Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Life in Four Words

On Sunday the pastor spoke of sitting around with some clergy buddies over breakfast, trying to articulate the essential message of the whole Bible. (I don’t know about you, but this is not my usual topic of conversation at the breakfast table. I am more typically engaged in deep conversation about whether my daughter is pleased with the way her hair looks before she goes to school.)

So here it is–the essential message of the whole Bible. Wake up. Grow up.

Wake up, meaning: See the world as it really is. Grow up, meaning: Accept life on its terms and not your own.

Wow, I thought. The whole Bible in four words. (To think I spent an entire year reading it from cover to cover.) And then I thought, this is really the essential message of Buddhism, too, at least as I understand it. And isn’t this really what I learned from all those years in therapy? Clearly, these four words have wider application.

Wake up–see the world as it really is. What would our lives be like if we were awake? Buddha means “the awakened one.” Here is my favorite story about Buddha.

One day, soon after Buddha’s enlightenment, a man saw Buddha walking toward him. The man had not heard of Buddha, but he could see that there was something different about the man who was approaching, so he was moved to ask, “Are you a god?”

Buddha answered, “No.”

“You’re a magician, then? A sorcerer? A wizard?”


“Are you some kind of celestial being? An angel, perhaps?”


“Well, then what are you?”

The Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

A Course in Miracles says in the introduction, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”

The Tao Te Ching says:
He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.
Why is this so?
Because he has no place for death to enter.

From Plato’s theory of shadows to the present day, we are intrigued with the idea that what we spend most of our time reacting to as “reality” is not true reality. For example, the idea that we are separate from one another is born of fear rather than truth. When we wake up, we realize that there is nothing to fear because we are all united at our deepest energetic (soul) level.

Grow up–accept life on its own terms and not your own. Recovering alcoholics know all about growing up. It is the essence of the serenity prayer used in 12 step programs. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is also a great prayer for control freaks. I’ve used it more than a few times myself.

Accepting life on its own terms is the key to release from suffering according to the four noble truths of Buddhism. We suffer because we want things to be different, and we base our happiness on whether we can make them different. For example, I wanted my son James to be not autistic. And indeed that desire caused me a lot of suffering over the years. We hold our happiness hostage to “if only....”

In her book Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach says, “Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is. A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom.” Accepting life on its own terms frees us from so much pain.

Wake up. Grow up. Maybe I don’t need ten steps to find my happy place after all. Maybe I just need these two.

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