Like most baby boomers or people who grew up in California, I am very familiar with the statement, “Accepting what is.” A product of dozens of spiritual, philosophical, and psychological perspectives, this phrase is offered as a solution to overcome the trials and tribulations in both our individual lives and the world around us. The problem is, when things in the world seem rather painful, upsetting, and sad, or when our personal lives are in the tank, accepting what is feels not only unhelpful, but flat-out sucks. How can any of us “accept what is,” when the world around us is crumbling? Could it be that the problem is more personal than it appears?
On the surface “accepting what is” seems simple. That is likely part of the difficulty. Whenever we think we know something, we tend to go automatic about it. Consider the last time you stopped and consciously thought about the details of signing your name when necessary or typing each key on the keyboard. Once we go automatic we also tend to go unconscious about things. Did you ever order dessert or that extra drink when you knew it wasn’t the best course of action? That’s because even when we know better, we don’t always do better. I’ll bet everyone reading this article knows that accepting and letting go is a good practice, at least in theory. Yet, how many times do we continue to react by fighting or resisting certain experiences in our lives?
A good example these days is the U.S. Presidential race. Millions of U.S. citizens are working themselves up into a lather over an event that probably won’t change the big details of most of their lives on a day-to-day basis. Surely most people know that getting upset, frightened, angry, belligerent, revengeful, argumentative isn’t healthy for anyone individually or collectively as a nation? What makes us hold on to such negative emotions even when we know better?
Or what about if our best friend betrays us, we lose our money in the stock market, our house burns down, our husband leaves us, or we get cancer? All of those events seem unfair and wrong on many levels, and the automatic response is for most of us to push back and fight them for all we are worth. But is that a good way to live?
After spending a couple of days thinking it over I believe there are seven reasons we automatically cling to ideas and thoughts that are reactionary, combative or detrimental rather than accepting what is. They are:
1) Habit. Most of us like to believe that we are fully conscious and aware individuals. Unfortunately, our habits determine the vast majority of our experiences. We might claim we have free will and argue for our Constitutional Rights, but most of our actions and decisions are based on deeply encoded beliefs that we’ve picked up along the way. As I’ve written about before, some of those ideas might be beneficial, and others are all-out lies. Most of the time, we don’t consciously know the difference and act automatically out of habit.
Nowhere is this habit more evident than with addiction. Few of us ever want to admit that we eat too much, drink too much, gamble to excess or do any other activity compulsively. These deeply ingrained behaviors stick with many of us until we can consciously admit we have a problem and seek to find solutions.
And let’s never forget one of the most insidious habits in the world today—closely following the media and especially television. Millions of U.S. citizens spend hours every day watching news programs and advertising that is generated by organizations with an agenda, or companies hellbent on selling as much product as possible. If a person’s mental diet is stuffed full of such biased and untrue information it helps to form habits of belief that are often difficult to even recognize, let alone change for the better.
2) Control. Along the lines of addiction, many of us are addicted to control. We might admit we aren’t in charge of the planet rotating around the sun, but don’t ask us to change any other actions to reflect that! Whenever we believe our firm involvement is necessary for the Universe to stay on course and everything be okay, we find it impossible to let go and accept an alternative.
3) Fear. The emotion of fear lurks behind most habits and control issues that we refuse to give up. For a number of reasons, we convince ourselves that our very survival depends on upon us hanging on as tightly as possible. When fear of harm to our loved ones or ourselves is involved, letting go or accepting becomes even more unattainable.
4) Lack of trust or faith in what we say we believe. Most every person on the planet wants to believe they understand how the world works. Fortunately, every single religion around the world offers a version to satisfy this desire. Yet, even though many people say they believe devoutly in their particular faith explanation, very few actually live their life that way. It’s one thing to say you believe in love and forgiveness for everyone, and quite another to live that way every day.
5) Expectations. Most of us operate with unconscious expectations monitored at every moment. Does this add up? Is that fair? That shouldn’t have happened! Why did that happen to me? Behind them all are judgments based upon habits, control, fear, lack of trust and all the other elements of our belief system. Even when they aren’t true, especially when they aren’t true, our expectations can block us from accepting “isness.”
6) Illusions/Delusions. I think Albert Einstein answers this one better than I ever could. He said, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
7) Ego. Last but not least is our ego involvement in everything we say and do. While the ego does serve a purpose in our psyche, when allowed to run rampant through our affairs we can easily be lead astray. Our ego is that voice that judges what everyone else is doing and saying. In many cases, it insists that we have the right and perfect solution to everything that is going on in our lives and everyone else’s too. Our ego often considers itself to be “mother justice” for the whole world. If we would rather be right than happy, if we can’t understand why others just don’t see things our way and do what we think they should do, that is our ego running the ship.
