Acceptance helps you face Life and cope with it.
Last evening Vaani and I stopped by the roadside to buy fruits from a pavement shop. The lady who owned the shop must have been in her late 40s. She helped us along with the purchase. Next to her cash box was the garlanded picture of a young man, maybe in his early 20s. It appeared to me that the man may well have been the lady’s son, as a red kumkumam mark adorned the picture.
Perhaps sensing my curiosity, the lady remarked: “Ayya, that’s my son. He hanged himself last year in January.”
Vaani was shocked. She asked her: “What happened amma?”
The lady replied, her eyes welling up: “I have no idea. One day he was there. And the next day he was gone. My daughter is married and lives in Pondicherry. She does not bother much about me. This boy was my hope. But he too has deserted me. I live alone, earning a meagre livelihood selling fruits.”
Overhearing the conversation, another customer, who was picking up apples, asked the lady, “How are you coping?”
Her answer to his question surprised me. She was very grounded: “I have just accepted what has happened as my destiny and go on with my Life. I have to carry on living, as long as I am here.”
After the purchase, as we boarded our autorickshaw to head home, I noticed the lady was engaged in a cheerful banter with her neighbor, a vegetable-seller. She looked beaten but there was an air of acceptance and equanimity about her. Her line – “I have just accepted what has happened as my destiny and go on with my Life. I have to carry on living, as long as I am here.” – stayed with me all evening yesterday and I reflected on it this morning.
Interestingly, just the other day, over the Pongal weekend, we met a friend. She is a single parent and heads a large pan-Indian corporation. Her young son had tragically died in a road accident some months ago. We were meeting her for the first time after the incident. I told her that we were sorry to hear of her loss. Her reply was awakening too: “People expect me to look sad and struck by grief. But this is the way I am. I see no point in either hiding my pain or drowning in it. I am just being me – realizing that my son not being around is my new normal. I am acutely aware that my circumstances in Life have changed, but I remain who I was.”
Isn’t it beautiful to be enriched by such sensitive, spiritual perspectives to Life? Both women represent diverse ends of a spectrum. One is a fruit-seller and another is a CEO. Yet, their maturity, their evolution, connects them – and offers us an unputdownable insight into intelligent living.
Whatever be the context or situation we are placed in, the simplest – non-suffering – way to live Life is to accept what is. It is only when we resist what is happening to us that we suffer. I am sure the fruit-seller is enduring a lot of pain – of having lost her only son, of having to eke out a living, of having to live alone. And I am sure the CEO is in the throes of pain too. She may not have material, existential, challenges, but her pain is not small by any measure. Even so, it did not appear to me that either woman was in grief or was moping and mourning or that she was suffering. This is what acceptance of any situation, of your Life for what it is, helps you with. Acceptance of a problem or a situation cannot immediately help you solve it or change it. But acceptance is a great device that helps you face Life, that helps you cope, that leads you to carry on living.
Two practical, spiritually evolved women – one learning: “The key to intelligent living is accepting what is”!
Only when you accept a situation can you go to work on it with clarity and focus.
“How do you learn to accept Life for what it is? Isn’t it very difficult,” asked a young man from the audience the other day, ahead of my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk at the Madras Literary Society. Interestingly, after hearing my Talk, he didn’t have that question anymore!
It is not just him, a lot of people out there struggle to accept Life for what it is. As I reveal in my Talk, I too have struggled with acceptance. The fundamental reason for resisting Life is that we think we can fight, we can out-think, we can out-smart Life. We think just because we are educated and think logically, rationally, we believe we can solve all the problems we are faced with. But there are some Life situations that are beyond our control. And those cannot be solved no matter how strong our intent may be or how capable we really may be. In such instances, acceptance is the key to avoid suffering and helps immensely with keeping the focus on what needs to get done and in keeping the faith that it will get done.
Consider some instances to understand the value in acceptance. What do you do in Chennai, and most parts of Tamil Nadu and South India, that are struck by drought? The day temperatures are closer to 40 degrees and there’s no respite from the merciless heat – with no signs of rain. Is there any point in fighting Nature? Or take the case of the Malaysian Airlines plane MH 370 – that went missing over 3 years ago. All the world’s forces and resources, technologies and experts, cannot trace the plane. Is there any point in resisting that situation? Is it worth at all to fight it? Or what do you do when you have a rare health condition that no doctor can really put their finger on it? Is there any point in fighting this situation?
So, when a situation is beyond your control, when you know you can’t solve it, the best way to deal with it is to go with the flow. This does not mean inaction or resignation. It means you must accept the situation, you must keep making your efforts to solve it if you believe it can still be resolved, but you must remain non-frustrated if the results don’t add up. So, acceptance is not failure. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is employing common-sense in the wake of an inscrutable Life situation and trusting Life to sort itself out over time. Only acceptance can help you to be non-suffering. And only when you don’t suffer can you get down to working calmly on a situation that requires to be changed.
