They say that acceptance is necessary for happiness. Acceptance of your situation as it is, not as you wish it would be. Without it we live in the world of could-have-beens, should-have-beens and those magic beans that promise riches and good fortune but somehow never materialise. This is my take on how to achieve it in the hope that others who have found better ways will find it and add to it… Here goes.
Step 1: Accept that you have trouble accepting things
I confess I struggle with acceptance. Every day. But whilst it sounds stupid, accepting that you have a problem with acceptance is the first step. It was definitely mine. It was also eye-opening becoming aware of the impact this rejection of my reality had on my mental health.
Step 2: Face what you cannot accept
This is the hardest step: looking what you cannot face in the eye and getting a measure of the problem. The way to do this was beautifully articulated by a chap called Willis H Carrier and quoted by Dale Carnegie in his awesome book: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. The first one goes like this:
- Ask yourself what the worst possible outcome is if you can’t solve your problem.
If it is a financial issue, start with a spreadsheet or piece of paper and work out the shortfall and when things go critical with your bills. If it’s a relationship issue, journal it with the impact on your life if the worst happens. Whatever it is, be honest and do so with kindness. Some call it self-parenting, which I rather like given the way the voices in my head work. The point is not to go Chicken-Licken all over it (“the world is about to end!!!”) but to pragmatically articulate the issue (“I run out of money at the end of the month and I might lose my home, and these are the bills I need to pay”) in a way that enables you to creatively think up solutions.
Step 3: Prepare to accept
This is not the same as accepting defeat. Far from it.
Willis puts it this way:
2. Mentally prepare to accept the worst if necessary.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve been through absolute paralysis in a crisis, brain shut-down, palpitations and breathing difficulties. You’re not reading advice from a Zen Guru. You’re reading the outcome of a hit-and-misser of what has worked for her. So far this is what HAS worked for me. Pick what does, drop what doesn’t. You know the drill:
a) Breathe. It’s not by accident that yogis start with the breath. I use what I tell my kids is the “4-7-8 Trick”. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold it in for 7 counts and breathe out for 8 counts. Do this four times OR until you feel your heartbeat slowing down.
b) Scan your body for tension as you consider your situation for what it is. Is it in your heart? Your gut? Your throat? (all places I feel my own stress keenly). When you find it in your body, start breathing into it. Take your focus into that tension and breathe deeply. As you breathe identify the emotion (fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, anger..) and remind yourself that it is a feeling and that you are not your feelings. This takes practice but the more you do it, the more you will enable that stuck emotion to flow out of your body so you can see and act more clearly.
c) Use your body to accept what your mind cannot. This is one I came up with myself. The chances are that there are gurus out there that can give a name to a more ancient, established practice (if it’s a good idea, usually someone else has had it before you!). I realised quickly that when I was anxious, my monkey-mind wouldn’t stand down easily. This made setting any intention (including acceptance) virtually impossible at the height of hyper-anxiety. I needed something to shortcircuit that spiraling negativity. It occurred to me that when mind-over-matter fails, we fix things the other way: matter-over-mind. Most of us know that physical exercise is the NUMBER 1 way to combat stress. This is the same principle but with fewer starjumps (though I will ALWAYS recommend walking and exercise as a longer term fix. If you’re not already doing it PLEASE consider it).
Basically, you use a physical gesture to symbolise your acceptance and breathe into it until your tension subsides. Being Hindu, I use mudras and mantras that are meaningful to me. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, find something that works for you and give it the meaning you need. The aim is to take the focus away from the turmoil in your head and see clearly the outcome you wish to achieve.
Step 4: Make a plan
Willis says: “3. …then calmly improve upon the worst possible outcome.”
Over Christmas last year I had my own crisis about the state of the world. I followed Willis’ words and blogged my way out of it. What came out of me has become my plan for this year.
Step 5: Don’t do it alone – you don’t have to!
If you need support reach out and get help. Human beings only become vulnerable when they are disconnected from their loved ones and their community. If you can’t escape your headspace, escape your physical environment and interact with human beings. Volunteer. Go to the library. Join a Facebook group and share your expertise. Campaign for the environment. Plant some trees. Look at your friends network and arrange to see a few (especially those you think could do with the company). Humans NEED connection. Your healing starts with this one step.
This is a work in progress. I would love to hear from others who have worked on their own take on acceptance. We learn best from each other.