We’re well into the new year, and despite my very helpful set of suggestions in my last blog entry, you still feel crumby. Sometimes your mother was right. Sometimes there’ll be days like these. We live in a culture that tells us that if we do all the right things, we can totally control how we feel and how we live. If we don’t know what to do, we should go see an expert, and they can tell us all the right things to do and say and think and feel. But sometimes what there is to do is to sit still and practice acceptance.
Acceptance isn’t laying down and dying. Acceptance isn’t giving up. Acceptance isn’t condoning the bad behaviours of others. Acceptance isn’t becoming Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh. Acceptance—which can be quite difficult—is acknowledging and allowing for WHAT IS, without trying to change it. Sometimes even when we eat nutritiously, get the right amount of sleep, exercise, talk with our friends, connect with our partners, engage in work we really like and generally check all the boxes off the list, we can still feel like we need a ladder to climb up to a snake’s rear end.
We can get quite upset and frustrated and go to the, “BUT I DID EVERYTHING I WAS SUPPOSED TO” place and question why we bothered to do all those good-for-us things if we didn’t end up feeling how we wanted to, in the end. It isn’t fair. That was something else your mother was right about (damn…she’s two for two in this post, and we all know how psychologists love to blame mothers for everything). It isn’t fair.
The trick with acceptance is that you are taking the value judgment out of whatever is happening. It’s about recognizing things as they are, without trying to change them. It’s in the process of trying to change things that we have little or no control over that we find such great frustration. For instance today, with the windchill, it’s -41 in Ottawa. That temperature is soul crushing ONLY IF I JUDGE IT. If I accept it, without judgment, it is what is. Not good, not bad, not SO COLD I CAN’T EVEN BREATHE RIGHT, but it just is. It is -41 today. I can’t change it, and so I will (continue to be) somewhat miserable until I accept that this is the current state of affairs. This too shall pass. I don’t have to like it, but I may start feeling less demoralized if I accept that the temperature is the temperature.
Obviously, it’s easier to accept temperature than other things that we face. I encourage my clients to examine what it is they really have the power to change. If we can differentiate between what we can and cannot change, we can also have a better sense of what we will need to accept. Once we practice acceptance, we can stop wasting our time on fruitless labours, and instead channel our energies into more productive pursuits. We often try to change some aspect of the people in our lives, be it our partners, our children, our colleagues or our family members. I don’t think I need to expound on how frustrating a process that is. Acceptance may go a long way in this regard.
Acceptance comes out of a greater awareness of our feelings and ourselves, and the growing realization that even though we may not wish to experience sadness, loss, frustration or anger, we will not come apart if we do. We can accept that these are feelings that arise within us, and we don’t need to give them any more importance than other feelings we experience at other times. With increased awareness of what is, we can then make more informed decisions about how we want to proceed.
Part of the difficulty that arises out of these more negative feelings is that as a defense to them, we try to find ways to control situations beyond our control through assigning blame for the feelings to either ourselves or someone else. We can start doubting ourselves—if I was good enough, I would have gotten that job; if I was more loveable, the relationship wouldn’t have ended; I can’t possibly bear these feelings anymore. Or, we can start lashing out at others—if only my partner were good enough, I’d feel happier. Whether we blame ourselves or blame someone else, it serves the same function: we cope with the loss or pain by making it the product of something that could have theoretically been controlled for. We resist acceptance of that which is, in order to make believe that if we (or someone else) had just done things differently, then none of the pain, frustration, sadness, anger or loss we don’t want to feel would ever have happened. With acceptance of situations beyond our control, including the feelings that spontaneously arise within us, we can better avoid the blame game. Acceptance doesn’t mean that we won’t hurt, but it does mean that we won’t exacerbate our own misery.
The mere existence of negative feelings or bad days isn’t necessarily a sign that we are doing things wrong. Some days will be like this. If we’re having a bunch of those kinds of days, we don’t’ have to accept everything forever. Sometimes, it is in our best interests to figure out if there’s something in our control to change. But often, we just need to hunker down and accept that which cannot be moved. Only you can decide which is which and none of this is emotionally easy. With practice, when we start tuning in to our own experiences, feelings, beliefs and values, we can gather that valuable information about whether it’s time for a change, or time to wait for the storm to pass. When we listen to ourselves—practising awareness and acceptance—we make the decisions we are the most proud of.