Taking Life As It Comes
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Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it. (Michael J. Fox).
Resignation, as the quote uses it, and its particularly shady cousin, fatalism, share a hopeless and helpless submission to the will of Heaven that is as bad as resistance to that will. Acceptance, by contrast, is simply looking at the truth with both eyes, which enables me to deal with the world as it really is. I will never be crushed beneath the problems of the world as long as I share Fox’s belief “ there’s got to be a way through it” — and then put my whole self into finding the way — no matter how bad the circumstance. As Winston Churchill wisely advised, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
I am big on acceptance these days. I can’t remember the last time I was seriously frustrated, angry or fearful because I have finally realized that I’m simply wasting energy if I become distraught or dismayed about anything that I can’t do something about. It’s different, of course, when there is some point to the emotion. If I ever saw an adult abusing a child, for example, it would be time to become angry. Go ballistic even.
Grieving is healthy; I will “weep with those who weep,” for example, and certainly weep for myself when I suffer profound loss. But if a careless driver runs into the back of my car while I’m breaking for slow traffic, or I am facing an operation to remove part of my intestine, or I collapse with some potentially fatal condition, why in the world would I permit the circumstances to affect my inner serenity? I’ve actually gone through all three of those things without becoming anxious or angry. Any non-acceptance places us in the position of giving circumstances freedom to create whatever feelings of outrage, hatred, anger, depression, and revulsion they can stir up. Those emotions only serve to drag us down for no useful purpose whatsoever. The negative energies stirred up by those uncontrolled emotions are probably harmful in many ways and certainly devastating or at least crippling to the sense of joy and happiness that I believe to be our birthright as children of God. Coming to total acceptance is a process. For decades, several things kept me from that kind of indomitable peace. For one thing, I lacked the wisdom to understand that absolutely nothing good could be accomplished by any show of anger or resentment. For another thing, I simply was unable to control my emotions. The worst reason was the dark pleasure I derived from punishing others — screaming at a driver who ran into me, for example, because as recipient of my just and righteous anger, he was only getting what he deserved. I did not want to be peaceful in my spirit because I wouldn’t want the offender to know that I am okay with what they did.
People are like that even towards God — angry that He let them down in some way. They won’t give Him the satisfaction of forgiving Him for what He did. We attempt to use our rage and resentment to make others feel bad, but, as Buddha noted, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.” An inappropriate and dysfunctional response to the challenge of taking control of our emotions is simply to stifle our feelings and to use a pretense of serenity to conceal the inner turmoil that we are actually feeling. Gandhi himself admitted that “it is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence….” That kind of repression will lead to physical illness and mental disorders.
I’ve learned to just let go of negativity and have made up my mind to deny to my emotions any power to control my life. I will no longer be satisfied to be a joyful happy person only when things go well for me but angry and upset when they fail to do so. Why should I permit an incompetent waiter to have the power over whether I will enjoy a meal, or not? Why permit a rude or stupid driver to deny me the ability to enjoy my day? Or, for that matter, even give Death the right to make me miserable? I intend to enjoy life the day before I die, if I can at all manage to pull that off. I am just going to take life as it comes. Why not?