Sunday, March 23, 2014


I step outside and into the pearly sort of darkness that tells of low clouds and falling snow. Sure enough, the white stuff is everywhere. It mounds on the ashcan, covers the cars, piles atop the birdfeeder.
This snow swallows every sound and brings a hush to the night. I stand still and feel the coolness of the air, its dampness against my cheek. I stretch out my hand and tiny flakes grace my palm. Dropping my arm, I remain a bit longer, steeping myself in stillness. Finally, my robe no match for the cold, I go back inside.
I have just taken what psychotherapist and meditation teacher Tara Brach calls “a sacred pause,” one of the key practices detailed in her thoroughly engaging book, Radical Acceptance. As the title suggests, Tara walks us through a process of receiving whatever comes our way with an openness larger than any preferences we might hold.
“Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is,” she writes. Accepting "absolutely everything" allows us to be aware, “of what is happening within our body and mind in any given moment, without trying to control or judge or pull away.”

Accepting the peace of a snowy night, though, is one thing. Let us fast forward now to a wholly different situation...

Sunshine streams through the dining hall windows as I sit at the nursing home with my elderly father. His cancer has returned, and I’ve just learned of two incidents of explosive behavior the day before. As we sit together now, he's telling me a story that's an alarming jumble of past and present, so confused I find it nearly impossible to follow.

I remember to pause. I then work with what Tara calls the two wings of Radical Acceptance. With the first wing, I simply notice…Tightness in my shoulders and stomach. Helplessness, anxiety, sorrow. An urge to ignore my uneasiness, or get rid of it by trying to fix what cannot be fixed.

Instead, I breathe deeply and welcome the second wing. I bring a compassionate presence, a kindly awareness to all that is rising in me and everything occurring in this moment. And something begins to shift.
No longer resisting what is, a tenderness begins to emerge. My body softens and my heart becomes less constricted. Gradually, it opens. Affection swells and spills over, affection for myself as a struggling daughter and affection for my father, in all his human fear, anger and confusion.
This is the fruit of genuine acceptance. Tara writes, “We meet the ever-changing stream of life--this living, dying, breathing world--with accepting presence, and our hearts invariably open.”
And it all starts with a pause, one that clears the way for Radical Acceptance. Such acceptance is not passive. We may act, but whatever action we choose will likely be wiser and more effective, streaming as it will from an open heart.

So, my friends, may we pause well and often. And may every aspect of our lives, those we relish and those we find difficult, open our hearts more fully.

Blessings on all your pauses,

Loanne Marie

I highly recommend Radical Acceptance. Tara does an incredible job making these concepts accessible within the context of our very human lives. To visit Tara's website, chock full of info and free audio and video talks, click here.