Being With What Is

American clinical psychologist John Welwood writes in Ordinary Magic, Everyday Life as Spiritual Path (1992):

At any moment, whatever we are experiencing, only one of two things is ever happening: either we are being with what is, or else we are resisting what is. Being with what is means letting ourselves have and feel our experience, just as it is right now. When we choose to be actively present with what is, we radiate a powerful energy that is most compelling. This is where genuine creativity, health, and communication, as well as spiritual power, arise from.

Yet oddly enough, we rarely let ourselves simply have our experience. We are usually resisting it instead – trying to manipulate it and make it something other than it is. As children, we first learned to resist our experience as a way of coping with what seemed like overwhelming influences in the world around us. Because we were so open and sensitive to begin with, we learned to shut down, and turn away from what we were feeling, as a way to avoid feeling pain. Yet we contract ourselves against the painful aspects of our experience, we actually stop being…

Whenever we resist what is, we become tense and contracted, we’re not much fun to be around. In fact, even we don’t enjoy being around ourselves. No wonder we check out and wander off into distractions – seeking entertainment, driving ourselves to achieve, resorting to drugs and alcohol, desperately striving to be some other way than we are, living fantasies of future happiness. All these forms of distraction are ways of trying to fill up the void that is left when we don’t let ourselves be.

So the first step on any path of personal or spiritual development is to become aware of how we contract and turn away from our experience. Spiritual practice involves both becoming aware of this resistance and discovering that it is all right to open ourselves to life, that we can handle it, and that we will grow and expand by doing so.

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