Once upon a time in a small village in China, lived a farmer and his son. The farmer’s son tilled their field with the aid of a horse.
One day the horse ran away. Neighbors gathered upon hearing the news and sympathized, “You have such bad luck.”
The farmer said, “Maybe.”
The following day the horse returned with half a dozen other wild horses in tow. The neighbors visited again and exclaimed, “What tremendous luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe.”
On the third day the farmer’s son, tried to ride one of the wild horses, fell and broke his leg. Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathies on his misfortune.
The farmer answered, “Maybe.”
The next day, military officials came to recruit strong healthy farmers into the army. When they found this farmer’s son with a broken leg they left him alone. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on the turn of events.
The farmer responded, “Maybe.”
I love this Zen story. It illustrates the power of acceptance beautifully.
The farmer was wise enough to know that one can never predict what life will manifest next.
It does not serve to glorify the past or fear the future; the only moment that anyone can control is the present.
The way to exert any control over the present is by accepting how our life is unfolding at this very moment.
Frankly, I don’t much care for acceptance.
I am all for change and forward movement. But, when it comes to accepting the present moment, I can’t help being the queen of resistance.
However, if there is one lesson that I have learned this year, it is to embrace the power of acceptance.
I have learned and written about several intangible concepts this year. I could have never imagined writing about subjects such as compassion, joy or perceptions when I started this blog. I kept encountering those topics; the only way to internalize them was by expressing them in my own words. In allowing myself to explore these nuanced thoughts and feelings, I have been able to let go of expectations and attain genuine satisfaction in my writing.
No other theory has explained the power of acceptance more eloquently than the Gestalt study of perceptions (aka the Emergence principle).
If as Gestalt indicates, perceptions are subjective, then each of us experiences a different reality. Each person constructs his/her own reality based on the present information and past experiences. This individual, subjective view of reality guides our thinking and our actions.
I can’t tell you what a revelation this was to me! This clarified the meaning I attributed to many things in my life, particularly my work.
Before we can change our reality – be it to overcome weaknesses or elevate our performance – we must recognize and accept who we are. Self-acceptance generates greater awareness and attention; it compels us to seek new information, experiment with new behavior, and take different actions, which ultimately propel us towards the new reality we desire.
Interestingly, self-acceptance is the one outstanding characteristic that sets self-actualized people apart. Maslow observed that self-actualizers tend to accept themselves as they are, imperfections, weaknesses, shortcomings and all.
Self-acceptance enables us to differentiate our thoughts and feelings, from our actions and our identity. We discover that we are more than what we do. It allows us to accept that we may be imperfect yet whole.
If acceptance is so powerful and has the capacity to open up our life, why is it so hard to be accepting?
Perhaps, because acceptance can be viewed as tolerance or even capitulation. When you accept something, does it mean that you are conceding defeat? Does it mean that you are giving in to your current situation?
To me, acceptance has often reeked of resignation; I have at times equated it to failure. It is scary to succumb to a situation, to accept it even when it arouses unpleasant feelings or negative thoughts. It feels diminishing to endure circumstances that are intolerable even if they are of our own making.
I have written about my struggles with getting healthy and building positive habits. At the end of a successful spring and summer, I found myself battling old habits of poor diet and an uninspiring fitness routine. It felt like failure, although I knew better. I had to accept that my goals were worthy and that my weaknesses (in allowing stress to affect my diet) only made me human. Acceptance paved the way for renewed enthusiasm towards my goals.
Fear is the greatest enemy to acceptance. Fear urges us to resist and repress reality. By refusing to deal with reality we can become judgmental, skeptical, even cynical. If we continue to listen to the whispers of fear, we will stagnate in our denials and avoidances. To open up our life we need to conquer our fears and believe in the power of acceptance.
Every time I compose a new article, fear creeps up on me. It asks me, “Who do you think you are? Do you even have the experience to take on such a heavy topic?”
There is no arguing with fear, because it feeds on irrational negative thoughts accumulated over a lifetime. My only response is to accept my reality. I may lack the experience, the authority or even a formal degree in writing, but by God, I want to be a writer. The only way to become one is to show up at this blank page, with courage and conviction. As long as I admit my inexperience and my desire to learn and grow as a writer, fear has no foothold. Fear retreats leaving me alone to carry on my work in peace.
Acceptance illuminates the potential in whatever is presented to us; it releases us to explore those potentials wholeheartedly.
Acceptance builds resilience and endurance. It enables us to expend energy on nurturing our various facets rather than on fighting pointless battles.
By accepting my regression to unhealthy eating habits, I can build resilient routines into my life. I trust my motivations; I am kinder to myself. Instead of giving in to skepticism, I choose to believe that I can overcome any obstacles (such as preparing ahead for stressful weeks). I affirm that I can and I will be successful in achieving my goals. I also choose to base my self-worth on my identity as an active person rather than on what the scale reflects to me at present (which is far from flattering!)
Acceptance makes us immune to criticism. We become willing to risk curiosity, wonder or any experience that reveals our human spirit. We do not expect the world to validate or recognize us, nor are we overwhelmed when we receive support from unexpected quarters.
Acceptance is the ultimate freedom that we can experience. It frees us to focus on what matters most, to live a life of authenticity and congruity. It releases us from attachment to specific outcomes and allows us to cherish our work. We are able to face success and failure with equanimity.
Whenever I feel myself slipping back into resistance, I return to reflective introspection. I create beautiful Zentangle art or go for a soothing meditative walk. I journal my internal narrative. The Serenity Prayer is especially powerful in bringing me back to the present, to focus on things I can control and to natural strengths that I can draw upon.
[God/Universe] grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
In the past I may have viewed time spent on such practices as self-indulgence, but now I value the need for mindfulness. These rituals reveal the nature of my resistance and the underlying reasons.
Inevitably, I uncover something new. I find a greater sense of contentment and awaken joy. In making peace with myself I see that I am an integral part of this world. I feel the goodness of life on our pale blue dot.
Acceptance always brings me back to faith; to humility and deeper appreciation for life’s purpose; and oneness with the Universe.
It makes me wonder… What might the power of acceptance do for you?
What are you currently resisting in your life? What are your thoughts about it? How would it serve you to accept and flow with the situation? What actions can you take to make peace with the situation? How does this alter your reality? Who might you become by embracing the power of acceptance?