The Spiritual Discipline of Living in Reality

Acceptance is letting go of:

  • Denial
  • Avoidance
  • Pretense
  • Delusion
  • Escape
  • Numbing
  • Drama
  • Delay

An acceptance statement can be phrased as, “My present reality is _______”

The Great Divorce is a book that changed my life. There are so many profound concepts in the book, and one of those is when heaven is described in terms of reality. The way we engage with reality leads us either on a path of growth and development, or a downward spiral of reality-avoidant behaviors.

All of us struggle to face reality squarely because to do so involves grieving. But God lives fully in reality, and the atonement of Christ was a perfect walk through all of reality. One of the gifts of the restoration is the understanding that God lives in a fulness of joy, and that joy comes with an immense capacity for grief.

Personally, I hate grieving. I hate the idea of living life with a broken heart. So like most people, I tend to respond to reality in ways that are maladaptive rather than doing the work of increasing my capacity to live in reality.
But, the more I see how the world is increasingly refusing to live in reality, and the more clarity I sense about the horrible consequences of that, the more I sense how important it is to develop in the discipline of acceptance.
Below are some quotes and scriptures that illuminate this principle for me.

Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline to overcome that pain. To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to truth. That is to say that we must always hold truth, as best we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.
-M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

…for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls.
-Jacob 4:13

But wisdom begins only when one takes things as they are; otherwise we get nowhere…. So it is a healing attitude when we can agree with the facts as they are; only then can we live in our body on this earth, only then can we thrive.
-Carl Jung

Acceptance does not mean that you have to like everything or that you have to take a passive attitude toward everything and abandon your principles and values…Acceptance as we are speaking of it simply means that, sooner or later, you have come around to a willingness to see things as they are. This attitude sets the stage for acting appropriately in your life, no matter what is happening. You are much more likely to know what to do and have the inner conviction to act when you have a clear picture of what is actually happening versus when your vision is clouded by your mind’s self-serving judgments and desires or its fears and prejudices.
-Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
-John 8:32

As we become more aware of the dynamics of our unconscious, we can receive people and events as they are, rather than filtered through what we would like them to be, expect them to be, or demand them to be. This requires letting go of the attachments, aversions, “shoulds,” and demands on others and on life that reflect the mentality of a child rather than that of a grownup.
…This is a big project, but it is not yet spiritual maturity. It is just human growth into full, responsible, self-reflective consciousness. It is the first step that the Gospel invites us to take in the process of repentance.
…God approaches us from many different perspectives: illness, misfortune, bankruptcy, divorce proceedings, rejection, inner trials. God has not promised to take away our trials, but to help us to change our attitudes toward them. That is what holiness really is. In this life, happiness is rooted in our basic attitude toward reality.

-Thomas Keating, The Human Condition

…to recognize this pure awareness, we need to relax the veil of stories, thoughts, wants and fears that cover over our natural being. Sri Nisargadatta writes, “The real world is beyond our thoughts and ideas; we see it through the net of our desires divided into pleasure and pain, right and wrong, inner and outer. To see the universe as it is, you must step beyond the net. It is not hard to do so, for the net is full of holes.”
Our attention is always fixating on something—a flattering comment someone said, our plan for next Saturday, an image of our dirty kitchen, a rerun of an argument. Our reality is the thoughts and dramas we see in our mental movies. We step beyond the net by letting go of our stories and pursuits and turning toward awareness. This is like looking back at the projector and realizing it is actually light that is making the images look alive. We look back into the emptiness that is the creative source of all stories and emotions, into the formless fertile space that gives rise to all of existence. There, we “see the universe as it is.”

-Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance

“Then those people are right who say that Heaven and Hell are only states of mind?”
“Hush,” said he sternly. “Do not blaspheme. Hell is a state of mind— ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind— is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly.”
…“Milton was right,” said my Teacher. “The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words ‘Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.’ There is always something they insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy— that is, to reality.”

-C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

God’s counsel aligns us and conjoins us with the great realities of the universe; whereas sin empties, isolates, and separates us, confining us to the solitary cell of selfishness.
Hence the lonely crowd in hell.
-Neal A. Maxwell

And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

-Alma 12:9-11

3 thoughts on “The Spiritual Discipline of Living in Reality”

  1. I love the last paragraph in Alma 12: 9-11 and the comparison with C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce. It makes me think of the parable of the talents. We must use the gifts we are given, or they will disappear.

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