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The Challenge of Loving What Is

Loving What is

There are days, where it feels normal, to love what is. My energy is high, my mood is good, life simply seems wonderful. Everything is going my way. I feel elated, happy and content. My “loving what is” seems the result of my current situation. I am having “a good time”.

Do I love what is as a consequence of life being good? Is loving the result of good things happening in my life? It is like the sun has risen and bathes my world in a glow of brilliant light. It is simply the fact that I love feeling good. Neuroscience teaches us that certain hormones in the body are responsible for our feeling of elation, of zest for life, of positivity. These are the”happy hormones”1.

Or is it that life is good because I am in a state of loving life? Is my inner attitude of being in a loving space responsible for how I feel, and for how things work out for me? Maybe, I am simply in flow with whatever occurs in my life, with the circumstances that surround me. Then “loving what is” is an attitude to take if I want happiness in my life. This follows the principle of resonance. It is a way to create a sense of well-being, of happiness and contentment. If this is true then my feeling should not depend on whatever happens in life.

The question arises: To what degree am I the creator of my life? What is it in my life’s circumstances that I am responsible for and what is it that is outside of my will, outside of my control? How much can I “manifest” in my life?

Maybe, “loving what is” is both, the result of what happens in my life, and what I make of it. It is a useful attitude to take. Maybe it is the secrete to a positive life, to positive things happening to me.

As I think back over my life, I can recall moments of sheer bliss, of joy, of happiness, feeling content with myself and my life. My life force is high, I have lots of energy for living, life simply is wonderful.

Many years ago, I went to the movies and saw a film with the title “Life is Beautiful”2. To my surprise, it was not a movie that took place on a palm fringed tropical island, where everything grows abundantly, a place that we would call “heaven on earth”. It played in a most unlikely place of being considered beautiful. The scene was a concentration camp in World War II with prisoners and heavily armed guards.

Yet, this was not a very heavy movie. It was a sort of a comedy, shedding light into a dark place. I recall being uplifted and feeling hopeful about the resilience of the human spirit, when I saw how the main actor turned a sheer unbearable situation creatively into play for his young son. He made life to be beautiful in the most dreadful circumstances.

The year that the movie was made, 1997, was the year when Mirjam and I joined and formed a “conscious relationship” that lasted for 20 years and culminated in us getting married. Other highlights were working together, travelling the world, mainly in Asia, Australia and the Pacific, and finding a special place in a beautiful area of the Coromandel where we eventually moved to.

This uplifting time became something, I almost took for granted. I got used to having found “my soul mate”. The focus shifted more and more to mundane matters. There was a house to be built, a compost toilet and outdoor shower, a garden to be created in an area where possums are abundant. Slowly but steadily, it became harder to love what is. Life was full of ups and downs. There was the excitement of living in a beautiful environment combined with everyday worries. Eventually, the wonderful time came to an abrupt stop when Mirjam fell ill to cancer and subsequently died within a year. A beautiful time in my life had been tempered by normality and was then followed by despair.

Now, the idea of “loving what is” all the sudden is much more challenging. Can I love what is in difficult situations as well as in easy, positive situations? Can I love what is in neutral situations, rather than taking things for granted? Love it, not just to put up with it. Can I manage to love what is no matter what happens on the outside? This would mean to create an inner space of love inside of me that includes me and all around me, the trades people I am dealing with, as well as difficult neighbours, and the possums and the snails in the garden. Can I love the occasional mosquito and the sandflies? Can I love the rain as well as the sunshine?

As a consequence of losing my wife, my natural reaction was to disengage, to distract myself, so that I would not constantly feel the pain of the loss. I learned to close my heart, to cut myself off. This is typical for what has been called the first stage of the grieving process, the phase of denial and isolation:

“The first reaction to learning about the terminal illness, loss, or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,” people often think. It is a normal reaction to rationalize our overwhelming emotions.

Denial is a common defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions. We block out the words and hide from the facts. We start to believe that life is meaningless, and nothing is of any value any longer. For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.”3

To my surprise, the times of denial kept coming back. Whenever I think of my earlier life, I can go back into an unreality quite easily. It happens each time when I argue with reality and wished it was different, each time when I don’t accept what has happened. It is reassuring to know that this is a normal process of grieving. Grieving doesn’t happen in a straight line going from stage to stage in a linear fashion. It is messy.

In between, there were lighter moments that lifted my spirit. I felt a hunger for positivity in my life and was drawn to “positive” people, to people who would help lift my spirit. What soon became clear was that what they had in common was that they did not argue with reality, they befriended their reality, they looked for the positive in any situation and found a way of loving what is.

I rediscovered Byron Katie who wrote a book to the same title4. Her method, what she calls the work5 is focused on inquiry. Is it true what I tell myself? This inquiry is a way to find out that my suffering is not the result of what happens but of what I make it mean.

“This simple, yet powerful practice describes: “As we do The Work, not only do we remain alert to our stressful thoughts—the ones that cause all the anger, sadness, and frustration in your world—but we question them, and through that questioning the thoughts lose their power over us. Great spiritual texts describe the what—what it means to be free. The Work is the how. It shows you exactly how to identify and question any thought that would keep you from that freedom.”6

Therefore it becomes an inner experience, something that I actually have power over, something that is within “my circle of influence”7.

