The Grace of Acceptance

I continually grasp at life, clinging to what will not be held. I want to lie in the arms of acceptance, wrap myself in its grace.

Because once in a while I get a glimpse of Buddha nature, the backdrop against which the chaos of our everyday lives plays out.

I want to define what defies definition.

I suppose I just want to know where I stand, to which Pema Chödrön would remind me that only in groundlessness do I find my center. And that’s where acceptance is too, I think.

There is a lot of worry in that word, acceptance. I know it is a long moment and has nothing to do with approval, agreement, or acquiescing. Acceptance is living the every day with grace, embracing the daily risk.

That requires acceptance of circumstances–as they are for as long as they are–with “unconditional friendliness” toward ourselves. Who we are, as we are. That is Maitri. That is grace.

It moves us to deeds we once thought impossible. It unlocks us, and each day brings us “new grace” as Eberhard Arnold tells us.

I am a risk taker. Won’t settle for satisfactory. Never have. That doesn’t sound unconditionally friendly, does it? It sounds more like someone in search of a key for a lock.

Yet, I am not inflexible. I know the future is limitless. It is mine to explore the full experience of being alive. I really try to do that, no matter how many times my life lens changes.

I am most engaged when I’m completely present to my task, immersed in risk without ever a thought to it. Mine is not to control but to experience.  Without fail, the more groundless I am, the more centered I feel.

While it seems impossible at first,

you soon recognize that with everything

there is a point of balance

and you just have to find it.

(Amy Tan)

I suspect this is how we effect change everywhere–in tiny touches–surprising feats of strength all on their own. They allow us to enlarge our sense of things.

Far too often, I get lost in the minutia.

There is an oft-told story about a Hindu master and his apprentice who–I think–had a similar problem. The Hindu master sends the apprentice to purchase salt.

He tells the apprentice to put some salt into a glass of water and drink it. The apprentice says the water is bitter. The master agrees.

They go to a lake where the master tells the apprentice to throw in a handful of salt. The Hindu master instructs the apprentice to drink; he says the water tastes fresh.

Life is bitter the Hindu master says, “pure salt.” The taste of life depends upon whether we sip it from a glass or a lake. “The only thing [we] can do is … enlarge [our] sense of things.… become a lake.” (Version of Hindu story from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening).

This is why I meditate, to sip from something larger than life. Not to escape its bitterness but to become a lake, as comfortable with chaos as I am with constancy. To live where grace resides, in impermanence.

St. Mark's Refuge; Gulf of Mexico; KMHuberImage

Whether we confine ourselves to a single glass of water or become a lake depends upon how “friendly” we are with ourselves, whether or not we drink in our confusion as readily as our sanity.

Accepting that what fuels our fire creates the circumstances of our lives. May we live in the grace of that acceptance.

Life is like that.

We don’t know anything.

We call something bad;

we call it good.

But really we just don’t know.

Pema Chödrön

“Once More to the Lake” for Reflection on the Year

I am a big fan of New Year’s Eve neither for the noise nor for the celebratory streamers but as a day and night of reflection. Over the past two decades, the last day of each year has emerged as a major holiday for me.

Often, E.B. White’s essay, “Once More to the Lake,” comes to mind not because I am ever lakeside on the 31st of December but because this final day of the year has become one of “peace, jollity, and goodness” much like White’s childhood summers spent at a Maine lake in many a late August.

For me, New Year’s Eve is “infinitely precious and worth saving” no matter how I have marked the year. I flip through my memories of months as if I were watching the year as a slide presentation, images catching between ceiling and wall. Memories are often served skewed.

More than anything, remembering a year on its last day helps me “enlarge my sense of things” so that my perspective is not confined like water in a glass but broad and open like the lapping waters of a lake. In other words, I become a lake.


Remaining a lake is a lifelong process but the idea has intrigued me since I discovered the story of the Hindu master and his apprentice. Every year I re-tell the story on my blog—at least once—this year, the story seemed appropriate as my last blog post of 2013, a way to enlarge my sense of the year past and open myself to 2014.

As the story goes, a Hindu master grew weary of the constant complaints of his apprentice. No matter the day or the place, the apprentice was not satisfied with his life, how it measured up or how it did not.

One day, the master sent the apprentice to purchase salt. Dutiful but doubtful, the apprentice made the purchase and upon his return, the master told the apprentice to put a handful of salt into a glass of water and take a drink. The apprentice complained that the water tasted bitter.

This was a complaint that pleased the master. He then asked the apprentice to bring the rest of the salt and follow him. After some walking, they came to a lake.
Waverly bridge in spring 0413

At water’s edge, the master told the apprentice to throw the remaining salt into the freshwater lake. Then, the master told the apprentice to take a drink from the lake. The apprentice said the water tasted fresh. Again, the master was pleased.

The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain remains…exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. Enlarge your sense of things. Stop being a glass. Become a lake.

(Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening)

The story of the Hindu master and the apprentice frames all my New Year’s Eve reflections. Some years are larger than others, and it is true that as I age, I find life less bitter. Perhaps it is that I drink from life with less expectation and with more curiosity. I like to think so.

I do not have the opportunity to drink from a lake so I sip saltwater from a glass. The sting of the salt reminds me how easy it is to savor only the bitter. It is then that I enlarge my sense of things for the mere experience of life is “infinitely precious and worth saving.”

Humility: The Art of Being Enough

The art of being enough begins with the complete and total acceptance of ourselves (maitri), without labeling our shortcomings or our strengths. There are no credits or debits within the flow of life.

“All streams flow to the sea

because it is lower than they are.

Humility gives it its power.”

 ~Lao Tzu~


The art of being enough is accepting that we meander with the river of life on our way to the sea. Each horseshoe bend of life is the forgiveness of ourselves and others so essential to the flow of being enough. Each bend reflects a challenge met, yet another way discovered.

Bending with life rather than letting life bend us is the power of humility, a delicate balance of keeping our thinking subordinate to our heart. The strength of humility is not denying our uniqueness but in expressing it, although those waters seem murky at times. Ego will do that.

When we allow our ego to supersede our heart, we cut ourselves off from the flow of life. Essentially, we are saying we are not enough. Continuously, we add up what we are and are not—our debits and credits are never enough–and with our abacus of self, we total up the world’s worth, which also falls short. There is never enough for ego without a heart.

The art of being enough regards life as an adventure with infinite possibilities. Rather than adding up life as a positive or negative, in humility we pursue life for the pure experience of it. We are not trying to mold it to assure a certain outcome; we bend with the possibilities, trusting the flow of being enough.


How we live our lives is our unique contribution to the oneness of existence. Sooner or later, we become enough. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the story of the Hindu master and his apprentice.*

The apprentice is constantly complaining about life, how it measures up or does not. The Hindu master grows weary of the apprentice’s complaints and sends him to purchase salt.

Upon the apprentice’s return, the master tells him to put a handful of salt into a glass of water and drink it. Immediately, the apprentice pronounces the taste of the water as bitter. The master smiles and informs the apprentice they are going to the lake.

At the lake, the apprentice is told to throw a handful of salt into the lake and then take a drink from the water’s edge. The apprentice says the water tastes fresh. The master tells the apprentice:

“`The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain… remains…exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in.’”



There is a grace in learning to bend with life, and perhaps in bending, we just may discover that our unique purpose is to do just that, express ourselves in the meandering flow of life on our way to the sea.

In the words of the Hindu master, “`…the only thing you can do is…enlarge your sense of things….Stop being a glass. Become a lake.’”  You are enough.

*The story of the Hindu master and apprentice first appeared in a January 2012 post; all citations are from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening.