So much personal suffering is caused by our inability to accept what is.
Resistance seems to be the default position of most of the human race. Resistance to what? Well, it would seem to life itself. We always want things to be a certain way, you know, the way we’d like them to be. When life throws a wobbler we kick against it. Your favourite restaurant is booked out. You set the recorder for something on tv only to find the program starts early and you miss half of it. There’s a show in town that you really want to see but when you ring to book you discover it’s been cancelled. Pshaw!
Now I admit the above are pretty irritating at the time, and can even lead to hours of sulking if one is so inclined, but the irritation comes from our misguided expectations of life, and not from the thing itself. When we're not accepting what is we're making it personal.
As if life was out to get us.
Life doesn’t always give us what we want no matter how ‘positive’ we think. Sometimes plans don’t come to pass. We get a headache at the most inconvenient time. The weather changes when we want to go on vacation. Or someone we love doesn’t love us in return. That’s life, as Frank sang, and if in the moment we cannot accept it then we‘re resisting. And when we’re resisting we’re creating more suffering for ourselves. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Looking for someone to blame is another form of resistance. As is beating yourself up. Will blaming yourself, or life, or your granny change what is? Don’t think so. All you’re doing is reinforcing your efforts to push against life. When we do this we’re heading for disappointment street. Now, do you think life cares what we feel if things don't work out the way we wanted them to?
Actually - No.
Ok. Forget about the restaurant being booked out, let’s get to the serious stuff. What about cancer, a relationship we desperately wanted to succeed going down the tube, the death of a child? How does accepting what is work here?
When someone is told out of the blue they have a terminal illness their whole world falls apart. Their immediate reaction is ‘this can’t be happening to me’. And a perfectly natural response I think. But even in these really dark places if we can find the grace to embrace acceptance it will make a huge difference.
Author and psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross notes that when faced with a terminal illness the hardest thing for most people is acceptance. They go into denial, then resistance, until eventually, when these fail, they turn to acceptance. Then, miraculously, they find tranquillity, a profound peace they didn’t know before.
You see what is, is, no matter how much we rail against it, whether it’s sweating the small stuff, or having to come to terms with terminal illness.
Now acceptance is not the same as apathy. That’s resignation. Acceptance is surrendering to what is, not lamely enduring life. We can tell the difference by the feeling. If the pushy feeling of complaining is present then you’re probably not in acceptance. You’re putting up with something because you feel you have no choice. That’s different, in fact it’s still a form of resistance.
Always remember you have choice. And our choices come from perspective. In short you can choose how to feel, how to respond. We think our choices are about what we do, whether we buy apples or pomegranates, but the choice was made much earlier. Getting annoyed because the video didn’t work was a choice. It just doesn’t seem like it at the time.
Nor does accepting what is preclude change. Always change what is in your gift. However, there are things, despite all the posturing of the apostles of positive thinking, that are simply beyond our means to change.
When we don’t like what life throws up we can go into defiant mode. Our fighting with it will not change it. Our deciding that it ought to be different will not change it. True acceptance will change our attitude to it, and to ourselves. And the amazing thing is it can often change the seemingly intractable situation too. Solutions don’t come when we’re in resistance mode, when we’re fighting against life, they flow when we’re in acceptance.
I can only tell you how I do it. That is by a process of being attentive and mindful. When life throws me a wobbler (I’m getting to like that word!) I sit down and get really clear on how I’m feeling. This is anger. This is disappointment. This is regret. Whatever the immediate feeling is. I don’t judge it. I don’t think ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this’. The next thing I do is realise I’m not my feelings, that what happened happened, and it will be alright. Does this make the problem go away every time? No. But I’m usually ok with it.
I know it’s natural to get frustrated when things go wrong. Don’t feel you have to stoically take everything on the chin. Just try to get conscious that you are feeling a feeling about the thing and this is what’s making you upset, and not the thing itself. It is resistance to ‘what is’ that causes suffering, not the event itself.
When we can accept what is in the moment we have peace.
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