But, is it possible our negative emotions are necessary and appropriate at certain times? Surely, when violence or abuse occurs, we should never just idly stand by and let that be. The problem with this line of thinking is believing that accepting what is, is a form of condoning or approving of an event or situation. It’s not. Accepting what is acknowledges the happening or circumstance, and then without negative resistance or reaction takes appropriate steps to correct the situation by whatever means are available. If no means exist, then realizing that, and allowing the energy (however negative) to move on or away without resistance, is the appropriate course of action.
In many ways, accepting what is requires great courage and discipline. A continuously proactive approach to what is happening, “accepting what is” asks us to be receptive and open rather than restrictive or closed down. Resignation, apathy, or a “whatever” attitude are all its opposite.
Face it. Accepting what is, is challenging and tough especially when it is triggered by any one of the seven above. How then, can we ever hope to master it? We get there the same way we get to Carnegie Hall—practice, practice, practice. Simply put, there is no quick and easy solution, The life-transforming experiences of accepting what is, surrender, and letting go are the journey of a lifetime.
Ultimately it comes down to us. What is important to us? How do we want to live our lives? If we care, we must be willing to admit that at the core of accepting what is, is the acceptance that we are the ones doing the judgment, and own that what comes next is our choice. Do we go from here proactively and on purpose, or do we blame others, fight, struggle, become angry and convince ourselves the world is not a good place to live? The SMART solution is as Eckart Tolle says, “Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it … This will miraculously transform your whole life.”
Thea Dunlap says
Wonderful article. Yes it is hard to accept, depends on the circumstance and how deep it is. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Thea! Yes, ultimately it really depends on the circumstances and what they specifically mean to us. The only way to learn to accept is for us to acknowledge that we make it deep, or shallow, depending upon our attachments. Not easy by any means. But I hold the hope for us all that it can be done. Thanks for adding to the conversation. ~Kathy
Linda Wolfd says
“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it … This will miraculously transform your whole life.” Seems like a wonderful way to reduce the many stresses of life.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Linda! Thank you for checking in and letting me know that you understood what I was hoping to communicate here. Not easy….but so much better than living with anger, worry or fear don’t you think? ~Kathy
Laura Zera says
This is a fantastic post, Kathy. It helped me reframe some of what I sometimes view as apathy. Also, I think an important word in the mix of accepting what is is “curiosity.” I try to look at all the changes in the world with less judgment and more curiosity. It helps me to feel more steady in times of great change.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Laura! Thank you. As I said in an earlier comment, this was a post I just needed to “hear” myself so I’m glad if anyone else gets it too. And I agree that staying open enough to be curious about things and possibilities does hold back our judgement. I think it was Wayne Dyer who used to say, “I don’t know enough to be a pessimist.” I like to try to remember that especially when things seem out of control or beyond my control. Isn’t that peace of mind the ultimate way to live? Thanks again for your comment. ~Kathy
Susan Mary Malone says
You know, for me, Control is the issue I face when accepting what is. I do work on it, but sometimes events seem so outrageous, I just can’t believe folks don’t see it my way. It’s been my nemesis, and although I’m much better, it still creeps up.
I just had the opportunity to work on that very thing this morning! My blog last week was fairly controversial, and I’ve had some haters on social media. I knew I would, yet and still, I had a bit of anger arise when someone hated pretty big on FB, and obviously either didn’t read the blog, or missed the point. So, once more I had a nice lesson on letting go when someone doesn’t agree with me.
I just LOVE the Tolle quote. Now, THAT’s something I can work with. Reminds me of Nietzsche’s concept of Amor Fati, the love of your fate–no matter what.
