One of my favorite fables is about a farmer whose only horse runs away. Once lost, the farmer’s neighbors express pity and remorse, but the farmer only utters “We shall see”. When found with several other horses, the neighbors are congratulatory and celebratory. The farmer expresses the same acceptance. Then the farmer’s son is injured while riding one of the new stallions. Again, the neighbors are consolatory, but the farmer remains acquiescent. In the end, the son’s injury keeps him from military recruitment. Neighbors are psyched, farmer stays cool…. You get the point.
Acceptance is one of the most challenging, yet the most important, parts of our life journey. Our lives are on a continuum of ebbs and flows. Great change can be instantaneous or slower than we hope. We label these upheavals as good or bad, tragic or beautiful. In truth, these seemingly oppositional descriptions are rarely mutually exclusive. In the most heartbreaking moments, there is almost always a simultaneous outpouring of love. It’s not a person or an event that causes our suffering, but our attachment to it and our resistance to what is.
Resistance is defined as a refusal to accept or comply; taking argument or action against something to prevent it from happening. Resilience is the capacity to recover and the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity. To try to control our lives and avoid pain or misfortune, we often confuse these two concepts. While they frequently share space within us, our response to our own resistance can be an opportunity to grow and strengthen our resilience. Which state we remain in is our choice.
Think about it. Think of someone you dislike, someone who makes you angry or upset. Whatever behavior it is that distresses you is unchanging. His or her words or actions may be off-putting, offensive even. And yet no matter how much you wish it would stop; the behavior continues. Of course it does! That is who that person is. That is who that person will always be, unless s/he chooses to grow and change. However, having the same response each time, internalizing the offense or irritation, is your own resistance to the behavior that is upsetting you. The same applies to events and circumstances in our lives, even physical pain. If you have a bush full of thorns, would you continue to prune it expecting it to feel soft? Would you be angry with it for scratching you? No! It’s a thorn bush. It will always be a thorn bush. Disappointment when you are pricked would be silly, apparently even insane if you asked Albert Einstein. A thorn bush will always have thorns. Cut them and more will grow. That’s between the bush and evolution, so why make it about you?
This is not to say that life does not have some events that we simply may not ever want to accept. Or that there are no intolerable behaviors. There may be people or circumstances from which we need to walk away or rework our relationship. There may be losses that we choose to resist, from which we don’t want to move on, where the wound is just too deep. And that’s okay. Scars are a sign of healing and they do not abolish beauty. Acceptance isn’t defeat or inaction. It’s simply building resilience by refusing to give in to resistance and labeling. And if love and acceptance can be found in real tragedy, can’t we find just a little in traffic?
No matter how hard we work to control our circumstances, we will never succeed. We can however succeed at controlling our reactions and not letting our circumstances rule our response. GI Joe said that knowing is half the battle. Although half may be overestimating, research does confirm that it is a great start! While I am an obvious advocate for using the RAW Method or Reiki to tap into and release resistance, I gratefully concede that these are not the only ways. Meditation, yoga, walking, prayer or any mindful practice will help you stay more focused, increasing your awareness of your own internal reactions, and better able to manage your responses to stressful, or even stimulating, situations. So, when someone cuts you off in a car this week, or your kid throws the same tantrum over the same toy, or your coworker makes that same snarky comment, don’t waste your energy trying to change or label what is happening. Don’t resist. Take a breath. Take a moment to recognize and accept that how you’re feeling is your response and how you react is your only responsibility. What’s going to happen from there? We shall see.
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