I’ve been listening to an audio book version of ‘Radical Acceptance’ by Tara Brach. Tara is a very well known and respected teacher within the Buddhist Mindfulness tradition. I was introduced to her while taking an 8 week Mindfulness Meditation course about a year ago. In the book she tells the story of Mara and the Buddha. I was not familiar with this story but I think all Buddhists would be as it seems central to one of the fundamental aspects of Buddhism…acceptance.
Mara is a demon god and he tries very hard to tempt Buddha repeatedly with all kinds of provocative ideas and notions in an attempt to throw him off of his enlightenment journey. But Buddha’s response each time is simply to say “I see you Mara.” and invite Mara to tea as a welcomed guest. Tara illuminates how we can learn and use what the story teaches…to accept what ‘is’…to accept that it ‘is’…to even welcome it and in this act we can begin to diffuse the initial impact it may have on us.
The Difference Between A Visit And A Residency
Listening to Tara Brach describe the interaction of Buddha and Mara led me on an inner journey that has resulted in an interesting and simple exercise that has had some good results in terms of acceptance and regulating my emotions. I began to consider the implications of ‘a visit’. I saw in the story that the Buddha did not invite Mara to live with him, to take up residence, he invited Mara to simply visit. A visit has far different implications and feelings attached than does a tenancy or a residency. A visit implies a relatively short stay that has the sense of a definitive end in sight.
Here’s a thought experiment:
If someone, a relative perhaps, who you had difficulty being around, someone you just could not mesh with, someone who you’d had some awful experiences with in the past called and said to you “I need a place to live…I’d like to move in with you…” what would be your felt experience in that moment? The feeling in your head and in your chest…your breathing?
Compare that to the feeling of that same person calling and saying something like “I’m in town for a few hours and I’d like to come and visit for a half an hour at the most, okay?” For me there’s a HUGE difference in the meaning my body and mind make between those two scenarios. I might not enjoy the idea of a half hour visit but there’s a vast difference between the feeling I get from that and the idea of that same person staying indefinitely by taking up residence. A visit seems survivable at the very least.
And I think that’s what we often do when we’re struck with an unpleasant thought or feeling…it can feel like it’s demanding to take up residence…no timeline…just there until the end of time…forever!
So in the middle of the night when I awake and I’m restless I will say to myself something like “Hello worry (shame, uncertainty etc)…I see you…you look familiar…you’re welcome to come for a visit…you can stay for a little while, that’s okay…I’d like to hear what you have to say…”…and invariably I’m back to sleep within a much shorter time span than using my previous habit of trying to detach from the feeling and make it go away. It’s really pretty amazing.
I’ve also used this idea in the third person (like we’ve discussed here) and I will cast myself in the role of the visitor rather than the one being visited. "Hey Glenn…you really seem to like to visit worry (grief, sadness etc)…and that’s okay so have a little visit but you can’t stay too long…it’s just a visit…" That seems to work nicely too.
I’m practicing using this idea of ‘a visit’ more often throughout the day and not just at night which has so far been my habit.
I just thought I’d share this with the community with the thought that someone might take something worthwhile from it. After all, we are all just visiting…