Accept everything just the way it is
“Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness.” — Eckhart Tolle
Standing on the front porch of my employer’s home we watched the hail coming down, slamming into the orchard and ruining the apples that were his livelihood. Hail destroys the fruit; it makes the apples unsalable for the high-end market so after any significant hailstorm all of the unpicked fruit in the orchard has to become juice. Unfortunately, juice apples get such a low price that the return may not cover the year’s operating costs, all of which in this instance was on loan from the growers’ co-op. It was a dire situation.
I stood there next to my boss as the relentless hail showed no signs of letting up. I was angry that the crop been lost and let it be known. My boss, on the other hand, was silent and ignored my outrage. After a bit he shrugged his shoulders, looked at me, and said, “What are you going to do?” That response made me even more upset. In addition to raging against what nature was doing I was suddenly mad that he was not mad. His gaze still fixed on the storm, my boss ignored my invitation to dance with the anger saying, “There’s nothing to be done but start to get the most out of what we have left.” I was stunned by his stoicism.
I’d been shown this lesson many times in life, but as a child and later as a teen it was difficult to understand how accepting things for just what they are can actually bring clarity to life. How accepting things makes the world simpler. But, I get that now. You see, when you accept things as they are, it allows you to step into reality. The veil of fantasy that most of us shield ourselves with is torn into pieces and we can deal with things as they actually are, good, bad, or indifferent. The fact of the matter is that the world does not care about you or me, our hopes, our desires, or our dreams. And, the world of dreams, hopes, and desires that is constructed between our ears it is not necessarily a reflection of what is actually going on around us.
Musashi isn’t the only famous person to point out this fact. Marcus Aurelius spoke to it in his journal Meditations where he wrote, “If you are distressed by anything external the pain is not due to the things itself but your estimate of it.” That is some nice tight writing that deserves to be taken to heart. Let’s face it, however, it takes effort to see everything the way it is, a real active effort. Musashi was anything but a pushover. Removing the idea of what you want something to be verses what it actually is can be compared to crossing a river gorge. You have to put aside the imposition of your will, your ego, and your desire to see something for other than what it is in order to have any chance of getting across the chasm.
It is a distortion to attempt to see anything for other than what it truly is. Sometimes this distortion is considerable, other times insignificant, but it is a distortion all the same. This is similar to the anthropomorphisms of animal behavior that most folks mistakenly believe. Animals work on instinct, not logic or higher reasoning, but we don’t always look at their behaviors that way. For instance, what we may see as a cute way of showing that they love us that’s not what’s actually going on, it is truly something else entirely.
Think of a cat rubbing up against your leg. “Awww,” you might say, “Kitty wants some pets.” What the cat is actually doing is rubbing its smell on your leg just like it would on a tree trunk. It’s not being cute; it’s marking its territory. We just think of that behavior as cute. Everything has its nature and making an effort to see that nature in its unvarnished glory allows for truth. Truth in turn makes for clarity, which leads to good decision-making. With clarity you can chart a true path and uncover means to a real understanding or resolution of even the most challenging issues that you face throughout your life.
I drove my son across the country to college recently. The trip took two days. After a while he became horribly restless in the car, “I can’t stand this anymore. This drive never ends! It needs to end… How are you doing this?” He looked at me intently trying to find out what the secret was, the reason I hadn’t also gone stir crazy being locked up in the car with him. Not taking my eyes off the road I replied, “To get from here to there takes this much time and it’s going to be this much time no matter how I feel about it so I’ve chosen to feel this way. Getting upset buys me nothing.”
He looked at me in frustration because my statement didn’t quite sort in his mind, but after a few minutes he decided to try to adjust to the reality of the long drive. After some more time, he actually began accepting things as they presented themselves. Soon he was in that simple place that allowed him to see the land, the sky, the cars we passed, and the funny billboards along the way. I watched as he began accepting the world as it was. And, I smiled, realizing that I was now in a more mature position myself. I had shown my son what my boss had shown me.
I have to agree with Musashi on this, as it really is the only way for a warrior, or anyone else for that matter, to live life. In fact, this precept reminds me of something co-authors Lawrence Kane and Kris Wilder wrote in The Big Bloody Book of Violence: The Smart Person’s Guide for Surviving Dangerous Times. In their excellent book, the pair wrote, “Be a realist. It is vital to see the world as it truly is in order to keep yourself safe. Test your assumptions regularly, learning from a variety of reputable sources to hone in on the truth. And, importantly, be willing to change your thoughts or actions if you discover that you were wrong.”
