My path to acceptance has been mainly through loss: lost career opportunities, relationships, health and, nearly, the loss of my life. Acceptance has come with the recognition that each loss has also been an opening.
A major turning point occurred several years ago. At that time I was bleeding internally and before I noticed any symptoms, I had already lost about 25% of my blood supply. Though less drastic than a brush with death a few years before, this situation recalled the terror of that time. I grew steadily weaker and underwent a series of increasingly invasive tests, but no diagnosis or treatment emerged. I consulted alternative healers and frantically scanned the Internet. I imagined fatal outcomes. And then one day I stopped fretting.
A Buddhist friend had given me this prayer, with instructions to recite it often, without judgment:
Please grant me enough wisdom and courage to be free from delusion. If I am supposed to get sick, let me get sick, and I’ll be happy. May this sickness purify my negative karma and the sickness of all sentient beings. If I am supposed to be healed, let all my sickness and confusion be healed, and I’ll be happy. May all sentient beings be healed and filled with happiness. If I am supposed to die, let me die, and I’ll be happy. May all the delusion and the causes of suffering of sentient beings die. If I am supposed to live a long life, let me live a long life, and I’ll be happy. May my life be meaningful in service to sentient beings. If my life is to be cut short, let it be cut short, and I’ll be happy. May I and all others be free from attachment and aversion.
At first, welcoming disease or death scared me even more, but with each recitation, I grew calmer. While I waited for test results, I began to have a different relationship with time. Whether I would live or die, whether I would heal by myself, with interventions, or not at all, was already out there in my future, waiting for me to arrive. I didn’t have to plan. I didn’t have to do anything differently. I just had to move through time, making the best choices I could, until my fate became clear. I stopped looking things up on the Internet and returned to my work as a therapist.
That moment of acceptance was liberating. Since then, I have been increasingly able to generalize the process. It’s all, already, there. I don’t need to fret. I don’t need to push. I just need to live my life to the best of my ability and, of the infinite possible futures, I will inevitably arrive at the one that is mine.
If there is one main factor that divides those of us who do not change from those who do, I think it is acceptance: of who we are, how we got to where we are, and that we – and only we – have the power to free ourselves.
Acceptance is being who we are, in each succession of present moments, swayed neither by avoiding what we fear nor by clinging to what we think we can’t live without. In the absence of acceptance, there can be no forward movement. The hidden patterns that create clinging attachment and fearful aversion take over, repeating themselves in our minds, feelings, behaviors, and relationships. We grow older, and the external circumstances of our lives change, but inside it’s, as the Talking Heads put it, “the same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”
Acceptance is the door that closes one life chapter and allows another to open. Acceptance is the last of Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s five stages of loss and a necessary precursor to moving on from mourning. Acceptance is the first of the 12 steps in addiction recovery programs and essential to beginning a sober life. Acceptance of self, and of responsibility for change, is the start of true recovery from the many unhappinesses that may come our way. Acceptance can be painful, but it is a pain that unburdens. In difficult circumstances, acceptance is the thing most of us try hardest to sidestep – and then try even harder to achieve. In its simplest form, acceptance is saying to ourselves, “Although I may be suffering, I can be content now. Yes, there are things I would like to change, and when I change them my life may have more ease, but I can already be content with my current circumstances.”
Accepting our real state, no matter what it is, begins the shift from victim – of external circumstances, of thoughts and feelings, of physical challenges, of past injuries – to victor.
P.S. The Goodreads Giveaway for Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas and the Goodreads Giveaway for 52 (more) Flower Mandalas end tomorrow, January 5th. Last chance to enter!
P.P.S. Yesterday, Charity Rowell-Stansbury, who runs the book review blog On My Kindle, did a nice email interview on me and Paths to Wholeness and posted it here: http://www.onmykindle.net/2017/01/featured-title-paths-to-wholeness.html