The Facts

Acceptance is a theme that comes up over and over again for me. I know enough to realize that what I haven’t learned and incorporated into my life will repeat over and over until I do. In this morning’s reading from The Daily Stoic, I read how Marcus Aurelius told himself not to give circumstances the power to incite his anger because the circumstances really don’t care at all how he reacted. Acceptance of what is, regardless of whether I like the reality before me or not, is imperative if I am going to move forward in this life.

I can easily balk against what is going on around me. There is always someone, or something, to blame. I can always pin my emotions and feelings to the first scapegoat I see and rail against the injustice, the unfairness, the cruelty and the pain that this is causing me. But in the end. It is a fact; it happened. All of the expressed or unexpressed emotion in the world is not going to turn back history to change what has occurred. That ship has sailed. It happened and I have to accept it.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you agree with what happened. It doesn’t mean that you wanted it to occur on some level. It doesn’t mean that you caused this to happen. It is a simple acknowledgement of the fact that something occurred.

I remember almost ten years ago now, as I was lying on the grass beside my motorcycle, me facing uptown and my foot facing downtown, knowing that things were about to change, a lot. Ignoring my broken leg, railing against the driver who had not signaled and cut me off, wishing I had left the house five minutes earlier or later would not have changed the situation. My leg was broken and I would have to allow this fact to carry me forward to the next set of circumstances: ambulance, hospital, cast and recovery. It also meant surrendering my obsessive control over my business to others who could run it in my stead. No denial, no anger, no deal with the devil was going to turn back time and change the present fact of my circumstances. I still carry a plate and ten screws in my leg to remind me of this lesson.

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Change is the inescapable part of being alive. The birth of a child, the death of a pet, a slip on the ice or new technologies can toss us into the sea of resistance. It doesn’t mean I sit idly by and watch a fire consume my home, it means I call the fire department. The sooner I can get to acceptance, the sooner I can respond and incorporate change into my life.

When I am in acceptance, I am in the present moment. I am not in the past of woe or regret. I am not in the future of fear and worry. I am present in this moment. And when I am here, I can make wiser, saner choices for the next steps that I need to take.

Meditation shows you again and again a very simple yet powerful reality –

whatever you resist disturbs you, and whatever you accept cannot disturb you.

Seeing this simple truth at work in an almost infinite variety of ways in your life

can evoke a deeper letting go. We cannot always, or even often, control events or what happens to us.

We can, however, choose whether or not we obsessively resist and react to them.

And therein lies our freedom.

Letting go of resistance is an act of heartfelt surrender.

It is devotion to WHAT IS.

~Sacred Inquiry by Adyashanti

In this life, change is inevitable. Suffering, however, is a choice. It all depends upon my attitude.

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The ‘Good Enough’ Trap

John left university with a business degree and a lot of debt. He had a dream of owning his own retail business but because of his student debt, he was unable to get a loan. So, he took a job as an account analyst at a financial institution. It was a decent paying job to begin with and John soon moved up the corporate ladder. And with each promotion came a raise in prestige and pay. As the years passed, he cleared off his student debt, married, had children, and moved from their townhouse to a comfortable suburban home with an easy commute to his job. He has the ability to buy what he and his family need, has a small amount of debt, and he and his family take amazing vacations every year.

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Yet…

John would be the first to say that he is not really happy, fulfilled or enjoying his life. He has a good life but he has a nagging feeling that there is more. He is not complaining. He’s done what society expects of him. He knows that life has treated him extremely well and he’s living the dream.

But it’s not his dream.

Life for John is good, but it’s not great. It’s not what he really imagined it 20 years ago when leaving university, nor is it a life he really wants. He’s not really happy with his life. He did what he thought he was ‘supposed’ to do and has found what he has achieved is lacking something. But he is comfortable, he has a nice family, home, income and his future will probably continue the same way.

So…

He doesn’t change a thing.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘good enough’ trap. Things are ‘okay’. Life is ‘fine’. The family home is ‘nice’. What possibly could make someone like John want to change? Little or nothing.

The ‘good’ keeps us from achieving the ‘great’. The mediocre prevents us from the extraordinary. The average halts an investigation of the ‘incredible’. We bury our dreams, our hopes, and our desires and settle for what we have. It should be enough, we have been told. We don’t think we should want more than what we have , nor should we think we deserve more.

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 “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Henry David Thoreau

The ‘good enough’ trap keeps many of us in a life of quiet desperation. We want to fulfill our dreams. We feel the need to push ourselves further. We long for a feeling of contentment and happiness in life. But why rock the boat? Why risk what we have right now for something that is not guaranteed and could wipe out everything that we have achieved so far in my life? Is it not better to accept what life has given us and just bury those feelings of unfulfillment? We have responsibilities we feel we can not abandon. Sure we know we could accomplish so much more and live a life of our dreams, but we’re not willing to pay the price for that kind of happiness.

And that’s what often happens. The ‘good enough’ wins out over the ‘spectacular’ and the ‘extraordinary’.