What is necessary for this empowerment process is the willingness to feel the uncomfortable feeling, to feel the pain, and experience its true and temporary nature. Important here is awareness to the present moment, a key aspect of Gestalt Therapy. As I become aware of how my thoughts contribute to my current situation, I gain more control of my life. I move from being a victim to being a creator. I might not have any control of what happens, but it is in my hands how I think about it.

Yet, this is not such a straight forward process, as it sounds. Even though, there is no benefit in fighting the fact, it is understandable when I do this. I give up living in the world and distract myself when it hurts too much. I close my heart and shut more or less down emotionally and try not to feel anything. When feeling is painful, I rather deaden myself. This is a quality that in particular men learn during their socialization, the way of denial, that could cost me my engagement with the world.

“When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”8 This sounds very logic and offers an invitation to surrender to living my life and to the process of living.

In situations where “loving what is” is not easy, I have mainly three options. One is to resign. There seems nothing can be done, as I capitulate. In resignation, I put my head in the sand. I don’t want to see. I feel like a victim of circumstances that I cannot control. What I notice is that my life energy contracts. I feel less alive. I can join the circle of complainers and moaners. I am the victim of the circumstances, that are beyond my control. Denial is a form of resignation. I am stuck, thinking about the past, of what should have been, wishing for things to be different. I live in a fantasy world, having left a tangible reality. I enter a mental construct that removes me from the present situation of the here-and-now. In denial, I numb myself and succeed to not feel, until my sedation wears off. This is a temporary relief.

I could also fight reality, “it shouldn’t be that way”, get angry with Mirjam for dying, with the possums for eating the fruit and breaking branches off. I could declare war, set up traps and poison them. I could even hate them, buy a gun and learn to shoot them. This is the fighting option. Usually, as I succeed in defeating a possum, trapping, poisoning or shooting it, I will most likely have a brief moment of relief. But this won’t last. There are far too many possums or snails to ever get on top of them. Fighting what is gives temporary relief.

The only constructive option is to align myself with reality. “Loving what is”. It is living with trust, that what happens needs to happen, exactly the way that it needs to. This is a process of surrender to the inevitable, to the “Will of God”. A saying comes to mind, “der Mensch denkt und Gott lenkt”. The equivalent in English is: “The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”9

Surrender is different from resignation.10 Resignation is a “giving up” and comes from a place of hopelessness, whereas surrender is filled with trust and confidence. It is based on trust in God, or in the universe. Trust that what needs to happen happens, and that what happens is the right thing to happen. Otherwise, it would not happen.

Say, for example, I want to skydive. First, I prepare well and make sure that there is a working parachute attached to me. Eventually, the moment comes when I have done all the preparation that I could do, and it is time for me to jump. This is a moment of surrender. Once I step out of the plane, I let go of my control. Actually, in this case I have no other option.

Life gets difficult, as soon as I get attached to a particular outcome. This is the source of suffering, according to the Buddhist teachings, as described in The Four Noble Truths.

“According to Buddhism, suffering arises from attachment to desires. These desires can vary from material objects, sensual pleasures or even your relationships. The reason desiring causes suffering is because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable.

Buddhism says that the only constant in the universe is change, and by desiring you are trying to control and make something fixed. Suffering will follow because you are going against the forces of the universe, which is what causes anxiety, depression and negative emotions.”11

In the end, change is the only constant there is in my life. After a period of extensive sunshine that caused dryness, I noticed that I looked forward to rain for the gardens to thrive. When it is hot, I look for shade and enjoy the coolness of the stream. But then, after extensive periods of rain and the ground being soaked, I begin to crave sunshine again.

A recepie for a life in misery is to always want the opposite of what is. When it is warm, you want cold, when it is cold, you want warmth, etc. If you want happiness you learn to accept and love what is.

It is easier said than done, and to put it into practice is one of the great challenges in life. What helps me is to know that in the darkest moment, there is a source of light. If I can find it depends on my attitude.

The big rain has stopped. Bright sunshine invites me to go outside and to face yet another beautiful day.

 

2Life Is Beautiful (Italian: La vitabe è bella, Italian pronunciation: [la ˈviːta ˌɛ bˈbɛlla]) is a 1997 Italian comedy-drama film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni, who co-wrote the film with Vincenzo Cerami. Benigni plays Guido Orefice, a Jewish Italian bookshop owner, who employs his fertile imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp. …

The film was a critical and financial success. It grossed over $229 million worldwide, becoming one of the highest-grossing non-English movies of all time,[4] and received widespread acclaim (despite some criticisms of using the subject matter for comedic purposes). It won the Grand Prix at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, nine David di Donatello Awards, including Best Film, and five Nastro d’Argento Awards in Italy, two European Film Awards, and three Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor for Benigni.

4Byron Katie, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life

6Ibid.

7Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

10See: John Kehoe, The difference between surrender and resignation, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrlGRiQkJgc

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