Self-acceptance 4

John Lennon

‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans’ famously said by, amongst others, John Lennon. It’s hard not to be looking ahead – the next thing to be done – our sights seem so often on the future. The idea that something new will come into our lives can sometimes be what keeps us going. So, life is a series of partial fulfilments – I did this, and soon I’ll be doing that… and somewhere is the fantasy that the truly blissful and definitive stage will be the new one. We do not recognise what we have because we expect to be given something better. We search for more because it is hard to accept ourself and where we are in the present. And Christianity with the promise of the glory that is to come, may implicitly feed into this.

Almost all other spiritual traditions urge us to stay in the present moment – as does the contemplative Christian tradition. One of the wisdom stories of Mulla Nasruddin, a folklore character from the thirteenth century whose tales are told in a wide variety of regions and especially in the Muslim world, serves as an example here:

‘When Mulla Nasruddin reached his fifth birthday his mother organised a big party for him and his friends, with games and music. At the height of it all the small boy went to where his mother was standing, in charge of all the arrangements and feeling pride in the successful party and asked her plaintively: “when this is over, can we go out and play?”’

The point of the story is that the party is fine, great fun with wonderful games, happy people and lots to enjoy, but the child does not see this, and is thinking only of when it will be over, and the real fun will begin. The commentary from Carlos Valles is that then the real fun never begins.

‘When all this is over’ – ‘the game of life, which is the supreme game of creation, is going on before our very eyes, and we are bored and annoyed because we are waiting for another game … a succession of empty expectations.’

Of course, an analytic explanation of the story might look deeper at the underlying feelings of the small boy – ambivalence towards the all-controlling mother who is so proud of what she has organised, leads the five-year-old to attack her by his plaintive questioning. Similarly, for many, our inability to stay in the present and enjoy what we are currently experiencing can be easily undermined, and attacked by anxiety and uncertainty born from the past, about what might next happen to us and what we might have to cope with. Hypervigilance and deep-set fears can make it hard to live in the moment and accept who we are and what we have in the moment.

Nonetheless the ability to accept where we are in the present is in itself a spiritual practice. Valles gives a further example of someone running for a bus as a striking image of the mental distortion we suffer when we look only to the future to the detriment of the present. The person is intent on being where they are not and failing to be where they are. The person’s whole mind, desire and body focus on ‘that fleeting point in space where they long to be.’ Neither in the street nor on the bus the person belongs to neither – the person who is nowhere is not accepting and being him or herself – missing the present reality and present experience.