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PhilosophyCenter | Musings

The Art of Allowing

The Art of Allowing

Allowing is an all but lost art. Sometimes termed “nonresistance,” it makes an appearance in spiritual traditions that include Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity; informs some of the martial arts, most notably tai chi; and serves as the cornerstone of the political philosophies of luminaries such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. It is fair and accurate to think of allowing as an art because, as with any art, it requires a fine sensibility of discernment and expression that few cultivate; a receptivity to beautiful, noble, and uplifting principles; and a dedicated connection to intuitive awareness.

Allowing allows us to move with life, with changing conditions and circumstances, with adversity and disappointment, with how others act or fail to act, and in all of this, to remain self-possessed, grounded, present, and poised, free of both resistance and reaction. The wisdom of living this way is rooted in a life principle that most have us have observed many times—that engaging the world, including other people, through the force of our will invariably leads to unforeseen and unwanted outcomes, reverse effects, and failure. It is a lesson we may suffer again and again with little learning. The resistance that relentlessly buys us this sort of trouble is essentially mental rather than physical—an inner judgment that seeks to control and manipulate and manage externals, to impose its agenda and schedule, to demand compliance. Even when there is also an element of physical resistance, the problem is fundamentally the inner state. If you stub your toe on a chair, for example, and meet this with resistance, then in a flash you will find yourself consumed by a state of constriction. You might blame yourself for being so clumsy, blame uncaring fortune, even blame the chair. If the resistance is sufficient, you might kick the chair (again!) or strike it with your fist, adding injury to injury. And as improbable as it may sound to someone immersed in such reactions, someone sound asleep to the art of allowing, the extent of the pain and damage is more a consequence of the inner resistance than the strictly physical impact. To be clear: if you can remain conscious and unresisting in that flashpoint when you see stars for a moment, if you move with rather than against the experience inwardly, releasing all resistance to the moment, just breathing through it, refusing the inner prompting to take up combat, then you simultaneously release yourself to a better outcome. There will be no second insult, and the severity of the first, brought under the jurisdiction of allowing, will be far lessened.

Allowing is an art that the ego-driven identity is loathe to consider let alone practice. Yet as with all arts, its power to uplift, to express the good and beautiful and true, and to materialize graceful outcomes is limitless. There is no situation that allowing will not improve. Hearing this, the willful self recoils, for it hears this as invitation to weakness, to capitulation, to tolerating the intolerable, to descending into chaos. But allowing is none of these things. It is, rather, the one thing that the personal self cannot imagine, and so finds mortally threatening—that is, a call to embody the impersonal Self, referred to by some as Infinite Intelligence, Great Spirit, Father/Mother, the Tao, God, Life, the Universe, and so on. Nameless, Its names are many. It is the living, Self-Aware Presence, the oceanic Consciousness in which each of us participates, and which the willful, separate self misappropriates as personal. This higher Self creates and sustains all that is, each moment, through the stunning power, agency, and efficiency of allowing.

Because the willful identity thrives on resistance, on “winning,” on usurping, it tries to grab the world by the throat, and the world, of course, runs away. The more we try to impose our will, the more we are subjected to adverse results. In the end, we cannot make anything happen, and even in those cases where it appears we have done so, an honest assessment of the situation quickly reveals that an indeterminate number of factors that were not subject to our will fell nicely into place to produce the desired outcome. Anyone who takes credit for a victory, however small, has failed to recognize the contributions of fate, and as the ancient Greeks warn, the gods make it a point to humble those guilty of hubris.

Allowing does not mean that we tolerate or resign ourselves to the thing before us, since both of these involve resistance. Rather, in the moment of allowing, we release our will and meet whatever is happening in a spirit of willingness. Where the ego-self constricts when its presumed interests are thwarted, allowing expands, creating a spaciousness in which things have room to move and shift and resolve. This simple inner adjustment allows us to stand in the fire of experience without being burned. It is the first step into a friendlier universe than many ever even suspect is here, available to us, alongside the unfriendly one we have unwittingly created for ourselves. Heaven and hell, side by side—the difference being not the place itself, but how we carry ourselves through it.

Allowing allows, Period. Where allowing sees others not allowing, resisting, persecuting—allowing allows them. In the practice of this art, no one is left behind. It does not hate the haters, but in the face of their hatred, cultivates itself. Because allowing is not blinded by its own reactions and the wounds of the past, it lives in the present. Because it lives in the present, it sees things as they are. All art discerns and expresses truth. To see others through the eyes of allowing, even those drowning in a sea of resistance and hubris, is to see them as they are—wounded, lost, deformed by pain, blindly bent on destroying themselves and others.

Allowing opens up unseen channels that lead us straightaway to our good and protect us from the painful effects of willfulness. It is, in this way, a philosopher’s stone and golden key to living well. In time, we come to realize that anything we gain from the world through resistance exacted too high a price, and that we’re well rid of anything that may fall from our hands in the practice of allowing. In allowing, there is no chasing, no waiting for this or that, no disappointment, no resentment, no enemy, no suffering. Taking refuge in the great Impersonal, we find even personal concerns perfected. As we stand on the high ground of allowing, we see that there is nothing the world has to offer us that we don’t already possess in artful self-possession, and nothing the world can take from us that we cannot gladly relinquish.