“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”—Reinhold Niebuhr
Think of a current problem upsetting you right now. It may be related to a relationship, your finances, career, health, or otherwise. Try to get a sense of how it is affecting you, while distancing yourself from the mental chatter. The idea of acceptance is difficult to grasp for many because people believe it implies resignation or apathy. In fact, acceptance means letting go of worry, fear, anger and negative emotions and choosing peace instead. Often, what we experience isn’t the real cause of our suffering, as much as our thoughts about it. And since we cannot control our thoughts, we try desperately to make sense of what is taking place.
Can you identify with this regarding your experience? Because we are close to the experience, the pain feels real, and regrettably, we get caught up in negative thoughts and emotions. The good news is, there are several therapies such as ACT and CBT that focus on accepting our thoughts and learning to diffuse them. The premise underlying any unpleasant experiences is learning to accept our thoughts, which neutralizes our pain and suffering. This is because our thoughts are saboteurs that convince us things are more distressing than they are (known as catastrophizing). It is by better understanding the thinking process, we realize that thoughts come and go from our mind and there’s no use giving them more energy.
Acceptance allows you the freedom to be yourself, because when we’re consumed by pain and suffering, we are not our true selves. Have you experienced this before of not inhabiting your body but controlled by your thoughts and emotions? When we accept things as they are, we develop greater psychological flexibility and what happens is aligned for our greater good. Now, let me be clear, I am not saying we should accept any form of harassment, abuse, bullying, hatred, criminal acts of violence, etc. I am saying, to ease our pain and suffering, we must accept the situation as it is, even though we may not like what is happening. Acceptance opens the door to our healing, which should be our priority over feeling good in the interim. Can you see where I’m coming from? Our long-term wellbeing should take priority over feeling good in the meantime. Healing means developing a new lens in which to view our circumstances, instead of being caught up in negativity.
When we heal, we align with our authentic nature instead of being governed by fleeting thoughts and emotions. Healing is a journey into oneself to discover the true essence of who we are. It is not meant to be a pleasant experience and sometimes can be more painful than the initial wounds. But we must take that journey if we want to live authentically, otherwise we will continually run into problems. Sometimes, it is difficult because we may not be ready for what lies ahead. Here’s the good and bad news: No one has their affairs in order. I’m yet to meet a single person free of emotional wounds and whose thoughts are peaceful and harmonious. Each of us is afflicted by some form of mental and emotional suffering, and we’re all trying to find our way in the world. Some of us are doing a better job than others, but it doesn’t mean we cannot find our way.
Is this beginning to make sense, that acceptance leads to peace and harmony and the freedom to be yourself? If you sense resistance to what I’m saying, put the advice into practice. Do the healing work and test the strength of my statements. Non-acceptance is resistance, and as you know, what we resist persists. Even unfortunate experiences can teach us valuable lessons about ourselves. I went through a life-threatening illness two decades ago and lost my father to type II diabetes not long after. Had I resisted those experiences; I may not be here to write these words on your screen. But I trusted life. I trusted the experiences were fundamental to my soul’s evolution. Through my pain and suffering, I gained the personal growth that I now use in my writing, coaching, and speaking.
I mention this to illustrate how tragedy and loss can be turned into enriching experiences for our greater growth. Returning to the question I asked you in the first paragraph. Try to answer the following questions in your diary or journal to get clear on your problems:
What are you resisting through your current experience?
What is behind your resistance? What are you choosing not to see?
What are you believing about this? Is it serving you?
Who would you be without the story?
What does the vulnerable place within you want you to know? What does it need you to understand?
Take your time and connect with your wise self as you answer them, since there may be hidden gems contained within them. Go deeper into the core of your being to discover why these experiences are affecting you. It is once we accept all that is that we find true freedom to be ourselves once more.