Becoming an Inner Peace Activist

An interview with Tara Brach and an excerpt from her book, Radical Acceptance

Unconditional Friendliness:
An excerpt from Radical Acceptance

Jacob, almost seventy, was in the midstages of Alzheimer's disease. A clinical psychologist by profession and a meditator for more than twenty years, he was well aware that his faculties were deteriorating. With his wife's help, Jacob attended a ten-day meditation retreat I was leading. A couple of days into the course Jacob had his first interview with me. We talked about how things were going both on retreat and at home. His attitude toward his disease was interested, sad, grateful, even good-humored. Intrigued by his resilience, I asked him what allowed him to be so accepting. He responded, "It doesn't fee/like anything is wrong. I feel grief and some fear about it all going, but it feels like real life. " Then he told about an experience he'd had in an earlier stage of the disease.

Jacob had occasionally given talks about Buddhism to local groups and had accepted an invitation to address a gathering of over a hundred meditation students. He arrived at the event feeling alert and eager to share the teachings he loved. Taking his seat in front of the hall, Jacob looked out at the sea of expectant faces in front of him-and suddenly he didn't know where he was or why he was there. All he knew was that his heart was pounding furiously and his mind was spinning in confusion. Putting his palms together at his heart, Jacob started

naming out loud what was happening: "Afraid, embarrassed, confused, feeling like I'm failing, powerless, shaking, sense of dying, sinking, lost." For several more minutes he sat, head slightly bowed, continuing to name his experience. As his body began to relax and his mind grew calmer, he also noted that aloud. At last Jacob lifted his head, looked slowly around at those gathered, and apologized.

Many of the students were in tears. As one put it, "No one has ever offered us teachings like this. Your presence has been the deepest dharma teaching." Rather than pushing away his experience and deepening his agitation, Jacob had the courage and training simply to name what he was aware of, and most significantly, to bow to his experience. In some fundamental way, he didn't create an adversary out of feelings of fear and confusion. He didn't make anything wrong. We practice Radical Acceptance by pausing and then meeting whatever is happening inside us with this kind of unconditional friendliness.

Adapted from Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, to be published inJune, 2003 by Bantam Books. Used by permission of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

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