suffering and not create suffering for others. So, for example, I may notice that I have a tendency to feel that I know better than a particular person, and I don’t pay much attention to understanding their perspective; or maybe it’s the other way round and I feel intimidated by their intelligence and erudition. This situation is not satisfactory; I want to do better, so how do I do it?
I think most people can recognise their own version of this scenario. And perhaps also how frustrating it can be to be advised to sit with it. So I’ll try to explain what “sitting with it” means to me.
It all seems to hinge on self-acceptance. Can I really allow myself to feel, for example, how painful it is to realise that I have just treated someone with such a lack of respect? Can I really accept that I have behaved like that? (And perhaps it is myself that I have been so disrespectful of.) I do not need to analyse it, not even try to put it in words, though words may come to describe the experience. It is important that I do not keep re-running the movie in my head of what happened, which is often an attempt to re-frame it so that I can feel better about it. Can I sit with myself as I am, right now, with the pain, embarrassment, frustration, whatever it is?
This is “my” work, my part of the bargain. If there is anything that I “do”, then allowing myself to sit with myself, just as I am right now, is it. This is the catalyst. This is what will allow me to be transformed. But it is not me doing something to transform myself. I sit still with myself. That’s my job, whether sitting in meditation or going about my day. To be with myself as I am.
We are so used to figuring out how to fix things. The relief is that I don’t have to figure it out. Somehow the transformation happens. But only if I am willing to accept myself. Otherwise there is a turning away, a lack of trust, a closedness where I am being asked to open, to open my heart to myself. And If I can’t open my heart to myself, how will I ever be able to open it to others?
And it may well be that action is called for, but if I have done the work of self-acceptance, such action arises naturally and effectively. This is entirely different from being driven by the mind to take action without the deep acceptance that comes from meditation.