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what does it mean to “accept things as they are”?

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Sometimes I get annoyed when I turn to someone with a personal conundrum, only to be told to “get over it.” What it sounds to me is that the thing’s not worth paying attention to and that I may be stupid to give it so much thought. At least that’s what the little voice of insecurity has me believe.

Tilopada (988–1069), the founder of a branch of Tibetan Buddhism, is credited with the line: “No thought, no reflection, no analysis, no cultivation, no intention; let it settle itself.” And the Heart Sutra, consisting of 16 sentences that summarize the essence (the ‘heart’) of Buddhist teachings, contains this stanza:

All things are empty:
Nothing is born, nothing dies,
nothing is pure, nothing is stained,
nothing increases and nothing decreases.

Throws a different light on my troubles, doesn’t it. It situates them not as stupid or unworthy of consideration, but as self-made and imagined. Sure, life’s path is studded with obstacles –illness, disagreements, disasters, war, old age, death, for instance — but things themselves are mere things, often random and without apparent cause, mostly beyond our control.

My young “get over it” friends may be closer to the truth that I (and even they) realize. Much of what I see as life’s difficulties is not inherent in life itself, but in the ways I react to its unfolding. Instead of scheming for ways to manage or overcome obstacles, I’m invited to seek their root causes inside — and beyond — my thinking mind. Sitting still and becoming aware of my breath will take me there. Along the way, as Ugo Betti assures us, “The torch of doubt and chaos, this is what the sage steers by.”

p.s. “My young friends” is code for a composite of people who subscribe to a “Do it!” (Nike slogan) attitude; perhaps it’s a generational thing. image: The Heart Sutra as a calligraphy practice at


12 responses »

  1. In my particular circumstance I learned prior to coming to Buddhisim that axiom the hard way. Knowing what I know now, however still doesn’t always make it easier. Getting over it is still not a knee-jerk reaction.

    • there’s plenty of resistance in me, Brian — going to “suffering” continues to be my default mechanism. and so practicing continues: “Though the bamboo forest is dense, water flows through it freely.”

  2. “get over it” sounds like being told to repress something. But the essence is not to repress something – repressing something is decidedly not paying attention to what is.

    Your good advice to me was always just to sit with it. ‘It’ being the emotional monkey mind of the moment. Don’t have to do anything. No judgment, no arguing with oneself, no striving for solution. Just settle in — but always paying close, watchful, attention as the train of thought goes by, noting where it goes but not getting on board. Things are easier to see if you look at them really carefully with no distractions. Seems to work for me.

    • Glad it works for you, arnie. Maybe that’s why I felt free to post what I did. Although my automatic response is to turn towards suffering, I’m learning (kicking and screaming) to seek the still point.

  3. Thank you for your warming advice. In these challenging times of suffering all over the world it’s a gentle reminder to come back to the no-thingness of the practice. And let it all be.

  4. mmm, i like what arnie suggests – without judgment just notice, pay attention. i believe when we label the experience as “painful” or “hurtful” or whatever word we choose, we then become attached to the story we create around those words. to notice an emotion as a feeling, with no name, is to acknowledge its existence and let it be so i can witness it. and yes, it is hard to do! the stories that we create in our minds are not always correct, yet we believe them!

    • so true, nancy. “without stories, there’s no me'” goes habitual thinking and much of ‘survivor’ discourse. i wrote an entire dissertation on “autoethnography” and know first-hand that psychotherapy is about telling and re-telling of stories. slowly, over time, many of them have become stale tales.

      • lol… i had forgotten about that – of course, very easy to be seduced by our story which we tell and re-tell ourselves.

        still, it is not to be believed as i now believe we make it up for our ego to be happy… very hard to ljettison of years of adept, interesting story telling

  5. “The torch of doubt and chaos, this is what the sage steers by.” I like this. I like this alot because it reminds us not to reject anything, including the doubt and chaos. Easy in a lovely line, a life time of practice to accomplish.

    • Carole, I added the Ugi Betti quote hours after posting today’s copy. Yes: doubts, chaos, suffering, bliss, emptiness …. the whole catastrophe. Thank you for drawing my attention even closer.

  6. With respect I offer this comment: “Get over it” is a flippant and annihilating response. When one is suffering and reaches out to a friend (to anyone, for that matter) I believe one is asking the most fundamental human question – asking to be recognized (“seen”) by another human being (who also suffers, but perhaps not at that precise moment). A compassionate response would be to listen and be present. You have shown this path many times in examples in your blog (Jan 24 for example).
    If your young friend’s response is a jumping off point to then reflect on “accepting things as they are”, so be it. But, perhaps also acknowledging the increased suffering inflicted by harmful speech comes closer to the heart of your anger, and reminds us all of the (difficult) practice of “right speech”.


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