“Saying yes to every thought, feeling and emotion will give you an experience of unbroken peace.”
On a recent flight to India, I watched the Jim Carrey movie “Yes Man”— the one in which he plays a guy who’s stuck in a rut due to his negative attitude towards life.
His one remaining friend drags him along to a self-help seminar where he learns to unleash the power of yes.
When he starts saying YES to every person and situation he encounters, his life is soon transformed from a dull and painful existence into a thrilling adventure.
While watching the movie, I was reminded of an expression my teacher would often use. He used to say;
“Say yes to every thought, feeling and emotion and you will always experience peace.”
I’m sure he would have included our life situations as well.
The truth is, we have little or no control over the events, internal or external, that appear in our lives.
Pleasant situations, painful situations. Happy thoughts, miserable thoughts. Loving feelings, painful feelings. Expansive emotions, challenging emotions.
Life serves up a rich smorgasbord of varied experiences, over which we have little control.
There is one thing we do have control over, however. We can choose whether our basic response towards life’s offerings is one of resistance or one of openness and acceptance.
(note: you don’t have to like something to accept it).
All suffering stems from an inner position of resistance. Choosing to say ‘yes’ opens up the possibility of peace—whatever the experience.
Embrace Your Inner Weather
The thoughts, feelings and emotions that comprise your inner landscape are very much like the weather outside—unpredictable, constantly changing and beyond your control.
Like the weather, you don’t choose what you feel. Thoughts, feelings and emotions arrive uninvited.
I often start my mindfulness classes by inviting people to give a brief inner weather report.
How would you describe your inner experience right now?
Bright and sunny? Dark and overcast? Mostly clear with intermittent clouds?
We don’t choose our experience. The weather is what it is. And five minutes from now, it could be different (especially if you live in Scotland!)
Here’s the realisation that transformed my life some years back:
Your experience of peace has little to do with the inner weather and everything to do with how you react to it.
If it’s raining outside, you have two choices. You can complain about it or accept it.
Saying yes to the rain gives you peace. Saying no creates inner disturbance. Neither changes the conditions.
And the same applies to your inner weather.
Why do we find it harder to accept our inner experience than the weather outside?
It’s because we take it personally. We believe that the thoughts, feelings and emotions that appear to us are an integral part of who we are.
We don’t see them as passing weather patterns like the rain.
When it’s raining outside, you know you aren’t responsible for it. You know there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re able to look at it objectively and either say yes or no to it.
Thoughts and emotions are another matter. You feel personally responsible.
You judge them as bad or wrong. You judge yourself for having them.
And it is this judgement, this rejection, that’s the root of suffering, not the thoughts themselves.
Welcome Every Guest That Shows Up At Your Door
There’s a beautiful poem called The Guest House, written by the Sufi mystic, Rumi in which he gives clear advice on how to deal with what he calls ‘unexpected visitors’.
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!” — Rumi
When confronted with fear thoughts, doubt thoughts, sad feelings or angry feelings , our normal reaction is to reject them.
They come knocking uninvited at your door and you don’t want to entertain them. You want to chase them away.
You’re happy to open the door to happy thoughts and invite them in for tea.
But sad thoughts, no. Sad thoughts are bad. Sad thoughts are trouble.
Rumi’s advice is “Welcome and entertain them all!”
If they are there anyway, it is better to turn towards them—to work with them rather than fight against them.
The more you resist, the more power you give them. When you say no, you give them authority to disturb our peace.
What happens to a sad thought if you welcome it into your experience with open arms? If you don’t label it as good or bad? If you give it your full permission to be there?
Sure, it may still feel a little unpleasant or contracted. But it won’t have nearly as much power to affect your peace. Your non-reactivity takes all the sting out of it.
Saying Yes To Your Inner Experience In Practice
“Feelings are just visitors; let them come and go.” — Mooji
Being present and watching your ever shifting inner landscape with an attitude of openness and non-judgemental acceptance is the main focus of mindfulness practice.
When you are present as the observer, you can step back and watch the mind objectively, rather than being caught up in its endless dramas. You can see the thoughts, not be the thoughts.
See my page on meditation for beginners
You may want to try these steps the next time an uninvited visitor shows up at your door?. see Rain Practice
- Recognise that the thought, feeling or emotion is present. Simply acknowledge that it’s there. You may wish to name it or to leave it unnamed.
- Consciously turn towards it. Say YES to it being there. Accept it is part of your experience in this moment (as it is anyway).
- Investigate. Where in your body do you feel it? How does it feel? What are the thoughts or stories attached to it?
- Recognise that this thought or feeling is a visitor. The fact that you can watch it means it can’t be who you are.
In the absence of resistance or negative commentary, you may find that having these difficult visitors around isn’t that bad
Say Yes To Your Life Situation
You are not here to be comfortable. You’re here to waken up.” — Anthony de Mello
Before concluding, I’d like to talk briefly about the power of saying yes to the external events that show up in our lives.
There are two ways you can look upon life.
If you believe you’re here to have an easy and comfortable life, there are so many things that can rightly be viewed as highly inconvenient—outright pains in the butt.
But if you view life from the standpoint that your purpose on earth is to grow spiritually and mature as a person, then every situation can be seen as a gift—particularly the challenging ones, for these are often the ones that offer the greatest opportunities for growth.
If I hadn’t experienced depression all those years ago, I would never have signed up for the 6-month meditation retreat that transformed my life in wondrous ways.
Or the heartbreak of my partner leaving me that broke open a dam inside my heart— a block that had been holding me back all my life — enabling me (over time) to experience a whole new level of joy and inner connection. Anything less intense wouldn’t have done the job.
The spiritual teacher Ram Dass described his stroke and subsequent confinement to a wheelchair as an “act of Divine grace.”
It’s now clear to me that the episodes of depression and heartbreak were gifts in disguise.
When you say yes to everything that shows up, whether it be your thoughts and feelings or the events in your life, you flow with rather than fight against what life offers. You no longer create an additional layer of suffering through resisting what is.
None of us know the bigger picture. Perhaps a difficulty you are experiencing in your life right now is the exact prescription you need for the next stage of your growth? Perhaps it will wake you up to a new level of joy?
Either way, saying yes will allow you to go through it with a greater level of peace.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. —Rumi
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