I don't know about you but I have not met too many people that are consistently happy. Life is full of ups and downs, times of elation and deep peace and times of loss and difficult challenge. There are so many things we don't want: the pile of bills on the desk, the extra weight, the long commute, the difficult boss, the cold winter, the dishes that always have to be done, etc. The list goes on and extends even to the tendencies in ourselves: the self-judgement, the procrastination, the perfectionism etc.
All these irritations in life are like one of those children's big punching balloons with the weight at the bottom and the perverse smile. The more we push it away and punch it the more it keeps popping back up. We hope that by ignoring or pushing aside all these undesirable conditions that they will go away. In most cases they don't. They keep coming back.
What if the non-acceptance of the things we don't want is actually preventing us from achieving the things we do want? And what if the acceptance of those very things we are not happy about can in the end bring us greater happiness?
That is a pretty amazing paradox.
Let us examine this.
What You Resist Persists.
There have been a lot of scientific studies showing this is true. Studies of people with chronic pain have shown that those people who resist their pain actually create more muscle constriction around the injury and make the pain worse extending the effects of the injury. In a similar way the constant ignoring or resistance to conditions in our lives will actually reinforce them. For example, try to not picture and elephant in your mind. What happened? You probably saw a picture of an elephant. In this example, ignoring something actually gave more power to that which we ignored. What this means is that what you resist persists.
What You Accept can Heal
Conversely those people with chronic pain that learned how to let their pain be through meditation practice reduced their pain by 40-57% with only 4 – 20 minute periods of training. Some people actually experienced healing of these long term conditions that they thought were not possible.
Other brain research has shown that when people let the pain be through meditation practice there is a lessening of the neurons firing in the brain where pain is registered and more firing of the neurons in the pre-frontal cortex, the area that regulates emotional response, meaning and solutions. So in other words when we accept the unacceptable the brain automatically starts working on solutions to the problem and opens up to finding a context that can bring meaning to the suffering.
So often, it is not what we are experiencing but the point of view we take towards our experience that causes the resistance. We can resent our job loss or conversely, view it as an opportunity to discover our life purpose and a real fulfilling career. We can look at a health crisis as a disaster or a wake-up call to lead a healthier life.
Another shift in perspective is how we define what acceptance is. This is crucial. Let's first start by getting clear on what I mean by acceptance and what it is not.
Some people think that by accepting a difficult situation they are taking the position that things will never change and they will be stuck in it for the rest of their lives. This is acceptance with resignation or acceptance with victimhood. Because most people do not want their difficulties to last, of course they won't accept them.
But there is a healthier form of acceptance that actually allows situations to change: Present-time Acceptance. Present time acceptance is letting the difficult situation, the pain and the suffering be the way it is in the now. It is just a simple recognition that the way life or the way you are is just that way right now. There is the possibility for it to be different in the future but right now it is the way it is. A condition in ourselves or life is there. Whether or not we let it be, it will still exist so why not just recognize it being there. No amount of ignoring it will make it go away. It's there.
So we just accept it is there in the moment. There is a great power in Present-Time Acceptance.
The Solution is in the Problem
When we accept our problems an amazing journey opens up if we choose to follow it: solutions will emerge. If we investigate the problem with acceptance, curiosity and openness, with the questioning of of "What's really going on here" often aspects of the difficulty that we didn't see before because we were too busy avoiding looking at them, begin to be seen. We see this aspect and that aspect. We see relations between the aspects that we never saw before. We see some connections that should not be hooked up. More space opens up in the problem that was previously condensed. Some ah-ah's occur i.e. "Ah yes that's what is really going on?"
The complexity morphs into simplicity. We might see a deeper purpose behind some of the aspects of ourselves that we judge. Maybe the inner critic has a job of self-correction and the procrastinator is trying to protect us from failure but they have just gone too far in their jobs. As we accept the problem and go deeper and deeper into seeing it a solution pops out of the problem that is much better than one that we might have imposed based on non-acceptance of the problem.
Here's an exercise:
- Sit quietly where you cannot be disturbed.
- Put your attention on something you are resisting and say to yourself: "Just for this moment I will accept that this unacceptable situation is in my life and let it be here".
- Allow yourself to experience everything about this situation. Let in fully all the feelings, worries, fears, future disastrous visions, etc and all the related sensations in your body.
- The feelings will grow. Let them. If you feel afraid, be afraid. If you feel angry, be angry. If you feel sad, cry. Have the courage to face what you cannot accept. Let the experience build. What you will notice is that it will eventually reach a climax and then it will all start to subside.
- As this happens there may be a shift. I call this the "Soul-shift" where a deeper aspect of your being starts to engage. A vague sense of calmness begins to develop. You open up to a deeper sense of knowing. You may see something in the problem that you did not see before that was hidden underneath the stuff you didn't want to see. Now you see it and it presents a possible solution to the problem.
Another thing that may happen is a "Turn around". Gradually your attention goes off the problem and switches to a goal. You start thinking of what you want instead of what you don't want. You start to imagine finding the job you do want or the kind of relationship you prefer with your partner. You think about what you can do to make that happen.
A new confidence arises because even though you don't know how this outcome will happen that very act of shifting from what you don't want to what you do want changes the energy of the whole situation. You feel some optimism.
Now take your energy off resisting what you don't want and place it on wanting what you want. You don't need to resist anymore. You gave that up. So now every time you think of what you don't want just think of what you do want and start thinking about how you can make that happen. Ask, "How can I make my goal happen?" Wait for intuitive answers in the next few days. They will come. Follow up on these possibilities and take action. Your life will start to change.
Over time as you do this, with situations that seem unacceptable, this deeper sense of yourself may become stronger. In essence this is your true self. It's that centre that is undefined and unaffected by anything that occurs in life. It is the peaceful re-source of our lives that we want to reside more in: the source of our authenticity, new inspiration and aliveness.
As we reside more in this centre, we will experience that there is a greater fulfillment in life that comes not from resisting life but from resting in the flow of all our experiences, (not just the acceptable ones, but the unacceptable ones as well.)
Life is not about selectively experiencing it's about being in all our experiences from the fullness of our true being.