With a Heart for Any Fate
Getting to “Acceptance”
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“The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their past deeds. Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try how hard you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to stop it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.” — Ramana Maharshi
“Suffering is due to non-acceptance.” — Nisargadatta Maharaj
“You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the Now.” – Eckhart Tolle
It happened over a cup of coffee with my brother-in-law Suresh Boddapati in Starbucks of Banjara Hills, Hyderabad. Over the past week or so, I had been discussing with Suresh some philosophical ideas and concepts, as we often do, on this visit of his to India, and the topic of “acceptance” and “living in the now” came up. Initially, the discussion veered around, with me raising various objections as to why I did not find “acceptance” acceptable as I was not getting a handle on that concept. One objection I raised was, “Does acceptance mean we do not do anything about the situation we find ourselves in? Is acceptance a passive way of being?” He said, “No, acceptance does not mean you do not plan for the future and take action accordingly. What it means is that you are doing that from a place of acceptance, that is, without mental agitation and agony over the current situation you find yourself in.” Cracks were beginning to develop in my resistance to getting to acceptance.
Then a few days later as we were sitting in Starbucks and sipping coffee it suddenly dawned on me that acceptance and living in the now were great concepts and they started to make sense. Perhaps what triggered the shift in understanding were the answers that Suresh gave to these questions that I posed to him: “Suppose you were a prisoner of war, say in Abu Ghraib prison, and were being tortured. Would you still be in acceptance in that scenario?” Suresh replied as a matter of factly, “Well, what choice would I have other than to accept and bear the physical pain. But mentally I would not suffer because I would be in a state of acceptance because by being in a state of non-acceptance I would be adding another layer of mental suffering onto the physical pain.” I persisted and asked, “What if you lost your job and could not find another job and so were forced to become homeless?” Suresh replied, “Well, in that case, again, what choice would I have other than to accept and adjust to being homeless and figure out whatever it is that homeless people do to get by.” Those replies of his did it for me, in that, I saw at once that if acceptance made sense even in a state of being tortured or homeless then it has to make sense in every other scenario and circumstance or life situation you find yourself in. I was almost readying myself to say, “Life, bring it on.”
Over the next day or so, as I mulled over that conversation with Suresh, the following became clear to me: Stress, worry, anxiety, fear, despair, dread, and unhappiness are symptoms of non-acceptance of “what is” or the present moment, and symptoms of not living in the Now but in the past and future. Realising that these negative states do not change “what is” or what will be and merely cause suffering one sees the sanity in acceptance and living in the now. Of course, acceptance and living in the now do not mean that if there is some action you can take to see if you can better the situation in some way you should not. Only thing is acceptance and living in the now means such action is not accompanied by unnecessary and futile thinking and mental commentary in the form of stress, worry, anxiety, fear, despair, dread, and unhappiness. You see, acceptance and living in the now calms down the frenzied and incessant thinking, and in that stillness, the inner intelligence operates and guides the mind to deal with “what is” and hence right action ensues appropriate for the present moment. Non-acceptance of “what is” is self-created suffering.
Stress, worry, anxiety, fear, despair, dread, and unhappiness do not contribute to positive outcomes in the future; if anything, they contribute to negative outcomes in the future. Not only that, but they also ruin the present. So, it makes sense to dump them at once by getting to acceptance of the present or “what is’. The constant expectation of a desired outcome in the future generates stress, worry, anxiety, and fear as to whether it will come to pass or not. But “a heart for any fate”, or in other words, acceptance, eliminates them. And you need to have “a heart for any fate” because when the fate comes to fruition in some future present you have no choice but to face it and any amount of stress, worry, anxiety, fear, despair, dread and unhappiness at that time, which is non-acceptance, is not going to change the situation and is merely going to ruin that present without contributing anything positive toward future outcomes. That is why Ramana Maharshi says, in the quote at the beginning, the best course is to remain silent (that is, cut off thinking in the form of stress, worry, anxiety, and fear) in the face of predetermined fate, which amounts to acceptance of any fate that befalls us – not doing so only adds to the suffering without changing the course of future events.
How does acceptance tie in with living in the Now? Non-acceptance means your mind will be thinking in the form of regret, stress, worry, anxiety, and fear, and what are they but synonymous with living in the past or future. Acceptance at once cuts off such thinking and leads to a still mind, and thus you find yourselves grounded and attuned to the now. And when, thus, you get to acceptance and living in the now, you reach a state of inner calm and peace. In that state whatever you do will be in a state of “flow”. When you function in life with such acceptance and living in the now you are basically surrendering to “what is” or what life brings to your doorstep, and what is that but living in surrender to God’s will. And surrender, as Ramana Maharshi pointed out, is one of the two paths that lead one to enlightenment or self-realisation, the other path being self-enquiry.
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