If, like me, you’re self-employed, you will probably be familiar with the sometimes unpredictable nature of one’s work routine and income. Somehow, even the best of plans can suddenly go seriously astray, seemingly without warning.
I notice, I cope better with this at some times than at others. Even after being my own boss for most of the the last 30 years, I can still find myself panicking and planning My Big Escape. My Big Escape fantasy involves packing a small suitcase with just enough possessions to survive for the rest of my life (monastic- style) and walking out of the house and into the sunset, thumbing a lift as I go. In this vision, I have no responsibilities, no worries and hardly any baggage, material or emotional.
Since noticing this tendency, I’ve set the intention to catch myself at the point in the internal movie where I’m choosing the contents of my suitcase, rather than waiting until that beautiful sunset beckons. In truth I know that running away from my predicaments doesn’t work. It simply buries the painful feelings deeply inside, only to emerge later as anger, resentment or even illness. So, how else might I work with this urge to run?
Acceptance, I find, is the first step to handling these difficult situations. It is about fully embracing life as it is; disagreements, computer breakdowns, illness, accidents, delays, disappointments and all. This might sound like resignation or apathy, but actually there is a fundamental difference. Acceptance simply means refusing to be consumed by how we would like things to be and instead actively engaging with the reality that confronts us. Once we have accepted a situation, then, yes we may find that some things are unacceptable and need to be changed. Then we take action. This is the difference between apathy and acceptance. Someone experiencing apathy will not take action – a position of personal disempowerment – whereas someone who is accepting of the situation will feel sufficiently free to recognise the need to change and will act upon it.
From a rational perspective, it is the way we manage our expectations that can get us into trouble. Non- acceptance means there is a gap between the demands or rigid expectations of our minds and the reality of what is. This is what causes us pain and what drains our energy.
In a spiritual sense, acceptance means not judging events as “good” or “bad”. What is important is how we respond to those events rather than how we judge them. Eckhart Tolle, in his book “The Power of Now”, calls this response to events “Positive Action” which he says is about “Accepting that you are stuck in the mud without deceiving yourself that it’s ok to be stuck in the mud. Then take action to get yourself out. This is then positive action – much more effective than that which arises out of anger, despair, or frustration.”
It is pointless to judge events as being “good” or “bad” when either may actually have positive or negative consequences. A “bad event” can result in a challenge for us from which we learn something. A “good event” brings joy, but then sadness because it passes away.
In wisdom teachings, we are encouraged to “surrender”, where surrender means giving up our attachment to the outcome of a situation or event. Our practice is then to give of our best and to let go of the results, to allow the chips to fall where they may. This can be particularly challenging when we encounter change, when our expectations are dashed or we experience betrayal.
It’s a given of life that change is inevitable, and accepting that fact frees us to surrender to life’s ups and downs. Welcoming change helps us to grow as it encourages us to step outside our comfort zones. Losing something potentially makes room for something better. So, acceptance is perfectly compatible with taking action, initiating change or achieving goals, even if the results happen to take on a different form to what was we might have been anticipating.
In a state of acceptance, we gain access to a more uplifting energy that flows like a surge of vitality into our actions.
When I remember these things, I find I can, metaphorically speaking, put my Big Escape suitcase back up in the loft…
(Image courtesy of Alan Levine on Flikr Creative Commons)