Simply see things the way that they are
“Right now, it’s like this” - a phrase said to come from the Theravada teacher Ajahn Sumedho, is an invitation to accept and explore what is present. At the same time, it clearly suggests that whatever is, is just for now. ‘It’ - whether good or bad - will not stay this way; impermanence, as they say, is hard at work!
Originally, Gautama Buddha taught about ‘Thathata’, the just-like-this-ness of experience, a way of life beyond our preferences and preoccupations, of our ingrained habits of eagerly reaching out for what we want and fiercely pushing against what we don’t.
The more conditions we set for our happiness, the more expectations we have about how people should be or how things should turn out, and the more frustrated and disoriented we feel when life doesn’t meet those conditions. At such moments, when we remind ourselves of this phrase, we are encouraged to simply see things the way that they are, opening ourselves to accepting and responding, rather than reaching for or resisting something.
The quality of acceptance, however, can be grossly misunderstood. Acceptance is not about allowing anything at all to occur or to go on, it is not related to passivity and weakness, nor is it about conformity or mediocrity. In no way does it imply “Oh, it’s like this. Nothing can be done,” about injustice or abuse.
The basic dictionary meaning of acceptance is ‘the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered.’ What is offered can be a gift or a challenge; in either case we are taught to reject both extremes of immediate clinging or immediate avoidance.
When the ‘don’t like, don’t want’ stuff hits, a simple, useful and practical exercise is Kristin Neff’s three-step process of extending compassion towards oneself. First, you place both hands gently over your heart, pause, and feel their warmth and light pressure. You could also put your hand any place on your body that feels soothing and comforting, like your abdomen or face. Then simply breathe deeply in and out a few times.
Feeling yourself beginning to calm down, you tell yourself these short phrases: ‘This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is a part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment and give myself the compassion I need’.
You don’t have to remember these words precisely – just understand why you are saying them. And keep the phrases brief; don’t wallow!
The first phrase is designed to bring mindfulness to the fact that you are in pain. If ‘I’m having a really tough time right now,’ works better for you, that’s fine. Just acknowledge it to yourself honestly, sidestepping misery or heroic denial. The second phrase reminds you that this is part of shared human experience.
You could also say, ‘Everyone feels this way sometime.’ And the final phrase firmly sets your intention to be self-compassionate. Understanding this, you might use words such as ‘May I give myself the same compassion I would give to a good friend.’
While you compassionately embrace where you are at this very moment without struggle, you also realise the impermanence of these feelings and circumstances.
This simple act - of acknowledging the distress of the current moment and of not dealing with yourself with either self-pity or anger, but with compassion - frees you to handle such situations much more effectively than you otherwise would have done. Then you can figure out whether to wait, to ignore or to act.