These apparently contradictory statements are at the heart of spiritual awakening, representing the two practices of release and acceptance.
“Neti, neti” is a Sanskrit expression from ancient Hindu texts. It can be translated as “Not that, not that.” It reminds me to not grasp onto my beliefs and opinions, my judgments and fears.
“This too, this too” is a phrase I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh, teaching me to accept what is, whether that is my circumstances or my feelings or yes, even those opinions and judgments.
I find that acceptance rather than resistance is what allows me to soften my grip and release whatever binds me. If I make a mistake, as I did recently, I can replay the situation endlessly, feeling worse and worse. But no matter how wise I am in hindsight about what I should have done, or wish I had done, I can’t change what I did. I try to deny, rationalize, justify, reframe, tell a different story – anything other than just acknowledging that I made a mistake. So now not only have I made a mistake, but I have created a story about it evoking feelings of shame, embarrassment, anger (at myself), and judgment.
So I quit fighting with reality and accept what happened, without embellishment. This too, this too. And I accept my feelings of regret and sadness. This too, this too.
Everything is workable, everything becomes my teacher, everything has a place in my life.
And when I can accept my circumstances and myself, as is, the thoughts that torment me begin to fade. I can see through them. They are not real. Neti, neti. They do not bind me. They have no power over me. They no longer separate me from others. I need not defend my position, nor impose my views. I don’t need to be right. Not that, not that.
Harmony is restored.
Years ago when I was in therapy, my therapist would respond to my frequent descriptions of how I had somehow fallen short, or not been my best, with a tilt of her head and a little smile. “Welcome to the human race,” she would say. I hated that. I held myself to a higher standard. Than being human? “And how is that working for you?” was another one of her standard lines. I hated that too.
But now I am older, and if not wiser, certainly more tired. Too tired to struggle against what is. Too tired to pretend. Too tired to carry the heavy baggage of a lifetime of judgments and failings. Too tired to do anything other than the best I can do in this moment.
What a relief.
No wonder sages are most often portrayed as old … or as Yoda.