Thank you, Kathy! I SO needed this this morning!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Susan! Yes, doesn’t every day give you an opportunity to work on this issue? I’m glad to see I’m not alone with this although it’s not exactly fun. I read your post myself and never commented, even though I think I agreed with just about everything you said. I guess I didn’t notice if you had some trolls…that’s never fun either! But again, the good news is that it gives us a chance to really practice what we preach AND it also means that we are making people think….and that’s HUGE for me. I think we would all do better to think more consciously these days….ha,ha…but then that’s MY control issue. Thanks for checking and let’s both keep reminding each other okay? ~Kathy
I think we all have thresholds and when crossed emotions run high and critical and logical thinking can become compromised.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Haralee! Thank you for checking in on this. I do agree that we all have different thresholds AND perspectives. And I certainly hope I didn’t imply that I have this all worked out in my own head to the point that it’s an easy practice for me. But I do believe that we need to start having these types of conversations (not to mention the thoughts in our heads) so that we don’t get mislead off track, or get so freaked out that we can’t even discuss important issues. There is much going on our country that needs thoughtful and aware attention. And if now us, who? Thanks again for your thoughts. ~Kathy
Kathy D says
An excellent and thought provoking post, as evidenced by the good discussion that takes place in the replies. As a person who believes in taking action, I have struggled with the concept of acceptance. It took me awhile to figure out that resisting does not help at all, and actually has a negative impact on my energy. I’m still working on it for sure. Thank you for keeping these wonderful conversations going.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Kathy D! Thank you so much for checking in here and letting me know that you found this as provocative as I hoped. As I said to Carol I realize it is a bit “thick” and definitely more esoteric that many of my posts here. But I can’t help but believe that the conversation really needs to be elevated beyond what most of us are talking about most of the time when it comes to many of these topics that carry great emotion. It is so easy to skirt around the “real” issues and focus on what is wrong rather than how it is playing out and where our own responsibility lies in it all. Never easy. Not always fun. But I do believe it’s important. Thank you again for your support. I REALLY appreciate it. ~Kathy
Carol Wuenschell says
“God grant us courage to change the things we can change, serenity to accept the things we cannot change, and wisdom to know the difference.” I have never encountered a wiser statement than this, nor a more poignant expression of the human predicament and the dilemma that we all face in our lives.
Thank you for a thought-provoking post, Kathy. You always have so many good things to say. But seriously, I am afraid that anyone who thinks that the outcome of this year’s US presidential election could not have any significant effect on our lives is hiding his or her head in the sand. I know you can find people in this country who fear each of the two presumptive candidates. What is more telling, however, is that there are people outside of this country, all over the world, who are not Democrats or Republicans or Americans, who fear one of the two presumptive US candidates, but you don’t find that kind of fear of the other candidate. I’m not talking about terrorists, I’m talking about our allies and ordinary people who are just worried about what the election of that particular candidate could potentially do to the world. I have never seen anything like this before in my life with respect to a US presidential election. I am a child of the Cold War, and I have never been more afraid.
Normally I would avoid the appearance of being “political”, and I will understand if you do not wish to approve this comment for posting. For me, however, the current situation is beyond political. This is not a question of conservative or liberal ideology. My concerns about the candidate in question do not pertain to those ideologies. The candidate doesn’t even fall clearly on that spectrum. In fact, it is alarmingly difficult to predict what this person might actually do if elected. I frankly find that very scary. (I wonder what people were thinking when they elected Hitler.)
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Carol! Thank you so much for your comment. Your words are exactly why I felt compelled to write this post in the first place. Again, I do not believe that “accepting what is” is a passive or Pollyanna approach to life. Instead, I believe it is the most aware, conscious and nonviolent way possible.
Consider what Nelson Mandela did by transforming Apartheid in South Africa. He was an activist for personal freedom and overcame great odds without violence or fear. Gandhi was the same. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the same again. The approach of all of these men was not to hide their heads in the sand or ignore what was happening. But they refused to allow it to motivate their actions with fear. Accepting that any certain situation is happening right here, right now, does not lessen our attention. Instead it asks us to take the moral high ground to the best of our capabilities. Not easy, but certainly heroic. It is far, far too easy to respond and react out of fear and anger. Where and when does it stop if not with us? We must be the change we hope to see in the world.
And as to what people were thinking when they elected Hitler? I’ll bet they were unconsiously acting out of the 7 things I list in the post. I just never want to do that myself.
Thank you for continuing this very important conversation. ~Kathy
Carol Wuenschell says
Okay, I feel better about what you are saying.
Regarding Hitler, though, I suspect that many people who voted for him believed that he would make Germany great again. As one of the losers in World War I, Germany was severely punished by the winners for its part in that truly horrible war – rather unfairly, considering that WWI was a conflict without a clear moral right or wrong side. The German people were suffering economically as a result and feeling ill-treated, and Hitler was able to whip up nationalistic fervor in part by finding scapegoats for people’s anger – blaming Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, etc. for some of Germany’s woes. Added to that, Hitler’s delusional egoism and power-hunger led him to turn an elected office into a militaristic dictatorship. He ultimately put Germany on what was very clearly the morally wrong side of another world war. An awful lot of people’s lives were significantly affected along the way, in Germany and elsewhere.