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What was John’s dream business? He wanted to open a small tackle shop near a lake where his family vacationed. He wanted to help make the vacations of others more memorable by helping them to discover the joy he found in fishing and everything associated with it. He wanted a simple, small town life where he could walk down the street and know most of the people he saw. It wasn’t a huge dream. It wasn’t complicated and requiring enormous amount of money to fulfill. Perhaps he could have designed and marketed series of fishing lures, or a better type of reel. He could have passed along his love of nature to his children and shared quiet walks with his wife along the local rivers and lakes. He would have had a greater sense of completeness in his life by fulfilling his dream.

But the ‘good enough’ got in the way.

John may not have made as much money, lived in as large a house and travelled the world if he had pursued his dream. And his shop might not have been a success. He’ll never know. He hasn’t the motivation for change, for something new, for adventure in life. He figures that life’s ‘good enough’ the way it is.

Is your name John?

Changing Perspectives

Any student of the philosophy of life will eventually come across a small book of quotes called, Meditations, by the second century CE Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. He was a strict military general who was schooled in Stoic Philosophy and reluctantly took on the mantle of imperial power. I grew up with the idea that Stoic Philosophy was of the ‘stiff upper lip’ variety: take what you get and make the best of it. Sounds like a rather dull way of life and it is no wonder that the boisterous cult of Dionysius had a much greater following. However, the Stoics, much of which we know from the writings of Aurelius, had a very down-to-earth, self-sufficient approach to life. I am enjoying Meditations as well as works of others in this vein of philosophy.

Recently I was presented with the following quote:

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Each an every day we are faced with challenges. Sometimes they are somewhat trivial, such as what to wear or where to dine. Other times we must face far more critical moments, such as the decision I recently took to help my 17 year old dog cross over the rainbow bridge. The actual moment of decision is momentary. I pick this shirt, that restaurant and that veterinary. It’s the after effects of carrying through a decision that has the power to cause me pain or distress. I might question my judgement, or wonder about what might have happened had I taken another tack. All of my pain and distress at that moment is completely internal, ricocheting around in my mind. None of my mental vacillations will change an outcome or a decision. And yet I still allow myself to be haunted by them.

Aurelius’ quote reminds me that I don’t have to let these things bother me. I have the power to let the pain and distress go and move forward. I can make the decision to stop questioning myself. I can ‘revoke’ it because it is all in my head and nowhere else. I have the power to replace my thinking with another topic. I am reminded of the saying, ‘Someday we’ll laugh about this,’ when something in life goes terribly wrong. If there is a funny side to what happened, then I don’t have to cry about it: it is within my power to laugh about it now. It takes a change in perspective. I have that much control over my life.

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Sometimes things happen that we have no control over. For example, someone cuts me off in traffic. I might lean on the horn, flip a certain finger to the driver and proceed to get extremely angry about the whole incident. I can rant on about ignorant slobs on their phones, young drivers, old drivers or other charged slurs to whomever might or might not be listening. Again, all of the distress I feel is internal. I can change my perspective. In this instance, I can remember not to take this personally. The other driver probably didn’t see me for whatever reason. This was not an attack on me. It was not done to purposely startle me. I can remember that I too have been the person who cut off another driver in traffic. Only someone who has never been behind the steering wheel has a perfect driving record. I may not be able to stop the initial response. It’s a part of the ‘flight or fright’ autonomic nervous system. However, I do have the power within me to let it go, to ‘revoke’ the power of the distress I feel.

Perhaps there was a childhood trama or other injustice that occurred to you and that you had no control over. You may choose to mourn the loss of innocence and relive the incident in all of its shocking detail over and over in your mind. But the venom in your soul won’t affect the transgressor with the slightest indigestion. Or, you may begin the process of healing by no longer resisting what happened. Accept that it happened and realize that you can diminish the present pain by realizing that it is stopping you from moving forward and growing in life. Forgiveness of others is not pardoning them; it is accepting that mistakes, sometimes extremely grave ones, were made but that you will no longer allow those mistakes to affect and distress your life. You do not have to give the power over what you feel and think to an aggressor. Take it back. Move forward.

In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote very candidly about his interment in a Nazi concentration camp. He credited his survival to an attitude that his torturers might be able to take everything away from him, denigrate and abuse him in every way possible, but they could not take away his free will. He chose to keep a positive attitude and find meaning and understanding in his desperate situation. We do not have to suffer the indignities that Frankl did in order to make the decision to take control over our own destiny.

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This is your life. You own it. You have the power to create whatever you want with it. This is the ultimate gift of free will that we receive upon our birth. We all have the power to change our view, our perspective. Playing the role of victim and powerless pawn of others is a choice; so is being the captain of your own ship and charting your own course. If you have never done this before, deciding to revoke your distress will be strange, and challenging. Start small. It’s not recommended that you change everything at once. You have time. Trust the process of your life and where you wish to sail.