At a meditation class last week, I was paired up with a young man for a time of sharing reflections. He told me this story.
When he was 19, he joined the army. During basic training, the drill sergeant would find some mistake every day and make his group do push ups as a consequence. Maybe a bed was not made properly, or shoes were not polished, or someone was a a nanosecond too slow in obeying an order. Every day they would strive mightily for perfection. Every day they would fail, and drop to the ground in frustration and despair to perform their punishment.
Finally, he realized that the point of this pattern was not the daily mistake; the point was the daily push ups. The drill sergeant was always going to find some excuse for push ups. He accepted the inevitable. There will be push ups. Every day. No matter what they did or didn’t do. He began to view the push ups not as punishment but as exercise. Difficult exercise, yes. But exercise that was a required part of their training.
The push ups were the same, but his experience of the push ups changed. He said that he suffered less than others in his group who continued to struggle to attain that magic perfection that would avoid the ordered push ups.
Our conversation generalized to life’s basic training. We strive for an ever elusive perfection that will avoid challenge, disappointment, distress, heartache. If I learn to meditate better, I will always be peaceful. If I practice martial arts long enough, I will never be afraid. If I pray hard enough, my prayers will be answered according to my wishes. If I love strongly enough, my heart will never be broken.
But here is life’s reality. There will be push ups. I will be fidgety during meditation. I will be frustrated when I don’t handle situations as well as I would like. I will be embarrassed by something that was misunderstood. I will be disappointed when I hoped for something different. I will be sad when I lose something important to me. I will be angry when I perceive being wronged.
Yes, there will be push ups. I can struggle to avoid them but I will fail. Or I can see them as a part of life, weaving them into a tapestry full of experiences and opportunities. I can embrace all that life brings me.
A moment of radical acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. ~Tara Brach