I was reading a piece that introduced me to the early days of Arnold Schwarzenegger in America before his foray into movies. He would take these odd jobs to make ends meet. Some of these jobs included lifting wooden crates, clearing construction debris, handling tough crowds as a bouncer, etc. Although he did these things without complaint, his employers felt apologetic about him having to do mostly unglamorous jobs. But, he would simply respond with:
It is alright. I am doing what I came here to do. Every time I have to talk to someone, I get to practice my English and enjoy how strong it already is. Every time someone is aggressive, I get to practice my patience. Every time someone is upset, I get to practice my kindness. It is all strength training to me.
When asked if he ever needed a break from all this “training”, he disagreed and said how every other way to live was harder.
As humans, we naturally tend to gravitate towards pleasure and veer away from pain. We look for pleasant moments and avoid the unpleasant ones in our lives. We even go to great lengths to make this happen. We’ll do anything to seek comfort and convenience in order to avoid going through discomfort. The latter may not be a bad thing after all, but more on that later. The world conditions us to seek a life of comfort and stability, but that is not what we truly seek. We say we look forward to doing things in the future or we may hold on to moments from our past. In either case, we miss the present moment for what it is.
How often do we try to force things to happen? We try to create certainties in our everyday situations and when things don’t turn out the way we intended them to, we find ourselves disappointed with our expectations unmet. The more we seek control, the more we tend to lose it. Control is but an illusion.
Why do we force things to happen that are outside of our purview? Why don’t we let things take their natural course? Why do we fight our situations? Why do we resist change when impermanence is the only thing that is permanent?
When we keep resisting situations or people, it gets harder to live our lives, lest we forget the obstacle is the way forward. There is no escaping it. It’s (relatively) easier to deal with the challenges in our life head-on, rather than live in denial about it. While it might be difficult to deal with the situations in the short term, the latter approach will sap our energy and leave us drained. That’s the last thing we want.
As you can see, the alternative is much harder. Rather than trying to make things happen or to resist, we would be better served if we accepted every moment for what it was rather than wanting it to be X or Y outcomes. Acceptance is a huge part of embracing the moment.
If you think about it, we only ever have two options: we can either embrace this moment or resist. But, do know, whatever we resist will persist. To resist things is futile. It only makes it harder for us to be. The only real choice we have is to accept each moment willingly for what it is. It’s easier to swim with the tide than against it.
In my own life, I’ve had a hard time dealing with my parents — mostly due to the disparity in our values, amongst other things. For instance, my father is set in his own ways. Every now and then, I would allow myself to get stressed because of something he might have said. I was being resistant to listening to his unsolicited advice. Even though I’m still not a fan of it, what I’ve come to realize of late, is I need to accept my parents for who they are, rather than concern myself with who they are not. If they wish to give me advice (whether I ask them or not), that’s their prerogative. There is no need for me to feel unease because of it. I can always choose to take it or leave it without hurting their feelings. Rather than expecting them to change, I can always work on myself. Now, I think about it in terms of the virtues I get to practice in those situations such as kindness, empathy, and compassion.
Listening to (but not necessarily accepting) other people’s opinions and advice allows you to understand their perspective without having to agree or disagree with them. Embracing others’ opinions is a part of embracing and accepting each moment for what it is. Rather than trying to long for pleasant moments or running away/ignoring unpleasant ones, we should live in each moment fully in order to experience and learn from it. When you are in the moment, you are at peace. There is no yearning for something. There is no judgment or resistance involved either. You don’t “look forward” to something because you’re content with this moment. Nor are you actively seeking to avoid it. While you may have things planned for your day/week, you are in the here and the now. The moment is all we have and it’s all we ever need. How we choose to live each moment affects how we live out the rest of our lives.
In the aforementioned piece, we are reminded that sometimes an unpleasant moment is as good as a pleasant one, if not better. There might be learning involved and where there’s learning, there’s a chance for growth. While the struggle is the point, it’s only a means to improve in our service of others. Life is not about self-actualization, but self-transcendence, but that’s a draft for another day.
Here are some ideas about embracing the moment.
We have all had moments where we felt impatient, less empathic than we would have liked to be, etc., and as a result, our response has been less than great. Think about the virtues you get to practice — particularly in these unpleasant moments. Reframe how you think about your response from “having to” do something versus “getting to” practice a virtue. For instance, we can use this template as a response when we come across an unpleasant moment: “It is fine. I get to do X (practice kindness, be more patient, practice empathy, etc.), and enjoy how strong it already is.”
Peter Marshall said:
When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.
In order to embrace every moment, we need to stop holding on to unpleasant situations from our past. I wrote earlier:
We need to stop holding on to negative thoughts from our past (involving people and/or situations). It’s only by keeping ourselves light, can we be prepared to die any moment. It’s only then we are free to live every moment.
Every time we resent something, we need to pause and ask ourselves why aren’t we at peace with it? It’s likely there is some part of us that is unable to accept it for what it is, thereby creating an emotional response within. Here’s what I wrote earlier:
Acceptance is naturally accompanied by contentment because you are never questioning any circumstance or anyone’s behavior because you are contented with them. As such, you are contented with yourself too.
Writer David Cain reminds us that all moments have equal value. Rather than using force to make things happen, we can stop holding on to our expectations. We can stay detached from the outcome of things and focus on the process instead. We need to learn to stop seeking control of our situations. Ironically, it’s only when we stop trying to control the situations in our lives are we more likely to influence them.
The more we resist things, the more we will hold onto them, and the more we enslave ourselves to them. The more we are able to accept everyday situations, the more we will be able to let go, and the freer we will be. Freedom comes from acceptance, not resistance.
When we stop resisting people and situations in our lives, we see the world in a whole new way out of acceptance, love, and compassion. We accept each moment for what it is and experience it fully and without expectation. Remember, no matter how each moment turns out, we always have the ability to respond and to experience the next moment.
We are always going to have this moment in front of us. The question is if we are going to be fully here. We can learn to treat all moments the same. That way we are not driven by the outside. No matter what happens outside, we are at peace inside. We need to be at peace with ourselves, and until we do so, we can’t be at peace with the outside world.
We need to accept our situations for what they are because the alternative is much harder. We can always focus on what we can do. No one can take our will away from us unless we choose to give it away. It’s only when we can accept situations for what they are can we begin to do something about it.
Life consists of setbacks — big and small ones. Every setback is an opportunity for us to practice a virtue because every other way to live is harder. Life is full of moments — pleasant and unpleasant ones. But if we can remain equanimous to whatever life throws at us, we will always remain centered. We will treat both pleasant and unpleasant moments the same way.