What “is” already is. That is the way it already exists. Refusing to accept the reality of the immediate moment is an exercise in futility, and something a warrior such as Musashi would refrain from attempting. Accepting everything just the way it “is” is simply being a realist, and as Kane and Wilder pointed out, a
vital ingredient to keeping yourself safe. I have no doubt Musashi would agree with the passage I quoted from the Big Bloody Book of Violence, as he had more than his fair share of bloody violence in his lifetime.
This does not mean one must accept that what “is” must remain as it is, however. Nor does it suggest that you cannot create your own destiny and future. But it does reflect on the fact that we can only live in the present moment. No change will ever occur in the past, and no change can ever happen in the future. Because when the future arrives, it will be “now.” The only actions we can take are now, and thus we should focus on the moment, not what may or may not be up ahead. I know this is getting a bit deep, and may feel esoteric, but realize that any future changes are caused by actions done in the now and are not realized until the future becomes the present. When you think about it this way, the only reasonable and practical thing a person can do is accept things just the way they are and live in the present moment to create future desired outcomes.
The acceptance of how things are really is a powerful concept, compounded when you fuse it with living in the present moment. Spencer Johnson actually wrote a short little book titled The Precious Present, which was later repackaged into the slightly longer The Present. In these works, Johnson shares how living in the present moment can make you happier and more successful, today. It’s not difficult for me to picture Musashi as the old man in Johnson’s story.
Accepting things the way they are is not passive. It doesn’t resign you to leaving things the way they currently are; it’s just accepting that that is how they are in the current moment. It’s a starting point in reality, which is a must to create a variation in an uncertain course of events. Your alternatives to acceptance are avoidance and denial, neither of which embraces the warrior philosophy Musashi sets forth in his precepts and writings. And neither of which lend to effecting a positive change for the future.
I wish Musashi had used the term “see” instead of “accept.” This simple change would make this precept into a statement that I could get 100% behind and say, “Yes, this is great advice.”
However, in our culture the idea of simply accepting things as they are is not always considered a good thing. For example, if the local, State, or Federal Government makes a law that has a powerful negative impact on us personally, then advice like this becomes hard to take. In our culture we are supposed to remind the politicians that they work for us, not the other way around. Grassroots activism would never have accomplished anything if this mindset of accepting everything just the way it is were widespread. There is still that fine line of not wanting to be a busybody, but I think the point is still clear.
Nevertheless, we can still ask the question of context. Did Musashi mean accept everything?
My instinct says no.
He wrote this for his number one student, and as such certain things were probably foregone conclusions or points that did not need to be stated explicitly. I feel confident in this assumption because between
myself and my longtime students, often things happen that seem like telepathy, but it is more truthfully a relationship that has reached a maturity where words are not necessary for full communication. A quick nod in the direction of some equipment in the room and the student who has been there for years will understand it to mean, “Go get that.” The unspoken statement in that question is surmised from the context of the lesson. I don’t need to tell them precisely which piece of equipment to bring, because they already know what I am asking for. They have been around long enough to be able to add two and two together. To a beginner, it may seem like a superpower, but it is just relationship.
We could and should assume the same holds true here. Not every detail needed to be spelled out.
In the example above regarding the political situation I described, simple acceptance is hard to do. But in a different context, say that of a self-defense situation, denial of circumstances or actions can be a very big problem. When things are about to go physical, you had better be seeing the situation as it is, and not as you think it should be.
When a person allows “why?” questions to roll through his or her mind, they are not acting in their own best interest. Why the guy is about to hit you is largely irrelevant when he is actually in the act of hitting you. It does not even compare in terms of importance to the fact that he is in the process of hitting you. Thoughts of “he wouldn’t dare hit/stab/shoot me” are also a denial of facts and are very clear examples of not accepting things as they really are.
A step down the ladder is when we not only do not accept what is, but create a fantasy of what should be and conduct ourselves as if this is how the world works. The more you allow yourself to live in the fantasy world of how things should be, the less aware you are of what is really going on in the world that is. To me, that is the lesson here. It is easy to color a situation with our own biases.
There is a phenomenon called confirmation bias, and it is the act of mentally taking note of and remembering only those bits of information that confirm our preconceived notions. Information that is conflicting with what we already believe is ignored so quickly that one could even say it happens without thought. Confirmation bias is a real problem because we do not even know that we do it.
For me then, this precept makes more sense if read as, “See everything just the way it is.” Do not cloud things with your personal biases or foregone conclusions. See things the way they really are, without judgment, without the pursuit of a desired end, and without games. See things the way that they really are so that you can conduct yourself accordingly. You will be happier, safer, and probably end up surrounded by people who love you and love being around you.
It’s a win-win!