Acceptance is like a warm embrace.
I learnt this after a painful struggle with social anxiety disorder that prevented me from functioning normally in social situations. Anxiety and paranoia constantly plagued me, but the true disorder was my debilitating inability to accept what I was going through. I would angrily ask “why is this happening to me?”, “why can’t things be different?”, “why do I do that?”, and “I should have done better and made more progress”.
Does this sound familiar to you? For most people, lacking acceptance of what life throws at them is the major cause of pain and suffering. How can we embrace the reality of this present moment if we have conflicting expectations and desires for something different? The answer is we can’t, and never will.
Sometimes we grow to understand this fact, just like when I eventually understood that I was becoming my own worst enemy. After fighting uphill, I realized I was moving in the wrong direction and asking the wrong questions. Instead of demanding “why is this happening to me?”, I began pondering “how can I face this challenge at the level I’m at now?”
The acceptance I grew of myself soon brought the freedom I had sought after so ferociously. But no everyone reaches this stage. It takes a little bit of introspection and a lot of courage, both of which are inextricably linked to the practice of personal Solitude.
Buddha Was Right
What is evil? Killing is evil, lying is evil, slandering is evil, abuse is evil, gossip is evil: envy is evil, hatred is evil, to cling to false doctrine is evil; all these things are evil. And what is the root of evil? Desire is the root of evil, illusion is the root of evil. ~ Buddha
How convincing can a smiling, half naked and morbidly obese man be, right? But Gautama Buddha was right – at least about one thing. Desires. Desires for wealth, desires for possessions, desires for fame, respect, titles, stimulation and love.
When we want something we don’t have, we create pain and tension inside of ourselves, and if that pain is big enough, we’re prone to inflict pain on other people as well. Desires are the sole root of suffering in this world.
Ever heard of a friend who desires his neighbor’s wife so badly that he does whatever he can to get her? Who cares about her husband, her kids or their happiness and stability – if he wants her, he will get her. Desires can blind us. They can bewitch us and possess us and poison our minds like the toxic drug that it is.
Even wanting the latest version of iPhone creates a certain amount of tension and suffering in us. When we desire something, we are fundamentally dissatisfied with the way our lives are in the present moment – we find little fulfillment inside of ourselves, so we feel the need to stuff our empty voids with as many external acquisitions as we can.
How can we ever be at peace inside ourselves if we’re always chasing after this and yearning after that? Unfortunately, you, the reader, are just as guilty as me – we’re both ruining our lives.
Acceptance is a Hippy
Look at it this way … acceptance is the free-loving hippy to the office working idealist. Why? Because acceptance brings peace, love and happiness. Ever heard or met people who just seen to “go with the flow”? They’re much more likely to be more accepting people than the average person.
So how can we become more accepting, not just of ourselves, but the people in our lives, and life itself – without growing fungus under our nails, and wearing daisy chains in our hair? Firstly, we need to understand that the opposite of acceptance is not only desire, but also expectation as well. Do we expect too much from ourselves, our situations and others?
Try this simply test to determine whether you expect too much – all it requires is mindfulness of your thoughts and reactions. Ask yourself:
How many times during the day do I directly, or indirectly, use the word ‘should’?
For instance, you could say ‘Amanda, you should have done the shopping!”, or indirectly think “why doesn’t my boss ever compliment me?”
The more dissatisfaction, regret, tension or anger you feel, the more likely the culprit is your expectations. Look out for these symptoms and the more likely you will be able to see how much of an office working idealist you are.
Why It’s A Smart Idea To Give Up
Here’s a rhetorical question for you: do you really think you can change anyone? I still struggle with this question, and still occasionally live under the illusion that yes, I can.
Can you make someone a neater eater, a wiser decider, a punctual and hard working person? You can make people do things, sure. You can shout at them, pester them and nag at them, but at the end of the day the changes you make are only superficial. The true, long-lasting changes happen within the other a person, and only the other person can do that. Not you.
This is why if you’re an idealist, it’s a wise idea to just give up. All your efforts and disappointments are going to waste. With acceptance of the way life is, of the way you are and the way little Johnny keeps his messy room, comes perfect happiness.
The sooner you let everything be as it is, with no desire or expectation for something different, the better your life will be.
Book recommendation …
The author, a psychotherapist and Buddhist meditation teacher, offers stories, insights and fragments of wisdom for those plagued with feelings of unworthiness and self-hatred, caused by too many expectations. If you’re wanting some additional information about how to open to your current reality, this book is an excellent grab. For more about this book click here.
This article is part of The Virtues of Solitude series.