My German ancestors all had left Europe before the rise of Hitler, but I have still sometimes wondered what I would have done if I had been living there at that time, and old enough to vote and make choices. Would I have seen any of that coming? Would I have done the right thing? Would I have had the courage to stand up against what was clearly wrong? I like to think so, but I have the benefit of hindsight, and ultimately I just don’t know.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Carol. Oh good. I realize that this post takes a more esoteric approach to the idea of what is happening in politics but I just see so many people who are so scared and worried and yet seem powerless to do anything about it. I completely agree that we should never sit by without getting involved, but worrying or getting angry about the situation IMHO just makes things worse. Taking steps when we can, is always good. Making ourselves a frightful mess doesn’t–and in some cases makes us so frozen in fear that we never do anything.
Plus, I think we all must on some level take responsibility for where the country is now, and the choices we face. It didn’t just happen in the last couple of months. I think the anger, hate and frustration we see so much of has been building for years now. The situation in Germany didn’t just sneak up on the people there. Far too many just sat back and hoped for the best or ignored their own part in the situation. And like you said, sometimes it’s that nationalistic fervor that really leads people, especially if we don’t stay conscious and aware, down the road to hell. But here we are. Accepting first, what is right in front of us, is the best place to consciously proceed forward.
I was hoping to raise the dialogue on this topic and I think I have. Thank you for sharing what I’m sure many readers are struggling with (me included!) –all of this helps point out the “problem” with accepting what is. ~Kathy
I think accepting is important and know that it brings much peace to our lives when we are able to do so. I do agree with Beth, however, as I am truly frightened about this coming election.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nora. Thank you. Your comment points out exactly why there is a problem with “accepting what is.” It certainly sounds good and most of us do admit that it can be important. But doing it and living that way can be really challenging. I work on this issue for myself constantly–that’s why I wrote this post!
Again, I personally believe that there are forces that are trying very, very hard to make us worried and afraid and mention a couple in the post. And I’ll bet you can ask people on either side of the political persuasion if they are frightened about the outcome of the election and they both would agree. But even more troublesome than what we think might happen when either side is elected is what all that fear is doing to our country. Fear makes us act in unloving and unthinking ways. I strongly believe it is in our best interest to find a way to come to peace about it…again, take action when possible. But the one and only thing we can always control (with awareness!) is how we repond and how we choose to move forward.
As Yoda from Star Wars said, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” May we all find the peace we seek. ~Kathy
Beth Havey says
Hi Kathy, I agree that acceptance can help us deal with the very very big picture. IE what Einstein said. I agree that certain things in our nature propel us to want to fight acceptance, like our egos. I agree that when our loved ones die–in order for us to go on living we must accept. And that’s difficult. I also love Eckart Tolle and find comfort in acceptance of the moment. It certainly might lesson ulcers and headaches and tension between people. But I was born to ACT, for sure. I’ve been in situations where as I was accepting something that was a done deal (and hurt me) I was getting help, I was seeking solace, I was acting.
And one last thought: A good example these days is the U.S. Presidential race. Millions of U.S. citizens are working themselves up into a lather over an event that really won’t change the details of most of their lives on a day-to-day basis.
I totally disagree. We live in dangerous times. This choice will either help us work through those times and plan for the future, or cage us in fear and isolation. I think how we vote is tantamount to the future of this country. Thanks for your post. Beth
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Beth! Thank you so much for your comment. I can tell it got you thinking and that is always a big goal of mine. And while I certainly don’t think that everyone should or would agree with me, I think you and I are actually very, very similar in what we believe about this.
I too think action is a VERY necessary part of acceptance. It is NEVER passive. But, like the serenity prayer, it is recognizing those things I have the power to change and also recognizing what is beyond my power. When there is something I can do, I do it without allowing myself to get angry or upset. When it is beyond my power, I let it go and leave it to the powers that control it.
And also, please understand that I strongly believe that we should vote and get involved in the world around us–again, if there is something within our power to change we do it. But I see so many people becoming angry and fearful about what is ahead and I personally don’t believe that is helpful to anyone or our country. Again, acting with intention and purpose is important. Letting go with faith and trust is important. Again as Einstein asks, “The most important question you can ask yourself is, do you believe in a friendly Universe?” That question guides me. Any time my thoughts and actions prove otherwise then I don’t really believe it.
Ultimately I believe accepting boils down to the peace I hold in my heart even while I act. Thank you again for taking time to question what you thought I was saying here. ~Kathy