When life looks ugly, being asked to accept what’s going on can taste like a very bitter pill. At least at first, we just want to spat it out and find some distraction from this calling to look life right square in the eye.
I recoil at the sound of new age cliché’s but the one about “Whatever you resists persists,” is such a powerful fist to the gut that it’s worthy of exception. My clients give me an amazing opportunity to observe the utter power of resistance, and conversely of acceptance. We do indeed argue for our limitations, our fears, our dependencies, and our myriad of excuses to not do the really hard thing of accepting what is. When a person accepts themselves and their situation, the floodgates of breath and life and life-changing solutions come rushing in.
Ever notice how hard it is to be really present when you’re not breathing? Stopping the life force that rushes through us is hard, painful work.
If a drug addict doesn’t accept that she’s completely ruled by her relationship with her drugs, then how could she possibly begin to see the power she has to choose something better? Her energy spent on defensiveness, planning to get the next fix, denying the shame of neglecting her kids — it all just zaps her life energy. These behaviors do nothing to move her toward resolution, that is until she sees her own reflection in the mirror and acknowledges what she’s doing. Somehow, she must accept her pain alongside even the smallest spark of hope that she could have something more wonderful.
We have a collective habit of focusing on making change more than on being in our own skin. Compared with the rest of the world, Americans are more likely to move residences and careers often, to use mind altering substances like an everyday food group, medicate emotional and mental stresses just to cope with daily life, and live with more abundance and often luxury, while reporting low satisfaction with our lives.
People in therapy usually talk of their evil stressor ― their impossible situations. Pointing the way to the solution of their dilemmas, I take them by the shoulders and head them straight into the middle of that un-resolvable issue, that terrifying crossroads and insist that THIS is the very place they will find their best raw material for an enlightened solution to their pain and suffering.
Byron Katie has created a brilliant approach to this concept, involving a process which leads to complete personal ownership of what is happening. What is … is precisely the thing to pay attention to. She calls it “The Work,” which I find accurate to the point of bursting into a deeply revealing laugh. Let us not pretend that looking at the truth about ourselves and what’s going on around us isn’t really hard work. Until it isn’t.
It becomes easier when the resistance calms down and acceptance begins to set in. When I see that what I am experiencing is actually teaching me and that by exploring my inner depths I can see the brilliance in my own experience, I begin to see my beauty, my innocence, my well meaning heart, my all-out efforts to get things to make sense. I also see the ridiculousness of some of my choices to try to get joy by the practice of resisting the life that’s in front of me.
What if everything I have done has been for a good reason, or at least with a logical intention? Like maybe I was so terrified to be wounded again, that I skipped an opportunity to present my expertise to a conference while staying home numbing myself with food and drug, TV and fear? This strategy DID work, in that I avoided confrontation with my fear and expertly got myself off the hook.
Going numb worked and worked well, but I didn’t LIKE how it felt in the end. My inner GPS was pretty unhappy about my insistence upon keeping my Ferrari parked in the driveway. How can life use me to reach out, help others, care deeply and show up if I don’t even accept myself and my circumstances? It can’t.
Breathe. Release the grip. Become an observer who can look with gentle, astute willingness to truly see what is in front of you. Then you have the power to affect real change.
Copyright 2011 Joyce Marvel-Benoist