This is a story about finding grace and peace in hard times. It comes from the meditation teacher Larry Rosenberg and his experience meditating in the forests of Thailand.
So after many years as a Zen monk in Korea he goes on this journey to Thailand to take a retreat with the Buddhist Thai Forest tradition.
So he arrived and was assigned his lodging there and settled in for his retreat only to realize that the whole forest was overrun by screeching, scratching wild chickens. This is not at all what he was expecting for a meditation retreat!
Resistance, Suffering and the Choice We All Have
Distressed, frustrated and disappointed he was confronted by his own mind. “How am I supposed to be at peace with all this noise around me?” “My retreat is ruined.” “I came all this way to find peace and this is what I get!?”
But after enduring his own annoyance, frustration and dismay day after day he realized he had a choice. He may not be able to control all those wild chickens but he could control his own response to them. He could keep resisting the wild chickens or he could accept them. As he chose to simply accept the wild chickens and let them be, all negativity and annoyance in him melted away and he found peace in the middle of it all.
Wild Chickens and Cawing Crows
I relate to Larry right now. I’m looking at my own life, and I’m looking all around, and I see all kinds of wild chickens. In my case, they were — literally — crows.
So I’m hunkered down in a small town in a foreign country during this pandemic, far from home and friends. My back is out and I’ve been in pain. My health is not so great. My professional life has been in a state of upheaval, and there’s this feeling of every single damn thing changing so fast and no clear path back to “normal.” (What is even normal anymore? Do you feel some of these things too right now?).
So I managed to set up a makeshift recording studio here because I need to keep record meditations and courses for my new app, and I sat down to record — and right outside where I’m recording came a flock of crows. Cawing, scrabbling, making a ruckus. One even looked like it was setting up a nest on top of the studio.
Each time I tried to record, the same thing would happen, crows. Day after day. On my fifth attempt, more crows…and I just thought: My god, really? I’m trying to make meditations in a state of calm! and I get….crows. This too, on top of everything. Arrrrghhhhhh. (except maybe turn the Arrrrghhhh into swear words. There were swear words.)
What’s in the Way Is the Way
I have found myself in the grip of resistance again and again over the past months. And I have seen more and more clearly how that resistance only pulls me into the grip of suffering and struggle. And I have learned to let go. I have learned deeper and deeper levels of acceptance.
Like Larry and I, we will all have times when the reality of our lives contains wild chickens (or crows) of one kind or another. Things will arise that are annoying, painful, unwanted, unpleasant. Things we cannot always control. And when they arise it’s wise to remember that we always have a choice in how we handle that situation.
Waging Peace with the Present Moment
We can resist or we can accept. We can wage war with life or we can wage peace. In other words we can make ourselves really miserable and agitated about what is happening or we can be at peace, even amongst the wild chickens.
If we can set aside our ideas of how we think life should or shouldn’t be, relax our agendas and accept life as it is then we’ll find greater and greater levels of presence, peace and equanimity in each moment.
Tapping Into the State of Grace
Eckhart Tolle says, “To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease and lightness.” Even in our darkest hour this is true. Grace is available.
Grace already exists, all around, like the air we breathe, and is ever present. The only thing we need to do is make that choice, to let go of resistance. When we release our tight grip, grace has room to flow in, like deep lungfuls of fresh air.
Grace Is a Practice And A Call to Something Higher
I know this is easier said than done, obviously, in times of intense disruption, struggle, and uncertainty. It’s a practice.
But I feel this is a huge part of what we are being asked to do in this time: Let go of our resistance and fear, open to grace and find a whole new way of being in the world. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what next week, or next month, or next year is going to look like. There is so much uncertainty and trepidation.
But I also know that we each have a role to play in the way forward, in the healing, in the transformation. And we can’t clearly see what that role is until we stop struggling against the tide of change and find the peace and grace within us in the rushing, cawing chaos of right now.
Questions for Consideration
What are you in resistance to right now? How does it feel in your body? What is a gentle thing you can say to yourself each time you feel that resistance, as a loving way to exercise that muscle of acceptance? My own personal mantra for acceptance is simply “ok, this is how it is right now”
If you want to share your experiences of resistance and grace, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
If you’d like a little more support through these challenging times, in the Mindfulness.com app, you can get short daily mindfulness teachings from me and my co-host Cory Muscara, and you can find tons of resources to help you cultivate a spirit of acceptance and foster a more open, flexible, and resilient state of mind.