Acceptance is the challenge of the day. There is no question about the widespread instability in our country and in ourselves. COVID-19 completely altered the world in less than six months. Weeks of quarantine and a complete upheaval of everything we knew life to be forced unprecedented changes in how we live and work. Our collective stress from fear and uncertainty has run high. As we continued to reel from the silent, invisible, unpredictable disease, we experienced the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Whether we are talking about the loss of a loved one or loss of our living standards, the global pandemic, or the graphic vision of watching a man die, our path to acceptance is deeply personal. Our global experience affects us deeply at a personal level. Like those of most people, my senses are overwhelmed. Many of us are in emotional stun mode. While everyone’s needs during this time are unique, we do share some commonalities. A certain amount of acceptance is necessary if we are to develop real solutions.
Acceptance is one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp, ranking up there with its siblings, surrender and forgiveness. These elements are at the end of the grief process, which I wrote about in the September, 2017 issue. I have a decades-long rocky relationship with acceptance. Life’s vagaries, especially abuses by human beings, baffle me. I do not want to accept the reality of an event that hurts me, usually in many ways. I want an end to the pain. The replay of the event plays incessantly in my mind. I get frustrated, angry, and disgruntled because the pain does not go away in my time frame, or at all. Some experiences produce so much trauma that we may be affected by them the rest of our lives. PTSD is born. Acceptance rolls into surrender, then into forgiveness and peace. But I fear acceptance will take away my recognition that the situation is not okay, leading me to shamefully excuse abusive deeds. I experience defeat and hopelessness that arise from feeling an inability stop the transgression or to protect myself or those I care about. My next move is to back off from seeking a solution and succumb to resignation.
Acceptance is looking at the reality of the situation’s existence with strength to seek options. When I accept the situation as a statement of fact, I receive the peace of clarity and, sometimes, resolution and closure. I can breathe again. The grief, the resentment, the despair, the anguish, the doubt, the fear of the next moment fade, even if only for a short time. I then know what peace feels like and can draw upon that feeling later. I find the good that emerged from the event or situation and express gratitude for those moments. I look for options and ways I can contribute to a healing solution with renewed conviction, strength, and confidence. I make plans and take actions to address the problem(s) created by the hurtful deed(s). I enlist the assistance of others. The experience taught me, once again, that I have another layer of resilience. I am empowered to fashion an approach with the gentleness of compassion for all involved. Acceptance comes in layers rather than all at once. It cannot be forced or rushed. We need plateaus between the layers, so we can rest and integrate what we have learned.
Many years ago, I adopted the Serenity Prayer as my personal mantra because the first tenet is to “accept the things I cannot change.” This means seeing an experience as though watching a video such as, “The reality is that I cannot change today’s temperature of 84 degrees.” But, I can wear light clothing when I go outdoors. Acceptance does not equal inaction or not holding people accountable. Acceptance acknowledges a statement of fact. Acceptance offers opportunities to look at the systemic factors in place and explore options for developing strategies and collaborating with others, including adversaries as well as allies.
Acceptance is hard, particularly when we are at the beginning of a situation. Separating the situation from our desire for a particular outcome seems daunting. Our attempts to mitigate or eliminate our reality brings on more pain.
Self-compassion helps us embrace and express our feelings in ways that do not harm ourselves or others. Do not try to force yourself to accept before you are ready. Embrace your feelings in all their forms and intensity. Find safe people and safe ways to nurture yourself during this time. Our feelings, whatever they are, even if they fluctuate from moment to moment are real and valid. Take care of yourself as much as possible. Stick to your daily routine and rest when you need to. Schedule time in your day or evening, if only for one to five minutes, for introspection and reflection to assess your present-moment feelings. Ask for help. Contact the Center here. Journal your feelings. Draw or paint or color. Here is a link to Kristen Neff, Ph.D.’s Self-Compassion Break. Adapt and mold the exercise to accommodate your circumstances.
Look for the good in the situation or that arises from it. I am amazed by the outpouring of kindness, support, encouragement, and helpfulness of the past two weeks; indeed, since February when the gravity of COVID-19 became evident. I send a lot of emails to people who do not even know me but affect me by offering support on their website. I am validated and grateful. So often, tragedy shows us the best side of people.
In closing, the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr comes to mind: Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference. Acceptance offers opportunities to make a difference by changing the things we can, first within ourselves and then sharing our transformation with others.
The challenges of the coming days, weeks, months, and possibly years will call upon all of us to participate as we can in the global well-being. Please know that whatever you do, you are contributing. All of us need all of us.
Be well. Be safe. Be at peace.