Creating a life worth living.

Beyond Stress  —

Contentment is your birthright.  What’s more, its within your reach at any moment and at every moment.  The key to contentment is a simple concept, but can require a lifetime of practice.  The concept — Radical Acceptance….“It is What it is.”

Say What? 

Life can be divided into 4 elements:  People, Places, Things and Me.

What can I change?  Only Me.   Regarding all the people, places and things in my life that impact me negatively I do have choices.

I can change: 
My Perceptions:  how I think about it
My Reactions:  how I respond to it

If I cannot change my perceptions and I cannot change my reactions, I still have one choice.  I can change my Location.   Sometimes the only way to manage our happiness is to leave a toxic situation, person or environment.  It is not about judging them, just that they are not compatible with my happiness.  We remind ourselves that we cannot change another person.  If fact, trying to change someone often makes them defend themselves and dig in their heels. 

Radical means all the way, complete and total.  Radical Acceptance does not mean approval, passivity or tolerating abuse.  It is about recognizing “What is.”  And not what we wanted it to be.  It’s the first sign of wisdom, realizing that we are not in charge of reality. (It is what it is)

Rejecting reality or arguing with reality does not work. 
            “You can argue with reality and you will only lose 100% of the time.    Byron Katie.

Pain cannot be avoided.  It serves a valuable purpose, signaling that something is wrong. 

Fighting reality turns pain into suffering.  “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”

Acceptance often leads first to sadness, and is often followed by deep calmness.

Refusing to accept reality can keep you stuck in unhappiness, bitterness, anger sadness, shame or other painful emotions.

Often the path out of hell is through misery.  We often must grieve that what we wanted, realizing that we are not in charge of what will actually happen. 
The tasks of grieving[1] include:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Arguing with “What Is” means the ego is stuck on what it wants, rather than what is actually happening. 

How do you make God laugh?  Make a plan.

If you ask a cat to bark and the cat doesn’t bark, who has the problem?

What if everything you have experienced was essential to get you here; here where you are ready to change?

What if the universe is designed to help you along the path, giving you not what you think you want, but what you need?  
    (tip of the hat to Mick Jagger)

How would you be if every wrong thing from your past was actually necessary?  If the only problem was your thinking, that “it shouldn’t have happened to me.”

Okay!  I hear you screaming at me.  “You are crazy.  I should never have lost my legs,” or “My …. should never have raped, abused, violated, beat me!”  I understand.  If you can listen for just a moment, I want to talk specifically to you.

I am not justifying some abuser from your past.  However, is your anger, shame, guilt or pain doing anything to that person?  Are they suffering because of your emotions about what they did?  I doubt it.  Your emotions are not hurting them, but they are killing you!

There is a quotation from Zen; “Anger is grabbing a hot coal to throw at your enemy.”  Who gets burnt?  Not your enemy.  If you have traumas from the past that continue to influence or control your experiences today, go back to the section on PTSD.  There are specific tools to help you let go.  Then come back here and continue. 

You’re back?  Okay then.  Let’s start with a metaphor.  You’re playing poker.  5 card draw.  You have been getting crappy hands and most of your money is gone.  You’ve noticed that the dealer is only shuffling once before dealing the cards.  And, what’s worse; she isn’t cutting the deck before dealing.  You begin to tell yourself “that’s why I’m losing.  If she had been shuffling correctly; if she had been cutting the deck each time, I wouldn’t be down so much money.  I might even be winning. 

Looking at this current hand you, once again, have nothing.  Low cards, all four suits, nothing paired.  “It’s that darn dealer!”  Then you tell yourself, “And the room is too warm.  I’m sweating and that’s breaking my concentration.  If the room was warmer, I’d probably be winning. 

So, you run through your story.  all the reasons why you are losing.  And you look back at your cards and, low and behold, they are the same, crappy cards.  All the whining and what ifs haven’t changed the cards.

The message:  You have to play the hand you are dealt.  All the complaining in the world won’t change that hand.  You can’t play the hand of the person on your left.  You can’t play the hand of the person on the right.  You are stuck with this hand. 

Playing the hand you’re dealt.  That is Radical Acceptance. 

Radical Acceptance is the final step on the Path to Serenity.  It becomes the filter through which you view the universe.  Imagine, for a moment, that everything in this universe, in every universe, in all of creation, is moving forward perfectly.  That each and every leaf that falls, child that cries, and every star that burns out, is happening according to plan.  What we are left with is the realization that our limited understanding of any event fails to comprehend the vast plan that each event fits into.

We see a forest fire as sad, or horrific, and later realize that forest fires serve a valuable purpose to the forest and clear the way for new growth.  I went through a difficult divorce, suffering and praying that it wouldn’t happen.  Looking back I can see the reasons why it happened and even the value that came out of that pain.  My life today would be dramatically different should those events not have happened.  So, instead of regret, I look back with gratitude at the path that brought me to this place. 

Now, imagine every event in your life as serving a purpose that you can’t fathom.  Our limited, time-based consciousness does not have the ability to understand what the long-term consequences of most events in our lives.  What we are left with is Faith.  Faith and Trust that every moment serves a purpose, has a meaning that we can’t comprehend.  That is Radical Acceptance.  That is the end of suffering.  Pain continues, but suffering ends.

Is this easy.  Heck no!  is it life changing?  It was for me.  One of the most t powerful tools that helped me with Radical Acceptance was Byron Katie’s, 4 Questions.  I did her workshop, and then committed to 28 days of daily practice for an hour.  By the end of that month I had integrated it into my life. Now I can honestly say that I now longer have bad days. 

How can that be?  What I discovered is that, when I have a bad moment it is because I am believing some thought.  When I challenge the thought I realize that it isn’t true, and the emotion dissipates.  Wow!

My father was not an emotionally available man. The main emotion I remember from him is anger. As I got older I tried to connect with him, open up honestly. But to no avail. So I was hurt and mad at him. I went further, to take it personally. “If he loved me he would….” As I learned about Radical Acceptance I came to understand him. What if he had never learned how to express emotions? What if his own childhood taught him it was dangerous to open to emotions of himself or to the emotions of others? This is empathetic connection. Then I went one step further, from a question I learned from Byron Katie.

If you ask a cat to bark and it doesn’t bark; Who’s got the problem?

I was asking my dad to do something he didn’t know how to do. He probably got frustrated and embarrassed that he didn’t understand; perhaps angry that he was at a loss to understand me. I was asking the cat to bark. Duh! What I came to understand was that I was the problem; that I wasn’t accepting my dad as who he was, but rather, asking for something he couldn’t give and then getting upset because he didn’t give it.

Another tool I use often is the Release and Heal technique listed above.  I turn the thought over to my Unconscious Mind and trust it to resolve and release any residual emotions or thoughts.


[1] See “On Death and Dying” by Elizabeth Kubler Ross.  She defined these “stages” of grief, and later explained that they are not concrete, progressive or sequential steps.  Rather they are elements we will experience in our processing of loss.

Published by Jim Hussey

I am a licensed professional counselor, working in a hospital setting. I have been a meditator and teacher for 47 years, a therapist for 28 years and married for 29 years. My secret vice is golf.

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