We were just with Deb’s mother, Anne, in England. On the third day we were invited for tea at the House of Lord’s (more on that below) and were preparing to catch a train to London. In a bit of a rush we were quickly downing breakfast when the toast got burnt. We watched in amusement as Anne took a deep breath and simply said, “Oh dear, burnt toast,” calmly tossed it in the trash and put a fresh slice of bread in the toaster.
Few of us usually have such a reaction to burnt toast, especially when we are in a hurry. But Deb’s mom displayed the same attitude of calm acceptance later that day when we were having tea in London. Now, being invited to the House of Lords does not happen every day, but we were there to discuss a meditation project with one of the younger Lords. It is a stunningly beautiful old building, seeped in history and tradition and was a real treat for Ed, who grew up in the Bronx. We sat in the chambers and listened to the debate; we walked through the Queen’s robbing room where her throne sits; and then we went for tea.
Tea in the regal Tea Rooms sounds quintessentially English and we fully expected it to be of good English quality. The room was spectacular, the service was everything we could have wanted, but the cakes were not—they were boring, dry, commercial and cheap—not good Brit fare at all. All we could do was swallow distastefully and continue our conversation.
Accepting and simply being with what is, is a quality that Deb’s mother has perfected. It showed itself as she delicately ate her most unappetizing chocolate éclair. It is a quality that we can continue to learn in every moment that does not go our way. But, instead, we usually spend most of our time wishing that things were different – whether it is the big things like our partner or job, or the smaller things like the weather, burnt toast, or chocolate éclairs.
When we resist what is then we create more suffering for ourselves, as there is a constant, underlying dissatisfaction, otherwise known as the “If Only…” syndrome: if only this, that or the other happened, then I could be happy. If only so-and-so would change his or her behavior / lose weight / find a job, then I could be happy. If only I had more money / a bigger house / went traveling / had a good lover, then I could be happy. We were teaching a workshop and a participant, Mary, said she could only be happy when her children were happy. The list is endless. You can fill in the blank spaces for yourself.
Accepting what is, as it is, does not mean that we are like doormats and get passively walked over by all and sundry. Rather, it means recognizing that what happened even just a second ago can never be changed, it is letting the past be where it is so it does not take over the future. We make friends with ourselves and our world. At the same time we can also make changes wherever necessary, working toward a saner and more caring present. We can either make a song and dance about burnt toast and get even more stressed, or we can take a deep breath and put a fresh slice of bread in the toaster.
How do you deal with burnt toast or other difficult situations? Do you have any interesting stories? Do leave us a comment below.
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