“We are at our most powerful the moment we no longer need to be powerful.”
–Eric Micha’el Leventhal
This time I have a little Zen story for you. Probably it is just that, a story. Nonetheless, there is a valuable and very practicable lesson to be learned. Don’t be too fast to dismiss it as just a wishful story. It doesn’t really matter, whether this story is true or not, it is a metaphor, so treat it like that. Look, to what to the story is pointing to!
“There was once a village in feudal japan with a small pagoda. Everybody was living peacefully until a power-hungry warlord from the south came, and plundered the village with his army. After the raid, everybody was commanded to come to the marketplace and kneel to the warlord and be subjugated. Who didn’t kneel to the warlord was threatened to be killed. Of course, everybody gave in, even the monks of the buddhist pagoda. Everybody except for the old zen master of the pagoda, he refused and stayed at the pagoda. When the warlord heard about that, he was furious. He took his men and marched in full battle armor to the pagoda to confront the audacious zen master. He found the zen master, sitting in the cherry tree garden, being relaxed and sipping some nice, hot tea.
The big, dangerous looking warlord squared up on the zen master and drew his sword. He was enraged that his authority and power was not being respected. So he shouted in the old mans face: “How dare you disrespect me? Don’t you see my soldiers and sword? I could kill you, without blinking an eye! So kneel to me!”
The zen master answered in a soft voice, his eyes lost in the waving cheery trees. His body resting in pure relaxation, except for the small smile in the side of his cheek,
“No. But do as you must, friend, for I can die without blinking an eye”
This is when the deeply surprised warlord realized, that he had no power whatsoever over the monk. His understanding of power was questioned profoundly and starting to crumble. Since the monk had no attachment to anything, not even his own life, there was nothing to use as leverage against him and the warlord left him with an overwhelming sense of wondering.
What happened here?
It seems like the balance of power is absolutely shifted towards the warlords side, but this is only so on the surface. Sure, the warlord could have killed the monk easily, but he wasn’t able to get the monk to kneel. The being of the monk was way beyond the warlords grasp. How is that possible?
Through acceptance of what is, you are no longer a slave to external circumstances, nor a slave of your own fears and pains.
Long before the warlord marched into town, the monk “found peace”. How? He accepted his own temporary nature. He got conscious of his own approaching death, the inevitable decaying of his frail body. And he accepted it fully. After the monk made peace with his death there was nothing left for him to fear. Paradoxically, through the fullest surrender, he was able to transcend the power of the warlord.
On paper the story sounds like a fairytale. In truth, the moment where the monk faced his death was probably a moment of great sorrow, terror and despair. An existential crisis with all of its annoying symptoms. Not a pretty thing in the eye of the beholder. But the monk walked through it and came out the other end renewed. From now on, he was totally free. Nothing could ever touch him, because even death was no longer a threat. Now, he could enjoy ever moment of his life without a drop of fear or longing for more, because if you don’t even take your life for granted, every moment becomes a gift.
Moral of the story:
Our usual approach against a intruding power, is fighting back. We try to counter force with force. We try to overpower the power, that tries to overpower us. This has its place. I am not telling you, that you should from now on, walk through life as a helpless victim. But there are situations in life, where there is nothing you can do. Some shit is just out of your control. These are the moments when acceptance and surrendering comes into play. Through brave surrender you regain control and dignity. The monk had no power to defend himself against the warlord, but through acceptance of his death, he was no longer a slave to the fear of death. Hereby he disarmed the warlord and death itself.
Detachment and acceptance give you freedom and peace. The acceptance of death is a very stark example and you probably don’t want to start there. Start with little things. Notice, how acceptance is not a passive, victim-like approach to life. It is the bold and brave embrace of what is. It is choosing to be happy, while knowing that life can be cruel. Here are some easy examples of applied acceptance:
You got a 20 bucks speeding ticket? Accept it, playfully call yourself a moron for going to fast and never think of it again.
You mess up a job interview because you said something really dumb? Accept it, laugh about the stupid thing you said, get a new interview somewhere else and never think of it again.
Now for some hard ones:
Your cat gets run over by an asshole. Accept it! Accept the pain, sorrow and hatred and let yourself feel it. Accept that there are a lot reckless people in this world and that you can’t change that. Wish your cat a playful afterlife in cat heaven and move on. No one gets anything from you clinging to your negative emotions longer than necessary. Be careful, I am not saying, that you should move on with life, as if nothing happened. If your cat dies, you will be sad. This is okay. Feel the sadness fully, but after you felt it, wish it goodbye and let it go.
The business you have been building for the last 3 years goes bankrupt, because the market collapses and you didn’t see it coming. You lose a lot of money and feel like you have wasted thousands of hours of hard work. If you are entrepreneurial-minded this one really stings. Accept it! Accept that the market is out of your control. Accept that you are not the best business guru in the world and that you didn’t see the signs of the declining economy. Accept that humans make mistakes, and especially accept that you make mistakes! Feel the self blaming, the depression and the helpless anger. Feel it fully and but then wish it goodbye and let it go.
With this formula every tragedy, how heart-wrenching it might be, can be overcome in a healthy and empowering way.
The best way to practice acceptance is daily meditation. I consider meditation the most important and most effective habit, to set yourself up for a good, well lived life. I have written a comprehensive beginners guide about meditation, how it is done, and what enormous benefits await you, go read it!
Thanks for reading!
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Here are some more links, to articles I deem very important for life. Go check them out!