A minister was giving what I call an “audition sermon” at a church, in hopes of being called as their pastor. After the sermon, members of the congregation were invited to ask questions. Like many churches, this one was becoming smaller and grayer as the members aged. One person asked the minister what he would do to “grow” the church. He responded, “That depends on what you are willing to risk. Everyone like you is already here.”
This is true for many of us in our individual lives as well. We seek the comfort of familiarity – with people, events, ideas, beliefs. We shun whatever causes us discomfort. Pause for a moment and consider what might fall in that category. Take an honest inventory. Something might surprise you.
For example, I found that in certain circumstances, I was more concerned by what other people think than I realized. Even more, I was concerned by what I thought they might think. Since I generally see myself as someone who boldly marches to the beat of my own drum, I felt a little disappointed. That disappointment also caused some discomfort. I can also get impatient with people who do not behave the way I think they should. And I can feel awkward, and sometimes envious, around people who have what I describe as an “artist’s eye” on the world, a perspective that often seems mysterious and incomprehensible to me.
My list can go on indefinitely, but what all these things have in common is that they create in me a sense of unease, dissonance, misalignment, distress – sometimes insignificant and hardly noticed, sometimes overwhelming and threatening.
They are all on the edge, or beyond the edge, of my sphere of acceptance. We mistakenly believe that if we can exclude those things from our sphere that cause us discomfort, we can rest in peace within our safe boundaries. But this is what I’ve found. None of those rejected things actually cause my distress. It is the rejection itself that is the problem. It is my struggle with reality, trying to make reality conform to my desire, that creates the conflict that disturbs me. And a struggle with reality is always doomed to failure. Every time.
So what happens if I stop defending the borders of my sphere and instead allow my sphere to expand to include whatever arises in my awareness? Nothing is denied. Go back to my list. Can I allow within my sphere my occasional concern with what other people think? And my related self judgment? Can I accept that I am sometimes impatient or awkward? Can I recognize my absence of control over what other people think or say or do? And my attendant frustration? If I’m unable to embrace what I reject, can I embrace my rejection?
Expanding our sphere of acceptance to include what is, as it is, doesn’t mean we like everything. In fact, our dislike and can be within our sphere too. It just means that we are not denying reality. And that is when true peace is possible.
A moment of radical acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom. ~Tara Brach