The following is used as part of the 12-Step program of recovery in Al-Anon that my friend printed out for me. “Acceptance…I must always remember: Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% how I choose to react to life….How can I treat others with acceptance, tolerance, and love? Am I accepting myself and others as we are? How?”
Acceptance is right up there with forgiveness as a most basic, difficult practice of the human condition.
You can’t have one without the other. It is also foundational to growth. Unless I know the chemical nature of my soil (highly acidic in the Catskills where I did many years of gardening) I shouldn’t be surprised when plants requiring a more alkaline environment wither and die on me. If I insist they should and do not accept the reality, I will experience a distressing loss every time. Accepting what I deem unacceptable requires a lot of introspection. Once the ranting, blaming, self -pitying, temper tantrum subsides, I am left with what is, and how to accept it. It may be that much harder if I experience painful unjust results caused by someone other than myself. I have often told the following story to past clients.
Good friends once invited Richard and me over for a late afternoon of extended appetizer nibbles. Their son, who used to be in the nursery school I ran, came home from public school, sobbing. He rushed through the door and flung himself into his father’s lap. I knew him as a very bright, sensitive, and charismatic child. He also insisted on finding the one disruptive thing he could do in my classroom almost every day and because he was a natural leader, he could throw our small community into an uproar in minutes. He had a cherubic innocent face with twinkling blue eyes and by the time he went on to kindergarten, we had learned to resolve these incidents with greater finesse on both sides.
When he had calmed down enough to speak, his father asked him what had happened. “ The teacher said,” he gulped out, “that if one more person spoke out of turn there would be no outdoor recess today. And somebody did, and it wasn’t me!” His father held him some more and then said softly, “ Yes, well, sometimes life isn’t fair.” His son pulled back with eyes wide open in astonishment. “ If life isn’t fair, then I don’t want to be here!” he wailed.
I have never forgotten that moment. He was me, and is all of us, recognizing for the first time, that life is not run on our personal rules of fairness. I have experienced this truth countless times and it always requires serious introspection. “Am I accepting myself and others as we are? How?” Those are the questions that lead to resolution. That is the way to acceptance and the peace that arises when we see our way clear past the immediate distress. It is easy to write these words, even to know for sure it is the only choice, yet for me, I still require rehashing a well worn cycle before I find rest in this new circumstance and do the inner work.
The first question goes further, “How can I treat others with acceptance, tolerance, and love?”
Starting with acceptance, that next step is how can I also tolerate the ongoing problem? How might I need to shift my own participation in this interaction? Do I need to find new healthy boundaries? Do I need to speak out in a way to promote better understanding with positive criticism? Do I see how this may be a familiar pattern from my past? Can I lower my demanding expectations of how it should be? Can I allow others their differences in good grace? Can I see the human beings beneath the drama?
Finally, can I treat others with love? Ultimately, following this inquiry to its inevitable conclusion leads to love. Loving ourselves for being in this unacceptable predicament, no matter how we ended up there, is paramount. Once we find we are always lovable, love naturally flows out again towards others.
It is fierce work but Love is always the unending recovered treasure that awaits us.