Over the last few days there has been a lot going on, and people are extremely emotional right now. While not everything is political, the tools we handle them with are the same. My head has been spinning with a series of things that have been piled on me over the last couple of years, and each one is a story. Each a teachable moment, if I can only get out of my own way, some may even become posts. They involve things like losing really important people in my life to heroin overdoses, coming face to face with life-altering health problems, getting far enough inside of politics to become nauseated from seeing how the sausage is made, as well as everyday disappointments, annoyances and challenges. They’re all things that can make or break you, but it’s not about the extremes.
When it comes down to it what I am trying to do is write about is life, how I see it and how I try to deal with things. But you can’t always “deal” with everything. In fact, there’s a lot in life you can’t “deal” with at all. Some things just “are” whether we like it or not. We can’t effect them or change their outcome. It doesn’t matter whether we like them or not, they just are. In fact, aside from the fact that they consume our every waking thoughts and feeling, turn our guts to water and eat our lunch without permission, they usually don’t have much to do with us personally, and it can slowly kill us.
A best friend dies of an overdose and you could have sworn they didn’t use hard drugs. Or maybe you know they do and you’ve been been waiting for, and dreading, that phone call that starts a whole new nightmare. Maybe someone you love gets gunned down in some senseless act of violence, terrorism, or they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A simple doctor’s checkup leads to the discovery of a genetic disease that’s been dormant for decades and it suddenly explodes on to the scene wreaking havoc on your body and your life without any warning. Or maybe you dedicate your life to your work only to have some clown with “connections” step right over you and your dreams and crush them like the empty shell fragments of a robin’s egg on a dry spring day. It can even be as simple as having the world’s most obnoxious coworker that everyday you say you can’t take them anymore, until the next day. The point is, every one of us gets backed in to these corners. We find ourselves pushed beyond our normal ability to deal with things, and we start to fall apart.
So we try things like talking about it with a close friend. We seek out counselors or spiritual advisors. We bitch about it on FaceBook, or go off on the bartender. And some of us just stuff that shit way deep down, put on that happy face and pretend everything is great! …then go home and cry in the bathroom when no one’s looking.
No matter how we try dealing with it, the advice rarely works for very long, and people try to tell us what they think we want to hear. The very best of them know it’s best to just nod in the right places, and ask questions instead of offering answers. But in the end someone finally says it: “Look, I know it’s hard, but sooner or later you’re going to have to learn how to just accept it and live with it.”
“Well why the hell didn’t I think of that?!” Let me just “accept” it. Wait, where’s the magic “accept it” button again? Seriously?! If I could just magically get over shit, do you think I’d be hanging on to these things, letting them kill me a little bit every day?! I mean, didn’t they hear what I said? Don’t they get the repercussions of of all of this? Can’t they see how my life will be forever be different now? Don’t they know how screwed we all are? I can’t accept it because what happened is completely and totally unacceptable! That’s the point!!!
I mean, flat out killing someone for their beliefs just isn’t acceptable. Treating people as less than human because they’re different and they scare you is not acceptable. Losing someone so close to you from a stupid fucking heroin overdose is completely unacceptable. You spend your life eating well, exercising and staying away from smoking, drinking and other crap only to find out you have stage 4 cancer, while the guy next door who lives off pizza, beer and cigarettes just keeps going like the Energizer Bunny, that’s not even a little bit acceptable. Losing out on something you’ve busted your ass for because some douchebag engaged in an unethical practice and you got edged out, is also unacceptable. And even just having some butt-munch steal your lunch from the work refrigerator is just totally fucking unacceptable!
Why am I listing all these things out? Because while a stolen lunch at work, and losing someone to an overdose don’t seem at all related, the ability to accept them for what they are comes from exactly the same spot. And it also shows that no matter who is reading this, you’ve been through it, big or small, you’ve been through it. Or worse yet, like me, you are going through it right now.
The answer lies in our judgement of things. The fact is, no matter how we think we don’t judge, we do. It’s sneaky. It just happens. We see some things as good, and some as bad. Some are immoral, some are righteous. And when we put these experiences into categories, we begin to compare them to other situations. Funny enough though, we tend to do this mostly with the stuff that hurts. When we’re happy and feeling fulfilled, we don’t tend to think too much about about the other stuff. And it’s this comparison of good to bad that makes one more unbearable than the other. Don’t take my word for it, check out this verse from the Tao Te Ching written some 2500 years ago:
“When people find one thing beautiful, another consequently becomes ugly.
When one man is held up as good, another is judged deficient.
Similarly, being and non-being balance each other; difficult and easy define each other; long and short illustrate each other;
high and low rest upon each other; voice and song meld into harmony; what is to come follows upon what has been.
The wise person acts without effort and teaches by quiet example.
He accepts things as they come, creates without possessing, nourishes without demanding, accomplishes without taking credit.
Because he constantly forgets himself, he is never forgotten.”
It points out the fact that we know bad because we’ve defined good. Ugly is ugly when compared to beauty. We suffer from pain, because we revel in pleasure. Situations happen, they are what they are, we create our own pain out of our judgement of things.
And that’s when it hit me. I suddenly realized why I was having so much trouble accepting these people, situations and things. It’s because I wasn’t trying to “accept them” I had been trying to “approve” of them!
You see, I keep looking at these things I can’t accept and they all have one thing in common, I don’t like them. Obviously I have no problem accepting things I like. I mean if I suddenly get a $10,000 a year raise just for doing a good job, it’s not going to take much effort for me to accept that one! But screw with my life in some of the ways were talking about earlier, and it’s not okay. In fact I’d say any of those things are downright wrong, unjust, and evil.
But that’s because I don’t “approve” of them. I don’t agree with them. I can not appreciate them in any way. In other words, I had been confusing “acceptance” with “approval” the whole time, and they’re just not the same thing.
I don’t have to like something in order to accept it, in fact as pointed out earlier, those things I like kind of get accepted automatically. But these huge hurdles we’re talking about, those take work. They take huge amounts of effort on my part to begin to back away from my judgement of the outside world, and realize my inability to effect even the smallest parts of it.
The problem with our ego is that it helps us feel separate and unique, and with that uniqueness comes baggage. Some of that baggage is our ability to feel as though we must judge the world in order to live in it. Once I realized how I had been looking at and judging things it became just a little bit easier for me to see that I don’t have to approve of how things happened, I just have to realize that they were always beyond my control. I’m never going to like them. And I’m just experiencing pain.
Liking something is not a requirement of being able to accept it. Acceptance only comes from being right-sized with the world. And acceptance should never be confused with approval. When it does, it leads to misery. As the saying goes: Pain is necessary, suffering is optional.
I can accept that.