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.”