Only those who change from within when Life changes live a full Life!
A young business leader who I know for some time now connected with me on Facebook. He had been in several of my workshops in the past. I used to then, as a champion of organizational culture and high-performance, lead sessions on Jim Collins’ and Jerry Porras’ Built To Last model. I would exhort my audiences to think beyond goals if they wanted to make their organizations great and build them well enough to last long after they themselves were gone! While introducing Collins’ and Porras’ concept of BHAGs (pronounced bee-hags) – meaning Big Hairy Audacious Goals – I urged teams to draw up their own BHAGs. So, my manager friend, asked me this on FB Messenger: “AVIS, do you still talk about BHAGs?” I smiled at his question. I thought for a moment. And I replied: “I do. Except BHAG now, to me, stands for this – Be. Humble. Accepting. & Grateful.!”
Indeed. For me now, the biggest, most audacious goal anyone can and must have in Life is to just be. To be humble. To be accepting. And to be ever, perpetually, grateful. So, the punctuations in my version of the expansion of the BHAG acronym are not accidental. It is not ‘Be Humble, Accepting & Grateful!’. It is ‘Be. Humble. Accepting. & Grateful.’ (In the strictest sense to just be can never be a goal and it is simple to just be; however, since most beginners, for lack of proper hand-holding struggle with the idea, and to draw a parallel with the material world of BHAGs, I have taken the liberty to suggest that it is an audacious goal! Seek the understanding of all of you who know the value of just being, and are evolved, who are reading this!)
Post my FB Messenger conversation with the manager I reflected on how much I had changed over the years. There I was, some 15 years ago, ambitious, aggressive, sometimes abrasive, hungry for material success; and always impatient and angry with the world. And here I am totally anchored, extremely at peace with, and in, my completely battered and devastated material world – not bitter, not angry and no longer impatient! The way I look at BHAG as a concept now personifies the change in me.
And when I look around me, I see everyone changing. Some of them change, of course, because the wind is blowing in a different direction. But others change because they genuinely feel differently about Life. I always believe that the second category of people are the ones who change from within. Tamil film Super Star Rajnikanth, in his eulogy, the other day, to Jayalalithaa acknowledged that he had made a mistake in the way he had judged her and opined about her. That kind of genuine transformation, honest appraisal, can only come from within. And it is this change, seeing it, seizing it and being it, that is the real wealth in Life.
I guess anyone can have all the fame, all the money and all the power – and yet may not have the ability to just be: to sleep under the stars, to be humble and to acknowledge that Life happens through you and never because of you or for you. But only those who can, in any circumstance, just be – be immersed in the moment, who realize that they don’t control Life and who can accept whatever comes their way with open arms and immense gratitude – only such people really live a full Life.
The manager’s question, my seemingly witty one-liner, and my deep reflection on it reminded me that I have miles to go. But I am happy and grateful that I am on the right road, and am headed in the right direction!
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Sadness often pushes you in a direction where you ought to have found yourself.
Someone we know is depressed because she is unable to find a match for her daughter. Most of her daughter’s friends have got married and are “settling down”. She feels her daughter’s growing older and “past the marriageable age per Indian culture”. The lady confesses that she is “constantly sad”! And she’s been hating the feeling.
She asked me if acceptance means even accepting something that “you hate”. I explained to her: “Acceptance is always complete only when you accept whatever is. So, if you are feeling sad, accept the sadness.”
“But sadness is so boring, dreary and makes me feel heavy,” she protested.
“Good. That’s the time when you must employ this awakening, this realization, that is born in you and release the sadness. Just let it go,” I advised.
If you hate something it means you don’t want that something. If your sadness is what you hate, examine what is causing your sadness. Don’t cling on to it. Hold it, understand its futility and just set it down. Let it go. It will dissolve on its own once you realize that there’s no point in feeling “constantly sad”.
In the lady’s case, her daughter’s marriage is delayed. Period. It is what it is. She must keep trying. Or her daughter must find someone. Until then, what’s the point in her feeling frustrated with her current reality, with what is?
Feeling sad is a natural expression. It happens to everyone. No one can escape feeling sad in certain situations – when things have not gone your way or when you have not got what you wanted or when you have lost someone or something that you loved with all your heart. But sadness is also a debilitating emotion. No one likes being sad. It wears you down. So you start hating being sad. And you become sadder. Remember, when you resist anything – including sadness – it persists. It lingers on. So, the way to deal with sadness is to feel it. Give it all the attention that it seeks. You will then see it make way for a rare sense of peace within you.
This applies to all hurtful feelings and all contexts in Life. Whenever some feeling arises in you, don’t try to escape. Go the full nine yards – feel it, experience it, feel the pain, the sadness, even the initial suffering, accept it, befriend it as Osho says, and then let it go. Without hating it or condemning it. The happiness that arises within you after you let that feeling go is what will cleanse you and give you closure. Then, and only then, will you be peaceful – and be able to move on and live happily!
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