“I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight…I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
There is something about acceptance that seems a little “weak” to many of us. Why accept a certain situation as it is, when what we want is to change the situation into something that we like better? Because acceptance is the foundation for any powerful and lasting change that we want to make. When making a change you have to start from where you actually are. That may be good, bad or just plain ugly.
Acceptance, in a lot of ways, goes against the grain of Western culture. We’re not taught to accept. We are taught to act upon and change our situation and circumstances when we don’t like them. This is a good thing, but standing alone it can be the source of intense frustration. When practiced with acceptance it becomes really powerful.
Commuting in Traffic: A Lesson in Acceptance
I have a fairly long commute to work. And, the area I live in is known for its heavy traffic. This can make driving home from work in the afternoon extremely unpleasant. When I’m sitting in the car, tired from work and all I can see around me is bumper to bumper traffic, it’s easy to get angry and frustrated. Also, maybe I’m not going home, but to some other appointment, or to run an errand or to meet someone and it seems as if I’m hitting every obstacle possible on my way. I just want the traffic to move, but all I am is completely stuck.
When I resist sitting in traffic by getting angry and frustrated, I simply make the whole trip even worse for myself. By the time I get home, I’m exhausted and dreading the car the next day. But, if I accept where I am and that I have no control over the traffic around me, I have a few options.
First, I can use the time that I have wisely. I can relax and enjoy some music, I can listen to an audio book or a podcast, or I can simply take some time for my thoughts. Second, I can think about my commute more critically. If I dislike it so much, I can do something to change it. I could move closer to work, or try to get a more flexible schedule so I’m not commuting in peak times. Third, just by being conscious that I don’t have control over the traffic, I can choose not to be angry or frustrated. I can manage my emotions more effectively. Getting angry does not get you home any faster. 🙂
Acceptance Spurs Creativity
One effect of practicing acceptance is that it leads to greater creative problem solving. When you accept your situation exactly as it is, you can problem solve on a foundation of truth. You have a greater ability to critically examine what it is you don’t like about your situation and how you got there (you have to be honest in order to do that), and then think of creative ways to change what you don’t like.
The 3 Questions of Acceptance
In order to get the most out of practicing acceptance there are three questions you should ask yourself:
How can I get the most out of my current situation? – When we don’t like where we are, it’s tempting to “just get through it.” Instead of killing time, however, see what you can get out of it. What lessons are there to learn? What experiences are there to be had? We often grow the most in situations we don’t like. See what you can take away from it.
How did I get here in the first place? – What were the events and circumstances that lead up to the situation that you are currently in? Look closely – you can often find life patterns when you reflect like this. Understanding how you got to where you are now gives you important information about yourself. For one, if you don’t like the situation you are in, you won’t want to repeat what you originally did! 🙂
How can I change? – The first step is figuring out what changes you want to see. If you don’t like where you are, what don’t you like about it? And what would you like in it’s place? Then you can figure out the first steps you need to take towards that change. Hint: you may not be able to see the steps you need to take down the road, but the first steps you can take with things that you have around you right now. Make that change!
Accepting your current situation isn’t lazy or stupid, it’s just the foundation for the change that you want to make. And frankly, it just makes your life more pleasant.
Accept where you are and then decide to change it. Good luck!
How are you at practicing acceptance? Any tips to share? Share your ideas in the comments!