Push Away Nothing: The Art of Receptivity
I received the weekly newsletter from UPAYA Zen Centre via email. It opened with a quote from Frank Ostaseski:
“The First Precept: Welcome everything. Push away nothing… At the deepest level, we are being asked to cultivate a kind of fearless receptivity.”
There is more to the quote and I encourage you to source the rest of it. “Push away nothing.” There was something freeing about that statement. It felt almost paradoxical. We tend to protect ourselves from the experiences and situations we deem bad, harmful, stressful, discouraging. There was a sense of liberation in his statement. I felt as though it contained a secret key. I have found over my years of spiritual seeking, that when I stumble across a paradox or a deeply contrary belief, I am usually stumbling onto something great.
“Welcome everything.” It wasn’t to say that I welcomed awful things. It was when I found myself fighting against what was happening, that I stopped and repeated the words, “Welcome everything.”
Fear keeps us from welcoming everything. There was a time I lived by the phrase, “The garbage you know is better than the garbage you don’t.” (Well, maybe I didn’t use the word garbage). What do we think is going to happen? And why do we assume it is less than what we have now? Perhaps it will be greater than we can imagine.
“Push away nothing.” I was starting a new venture with a dear friend and the timing of this new mantra was perfect. I took it into every challenge and situation that arose in the early stages of creating our vision and bringing our project to life. When conflict came, I welcomed it. When the workload grew, even though it was summer holidays and I had planned to be loafing around doing yoga in the garden and playing with the kids, I welcomed it. When I had to wait for others in order to move forward, I welcomed it. I pushed away nothing but something fell away all on its own. As I welcomed each and every circumstance, feeling and thought, struggle fell away. As I welcomed everything, everything became easier.
The new venture emerged with much work and little struggle. Finally, I made the time to enjoy an end of summer yoga class. The summer work and activity schedule had gotten the best of my back. I altered the poses. Rather than flow from up dog to down, I took an extra plank, reducing the movement in my spine. I lay on my back in a tense version of setu bhandasana, or bridge pose, mitigating back pain by squeezing my glutes tighter. I wondered why my back was in such a state after a long period pain-free. I wished the pain would go away so I could enjoy my practice.
“Push away nothing.” The mantra found me on my mat. I released my glutes and my tension. “Welcome everything.” I breathed deeply into my back and the discomfort. I moved through the remaining practice with breath and mantra, welcoming the state of my body and the opportunity to gently back off from the full expression of the poses. I took seated twist and simply allowed myself to back off. In backing off, I discovered deeper release and the ability to move further into the pose with greater ease. In welcoming the condition of my body and allowing it to guide my practice, I found more freedom and flexibility.
I woke the next morning with more mobility in my spine and my mind. Seemingly counter-intuitive, there is great freedom in Frank Ostaseski’s words. I am grateful he shared them and I adopt them with fearless receptivity.
How to Weather an Existential Crisis
There comes a time in the lives of many when there is a pause to reflect on the meaning of life. When this moment of Zen turns out to be especially troubling, puzzling, or even discombobulating, we have a name for it — an existential crisis. The symptoms of an existential crisis range from mild wonderment to turning your world on its head and it can feel much more extreme than a prolonged state of confusion or mental health issue.
There are numerous introductions into the potential rabbit hole of an existential crisis, but all of them usually begin with the question “Why am I here?” or “What is the meaning of life?” If you’re going through this, you aren’t alone.
Philosophers have contemplated the purpose of existence and existential anxiety all the way back through our collective past. Socrates had a prescription: “Know thyself.” The Indian sage Ramana Maharshi suggested asking, “Who am I?”
Why do we humans get caught up in this search for meaning, and why do we fear a meaningless life? Better yet, is there any meaning at all? Some people suggest there is a purpose to life that is bound to a sense of well-being, but the masters of enlightenment have long said that we are looking in the wrong direction — outward instead of inward.
Joseph Campbell taught that it’s better to stop searching for the meaning of life and to begin looking for the meaning in life. In other words, life deals us a certain hand of cards, and we need to find what makes us passionate about them. Campbell summed this up in three immortal words: “Follow your bliss” — and the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Don’t forget to love yourself.”