When I’m coping with a potential limitation, I think one of the hardest parts is not really knowing if I’m “trying hard enough” or if there’s still something more that I can do to make things better. For example, a year ago my rheumatologist told me that my chronic joint paint was the result of hyper-mobile joints and that there was nothing I could do about it. Hyper-mobile joints are subject to more wear and tear and that’s just the way it is. I’ve stopped running and I may never be able to safely do a yoga or dance class again. I’ve still spent the last year diligently doing pilates in the hopes of compensating for my hyper-mobility with strength. It has provided some relief but I know that there’s only so much that it can help. I am terrified of the day that my progress plateaus but, eventually, I will have to recognize and accept the limits of my body. This realization is so hard and so painful. It is deeply painful any time we have to come to terms with our limitations but resisting acceptance eventually starts to compound suffering.
Buddhists describe suffering as pain times resistance. A popular metaphor for resistance and suffering is an individual in a cage with no exit screaming hysterically and rattling at the bars in the hope of getting out. In essence, this person is causing themselves more pain and suffering by trying to control something that they have no control over. They are not getting out no matter how much they kick and scream. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with determination or hope. I am talking about how we respond to situations when we have exhausted the options and ourselves in our search for a solution and the difficult process of determining when it might be worth letting go. It seems like we often can’t know whether or not it’s possible to get out of the cage. Even when I’ve exhausted all the options, I still find it hard to let go of the idea that their might be something that can create a change or improvement. So what does a person do in these situations? Maybe we just have to weigh the costs and benefits of continuing to pursue change? How much suffering are we causing ourselves and how likely is it that our efforts will be futile? These are very difficult questions with no single right answer.
However, I do think it’s valuable to remember that choosing to pursue acceptance over change is not necessarily a submission to defeat. In the Shambhala meditation community, the development of one’s meditation practice is considered the path of the warrior. This is because finding peace and acceptance amidst pain, illness and all of life’s other difficulties is its own act of war. It’s a war against the habits we use to take us out of the present and to run from our fears.
This important to remember in our pursuit of self-compassion and self-acceptance. These acts are not for the faint at heart. I believe that self-compassion and acceptance is an act of courage, especially in our culture where self-criticism and constant self-improvement is so highly valued. So next time you start to push yourself beyond you limits out of anger or self-judgement, remember that being present with ourselves in a compassionate and accepting way is the path of the warrior.