Ana: I have a question which came to me after last night’s class. You keep saying that we have to accept life and the events in our life as they are, and try to change our perception of them…
Carlos: What I am saying is that there is no ‘life’ or ‘events’ outside of our perception. Every ‘event’ I see is no other than my perception. ‘Life’ and ‘events’ do not exist on their own, but only as manifestations of my way to perceive them.
But it is nearly impossible to understand this if we are continuously fighting with life, not accepting what is, trying to change what we see to fit our own needs, etc.
So, before we can actually understand that the ‘life’ and ‘events’ we see outside are no other than our own thoughts, we need to somehow come to a place of peace and understanding with what happens. So, trying to accept what is, to embrace what appears, is a very necessary preliminary step to see that all there is consists of our perception of the world, and that by changing our perception, we change the world.
Ana: I can totally understand that and I can even do that from time to time. I mean, stepping back a bit and seeing what happens from a different perspective.
Carlos: Good. Now, in order to be able to do this on a regular basis—to be able to step back and examine my own perception (which actually means to challenge my own perception)—requires a very awake, quiet, receptive mind, and if the mind is busy fighting with what is, examining my own perceptions becomes almost an impossible task.
This is a wonderful yoga exercise you can practice anywhere, anytime: Love what is. Change anything that can be changed but, love what is.
Ana: What I find more difficult is when these events are people and these people (e.g. mother, husband and close acquaintances) do things on a repetitive basis which upset me. I tell them that ‘that way of doing something’ upsets me and doesn’t help me at all but they still continue in that manner. How should I perceive that? It’s not about controlling the people around me and doing things my way but basically it’s about being receptive to the other person’s needs.
Carlos: The question you ask, ‘How can I perceive that?’, is a wonderful question! It means you are already understanding that our perceptions are not sealed in stone, and that they can be changed! This understanding is the beginning of real inner change. For most people, whatever they see is the truth and to doubt their perceptions means to doubt their individuality. That is why it is so difficult to change, because although the way we see the world creates so much suffering, we are very attached to it, and don’t want to let it go. But the understanding that the problem is not in what I see but in the way I see what I see is the beginning of freedom.
Coming more specifically to your question, you say: ‘What I find more difficult is when these events are people and these people (e.g. mother, husband and close encounters) do things on a repetitive basis which upset me.’
The upset appears not because of what they do, but because you believe that they should not be doing what they do. It is a subtle difference, but a very important one. The upset is in your belief and not in their act.
But that belief can be questioned.
To start with, according to your belief, they should not be doing what they do, but the fact is that they are doing it. And for anything to happen there is a reason for it. Sometimes that reason is known, sometimes it is not; sometimes the reason makes sense, sometimes it does not, but either way, the reason/cause exists, and the fact that I don’t know it, or I don’t agree with it, does not make it less real.
So, the first thing to do is to see that they behave the way they do for some reason, and if the reason is there, then they have all the right to do what they do. Understanding this allows me to accept their behaviour instead of fighting with it.
Now, the problem is not that they do whatever they do. The problem is that I don’t like what they do. Here, I have two options.
1) The first one is try to change their behaviour, and here is where the previous step is SO IMPORTANT. If I try to change their behaviour with the belief that they should not be doing what they do, I will be confronted with lots and lots of resistance. But if I approach the situation with acceptance, with the understanding that they have their reasons for doing what they do, and that the real problem is not in what they do but in the fact that it bothers me, then the whole energy changes. My whole way of talking to them changes and so, instead of resistance, I may find openness. And it is only in openness where real change is possible. (But to do this, to turn my eyes inside instead of outside, to see myself instead of seeing the other person, is a long process of investigating my own attitudes. It is not an easy job, but it is a wonderfully rewarding job.)
Now, the thing is that even if I have all the understanding in the world, it is still very possible that I will no be able to change people. I can barely change myself (if you are sincere with yourself you will see how difficult it is to change anything in yourself) and so I cannot expect to change another person. All I can do is to try.
If, after you try to change the behaviour of what you don’t like, you see that nothing changes, then we can go to the second part.
2) You take anything that you cannot change as an aspect of what life has to be at this particular moment and you deal with it internally, in your mind, no different from the way you deal with bad weather, or a flat tire, or a bad hair cut, or a broken leg, or an earthquake. What can you do about it? Yes, you can complain about it to infinity, or you can just see it for what it is, something beyond your powers, something that is, something that, for known or unknown reasons has to exist; and so, you embrace it, and then you just keep living your life to best of your possibilities, to the best of your understanding.*
And every time the problem returns (which will return whenever you are confronted with the uncomfortable situation) you keep coming back to your understanding: first I accept; then I try to change. And then, if the change does not work, I embrace what is. And I repeat this over, and over, and over until it becomes natural.
When this process becomes my everyday experience, then the problems disappear. There is only what is, and life IS what is. If we learn to stop fighting with life, then life becomes an amazing adventure, or, as Albert Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
* There is actually one more option, and this option is to leave. I didn’t mention this option so much because it does not seem to be related to your case. But in general, often people stay in unhealthy situations /relationships out of laziness, fear of loneliness or lack of understanding of how harmful those situations actually are. So, if that were the case, and one feels that there is no change after sincere efforts to change the situation, leaving—if possible—or at least diminishing one’s contact, should always remain an option.