“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to
overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”
— William James, American philosopher and psychologist
I’ve always enjoyed looking at family photographs – even if I don’t know the people in the pictures. I love to hear the old stories, and I’ve become a bit of a family historian.
A few years back, I was inspired to learn more about my family following a presentation by the local historical society. The guest speaker talked about preserving family history. She said most families inherit boxes of pictures and often no one knows anything about the folks in the photos.
I sat my mother down with a stack of old photo albums, determined to get some answers and preserve some history while I could.
“Let’s start with the oldest,” I suggested. Mom reached for an album with an embossed cover. Many of the pictures had decorative edges, some had dates or notations, and each had been placed lovingly into the album using old-fashioned photo corners.
Mom pointed out long-deceased relatives, told stories of sleigh rides, skating parties, and summer picnics. All the while, I listened carefully, took notes, and wrote down names and dates. At one point, I asked if she missed the good times and friends.
“It wasn’t all good times and good friends,” she replied. “Sometimes it was pretty hard.” She ran her hand gently across one of the open pages.
“It seems we want the good times and good friends to stay around forever and the tough times – we want the tough times and prickly people to go away or just never show up in the first place.”
“Guess we’d miss a lot of lessons if that was the case.”
Mom nodded. “Life is really about loving what comes and loving what goes.”
Byron Katie, a best-selling American author and creator of The Work, claims that to live an empowered life, we must “become a lover of what is.”
Does this mean we must resign ourselves to what is – especially if it’s painful – and do nothing?
No, it means we accept what is without judgment, criticism, or resistance.
Acceptance places us in a position to see things more clearly and to choose a well-considered course of action.
One of the greatest challenges we face when working toward establishing healthy self-esteem is accepting what we are given. All we have is the present moment and the free will to choose how to be in that moment. We can choose acceptance or resistance, gratitude or judgment. It is not easy to accept what we don’t want – especially tragic circumstances.
To understand the power of accepting what is, try this simple two-part exercise. Step one: take any emotional, physical, or mental condition that you have deemed a problem. Rate your anxiety level on a scale of one to 10. Focus your attention on that situation, condition, or problem. Do not attempt to change it, resist it, or have it be different in any way. Simply bring your awareness without any resistance for a minute or two.
Step two: notice how you feel afterwards and rate your anxiety level again. Chances are you’ll see a lessening of your stress, anxiety, worry and pain, and you’ll have greater clarity around the issue.
You see, much of our stress is not a result of the problem itself, but our unwillingness to accept it. Until we accept what is, we’re powerless to bring about change or determine whether the change is possible, beneficial, or even necessary.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes,” wrote Loa Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher. “Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality.”
When we oppose any problem, it becomes bigger. When we accept it, we can see why it has come and how it will go away.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert.