I was watching an animated movie about Doctor Strange, the Marvel Comics creation. It was my first introduction to the character and I was fascinated by the world of sorcery portrayed in the story. The movie depicts how Dr Stephen Strange, a successful surgeon, who after injuring his hands in an accident finds his way to a monastery in Tibet where he is trained by The Ancient One to be a powerful sorcerer. Lots of spiritual lessons reflected in the movie, especially in the doctor’s early training when he has to move past the pain of his loss, guilt and shame to recover a sense of purpose in his life.
Embittered by the loss of the use of his hands as he knew it, Doctor Strange destroys his life by wallowing in self-pity and anger. By the time he reaches Tibet, he has lost his career, reputation, wealth and home. The Ancient One shows him all kinds of supernatural tricks, and eventually he learns that he can still heal people and do other marvelous things even without his hands. To reach this stage, however, he has to learn to “accept the unacceptable”.
In the midst of having lost everything he valued, as well as his identity which was formed around all that is lost, The Ancient One’s constant call for him to “accept the unacceptable” only triggers anger and confusion. How does one accept something that is so painful? Even if he wanted to, how does one actually do it?
The energy that gets in the way of accepting the unacceptable is resistance. It comes from there being conflict between what you desire (an attachment to a certain outcome) and what is. When you resist what is happening, you refuse to see any other way. You are unable to see that there are possibilities out of your pain. Your perception is closed off to something else that is more positive – a gift that is revealed only when you have let go of your desire.
Accepting the reality of something can be very painful. Yet the pain is prolonged and kept in place by your reluctance to ease your grip on wanting to right the wrong. The outrage of injustice is what keeps us stuck. Accepting doesn’t necessarily mean that we must accept the injustice, but to allow that feeling of injustice to flow freely through you. In other words, do not resist the pain of it. Once you allow the feeling to flow freely, you begin to see doors out of that pain, whereas by resisting it you can only see one path – the path of loss and hopelessness.
Accepting means allowing what is happening to happen. Whilst it may feel as though you are stuck in that outcome, no outcome is ever the end. Life is ever flowing, evolving and changing all the time. This outcome you find yourself faced with is only the outcome for now. It has the potential to change into something else, even if our minds cannot see what that change can be or how it may look in the future. That is to say, do not give up – not in the sense of wanting it to change to a specific outcome we want but in maintaining hope for something different out of the present outcome. But you need to accept that this is what it is for now, with the potential for your life to evolve into new experiences. What these new experiences are, you have to accept that right now you do not know.
One of the greatest paradoxes in spiritual learning is the art of remaining hopeful while accepting a present situation that does not fit into what you desire. The very act of allowing a situation to be can kill off any sense of hope for a bright future, as the loss of something we hold dear means losing what has made our life worth living. This is especially true for those who tend to invest all their resources into one single thing, whether it is a business, a relationship, an idea, a belief, etc. to the exclusion of everything else. Since there is no such thing as guaranteed security, everything we have is at risk of being taken away from us. To invest all our resources into one thing puts us at risk of some day finding ourselves with nothing when that thing is gone.
Of course, it is an illusion that we have nothing apart from this thing on which we’d placed so much importance. We have simply turned a blind eye to what else there is in our process of putting everything into one basket. Putting energy into a cause, project or relationship can yield great results but when we do so with obsession and fixatedly, it becomes unhealthy as our lives become unbalanced. Before Dr Strange’s hands were crushed, he had placed his entire emphasis on his career and neglected having people close to him. What happens when he finds himself no longer able to perform as a surgeon is, he has no one to turn to for support. Eventually, he turns to his ex-girlfriend to ask for money to travel to Tibet to find a cure for his hands – a rather humiliating thing since he had treated her badly in the past.
So as a preemptive measure, examine your life right now to see if you are putting all your energy into one single thing and neglecting other things that are important to you (but perhaps you take for granted). Vary your interests, your social life, your investment of time and attention.
Returning to the lesson of accepting the unacceptable, is there anything in your past which you find difficult to accept? Look for bodily signals of refusal to let things be – e.g. a feeling of contraction somewhere in your body or a sick feeling as you think about an event. Is there something which you think is unacceptable?
Forgiveness has the power to liberate you from your pain once and for all. Decide to forgive everyone who has ever wronged you, no matter what they have done. We never really know what another person is going through, just as no one can really know what you are going through. Opening your mind to consider a different perspective will break up the energy of hatred stored in your heart. It elevates you from the place of being stuck in your angry judgements, churning out its poison against you as long as you are in that place, to a higher place where you can gain a greater understanding of what has happened. That greater understanding will heal you and free you from the illusion of being trapped in your pain.
Sometimes, forgiving yourself is even more difficult than forgiving others. Accept that what’s happened has happened. Focus on how it has made you a better person now because you have recognised the ill-effects of certain actions you used to take and you are aware of having new choices, not on beating yourself up. Learn to grow from it. Forgiveness is a step towards being able to accept what you saw as unacceptable.
The idea of accepting the unacceptable may fill us with dread and horror, as if by allowing that energy to come closer we may go mad. Yet that energy is made more intense by our efforts to push it away. Once we’ve let go of resisting and allow ourselves to receive the flush of energy, the intensity will lessen as an even, free flow of energy is restored. Without our resistance, that intense energy which passes through us can awaken us to a new level of truth about who we are. Allowing and accepting that which had been too painful to allow and accept will expand you to a new level of being – one where you are more in touch with your true personal power. In the world of sorcery, you would open doors to the realm of magical powers, when your mind has relieved itself of its scepticism about what is possible.