Lately I’ve been focusing on observing and cultivating the quality of acceptance. I had the idea to focus on this quality when I felt that I was seeing in my life the same patterns playing out again, and again and again, the same themes, the same problems, the same worries, the same fears – the only thing that was changing was the circumstances these things were playing out in. And I thought to myself, ‘What if I don’t try to change things this time? What if I allow things to happen?’
So, when I caught myself thinking on problems that I’m going through, I shifted my attention from problem-solving to problem-experiencing. Instead of asking myself; ‘How can I fix this? How can I make things what I want?’ I asked myself, ‘How is this making me feel? How is it affecting me? What is it like for me to be in this situation?’
This was also with people. When I found myself in conflicts with people, instead of thinking around, ‘How can I change them? How can I get what I want from them? How can I make them see that they are wrong and I am right?’ I shifted my thinking to, ‘Well, how do I feel by this person being like this towards me? How is it affecting me? What parts of myself is it bringing out?’
In other words, I accepted the experience that, either through a person or a situation, life was giving me.
Cultivating acceptance is not an easy thing to do. Actually it’s pretty %^&+># hard. My mind has been so focused on problem-solving that it really doesn’t appreciate being pulled away from that activity. My mind so loves to problem solve that it actually looks for problems to solve. As if I don’t have enough problems of my own I take on other people’s! So there was a lot of catching my mind returning to it’s usually problem-solving routines and saying to it, ‘But you don’t have to do all that work. Just be quiet and notice what it feels like to be going through this.’
What I noticed came up for me when I changed my approach to problems was a sense of not having control over anything. That what came with acceptance was a feeling of powerlessness. Perhaps this is why problem-solving is so alluring, it gives us this false sense of power over life and other people. In fact we don’t have any power over life or other people, the only thing that we have direct power over is how we respond to what they give us.
I found that ironically too, acceptance is where the control is. It takes a lot of self-control to let go of getting what you want and instead, accepting what you got. There’s another irony that opens up there too, the irony that the experience of something is usually made abundantly worse by our need to fix it. That it’s actually our fixing things that’s creating the majority of our suffering, not the experience itself.
In yogic philosophy, it is said that we are here to evolve to our ultimate state of evolution. In order to evolve we need to grow. So if there is a recurring theme in our lives, it’s because there’s something in that theme that is needed for our growth. Life doesn’t really make mistakes either. If you reject an experience, life will just give you another one and then another one and then another one. Each time around that experience will be even bigger and even louder and even stronger than the one that came before. Not accepting something is only increasing the suffering needed for growth.
After a time of cultivating acceptance I discovered too that an acceptance towards life went hand in hand with an openness towards it. Taking whatever happened with an attitude of acceptance and a question of, ‘What can I learn from this?’ And I noticed about myself that I hadn’t really been open to letting good things happen to me. In an attitude of acceptance it’s not just about allowing bad things to happen but allowing good things to happen too. I felt like I didn’t deserve good things, because I hadn’t earned them. So when good things were happening I was saying ‘No thanks’ a lot. Perhaps I felt that I had to problem-solve my way out of the bad things in order to earn the good. That I couldn’t just be gifted with a good thing. And when I really looked at that attitude, I found it kind of sad.
Acceptance is about trusting that life doesn’t make mistakes and it knows exactly what it’s doing when it gives something to you. It’s about having open hands. It’s about letting go of trying to make everything or everyone into how you think they ought to be and letting them be, just as they are. It’s about taking what is given, whatever is given, and saying a little bit more often, ‘Yes please’ and ‘Thank you’.
With thanks and a big Happy Birthday to cover yogini Sofia Pulici!