Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Accepting What Is Again. . . and Again!

I keep thinking about acceptance: about how accepting what is isn’t the same as resignation, and how our fear of the later can fuel denial; about how acceptance can maximize the opportunity to find and take wise action if it’s available; about how acceptance allows for and helps us co-create change but isn’t about reaching for or grasping at change, isn’t about postponing life and love until a hoped for change is achieved; about how accepting what is includes accepting that some of what is sometimes is hard and beyond our control.

I’ve been thinking about how often I can look and sound as if I am accepting what is when secretly (ie.- unconsciously or semi-consciously) I am trying to bargain away, sneak around, or earn my way out of difficult conditions.

As usual, it’s my body that brings me to the truth of how I am doing with reality- revealing at least some denial, disconnection and discouragement where I was hoping I’d cultivated nothing but awareness and acceptance. Ha!

I was blessed in August to have two and half weeks at a small cottage in the woods. From the minute I arrived, my body, heart and mind soaked up the green quiet of the forest. And I slept. For the first ten days I slept fourteen to sixteen hours a day. It’s a little scary to sleep for fourteen hours and need a nap four hours after waking when you’re not doing much except sipping a cup of tea and watching the sunlight on the river. But I surrendered, I rested.

The depth of my exhaustion wasn’t altogether surprising. I’ve had Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as it is misnamed in North America) for twenty-eight years, with prolonged periods of relatively more energy and less pain, and other times that have been more acutely disabling. And the last year- with my marriage ending, my father moving into the heart-breaking stage of advanced Alzheimer’s, and my mother being diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s- has been particularly taxing.

By my tenth day at the cabin I was sleeping a mere twelve hours a day and feeling a bit better. Three dear friends with whom I have done shamanic ceremonies for over twenty years arrived for the weekend. These are women I love and enjoy. They always arrive with enough nutritious food (and chocolate) and energy to care for all needs. It was a delight to have them there.

And, less than twelve hours after they arrived I started to physically collapse with all the symptoms of acute ME. After they left, I slept for three days, rising only to get food or water and scribble a few desperate notes in my journal. (They can put that on my tombstone: She Kept Writing Until The End. :-) Then, feeling only marginally better, I packed up for the drive back into the city.

It’d be easy to berate myself for a lack of awareness re: my physical state. I mean- after TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS you’d think I’d have honed in on a fail-safe way to gauge my energy and discern what I can and cannot do on any given day. But the truth is that the realities of ME/CFS, like all conditioned realities, change continuously, and situations do arise (like an exploding marriage or two parents suddenly needing increased assistance) that can over-ride the body-self’s awareness.

So. . . I brush myself off, get up off the ground and start over- again!- honing in on the wisdom available to an embodied soul re: how to live this day so I can offer what I am able in a sustainable way.

Am I still attached to/wanting “progress”? Oh yes. No point in denying it. But I’m redefining progress. Progress is not the illusion of “getting” the realities of living with ME/CFS or anything else “once and for all” (which, when you think about it is really a desire to go unconscious and operate on some kind of strangely idealized automatic pilot about things- like physical health- that we must be considering mere means to “more important” ends.) Progress is the willingness to adapt the learning that experience has offered to the present moment reality.

But most importantly, it’s about embracing the paradoxes, living with the tension between truths that seem diametrically opposed. As I deepen my willingness and ability to accept what is, accommodating and compensating for conditions that cannot be controlled, (which is why I put my glasses on in the morning and do not insist that if I just find the right spiritual attitude I’ll be able to read without them) I simultaneously remain open to the full range of possibilities for change.

As I acknowledge and accommodate the limitations of the present (eg.- needing to write in one or two one hour periods in a day instead of five or six hour blocks as I once did) I think of others with ME/CFS or other chronic illness- like athletes or dancers or construction workers- whose work requires physical strength and stamina they no longer have. I send out prayers for their struggles and feel deep gratitude for having work I love that can be done in small bits while lying in bed if necessary.

And that’s the biggest difference between acceptance and resignation: resignation feels like defeat and breeds hopelessness and helplessness; acceptance of what is, even when conditions pose real difficulties, helps us focus on what remains and can be cultivated without denying real loss. It encourages us to see and allows gratitude to arise for what can be enjoyed even in the face of difficulties beyond our control. And acceptance opens the door to spontaneous compassion for those who are facing similar or more serious limitations.

Resignation is a shrinking, a turning away from life. Acceptance is an expansion, an opening that helps us find the courage to be who we are and do what we can. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but I am deeply grateful to have had the time and a place close to the earth where I could see through some of my denial, wrestle with and step away from resignation, and find renewed awareness and acceptance. . . . again!


  1. Oriah, thank you for this. I've been dealing with migraines for 40 years and you'd think I would grasp as well that there's only so much one can give, physically, without the circuits blowing.

    My circuits blew last night with a hurricane-like migraine, and reading your post today is such a wonderful synchronicity and gives me much food for thought.

    Thank you.

  2. It was good to read about your dad. Thanks for your thoughts on acceptance. It is a gentle perspective that has helped calm my striving. It will help me make room to let the answers in.

  3. Dear Oriah - when you speak of your ME experiences the sense of recognition always brings me to tears. The delay in reaction to (often unavoidable stresses and efforts)is still something I am not prepared for, even after 25 years, and is very difficult to judge. Each time I think I may have 'got away with it, but months down the line comes a worse collapse. Sometimes I think the brief interludes of clarity are just a taunting, teasing cruelty, but they also seem to provide a jolt back the other way, to temper the 'resignation'.
    I have learnt to relish being able to read children's books when my 'own' are too baffling for my brain: to savour the smell of other people's food when I have to live on the simplest of fare: to be grateful for the views of field and trees I have from my windows now I can no longer walk among them. But I know also that the sense of loss will never go away, the memories will always be bitter sweet. And gradually I'm learning that that is OK and life can be good.
    With love to you. Take gentle care.

  4. Jeanlu, indeed savouring what we have does not negate the losses, although it does help us prevent the losses from making us bitter. I can feel both the sadness of loss and the willingness to be with and cherish the beauty in what you do have in your comment. It's a challenge to hold both the joy and the sadness simultaneously, to avoid swinging into denial or resignation. You sould like you are walking this bravely :-)

  5. Wow, how amazing - thank you so much Oriah.

    This speaks to my heart, and also to my poor aching muscles.

    I have just completed a retreat where I walked by the sea, and deep in the woods - and totally exhausted myself! I too have had M.E. for many years - 25 - and at least some of the time, should have been deep in bed, never mind the woods.

    Feeling a foolish failure, I read your blog, and feel so grateful for the reminders about acceptance. (I appreciated the comments too.) The voice within that was yelling 'How can you be such an idiot after ALL THIS TIME ??' has stilled, and I will lie in bed and watch the leaves move against the sky.

  6. Pat Mary, I can honetly say that when someone tells me that something I have written has helped them be more compassionate with themselves. . . nothing could mean more to me. I know that the compassion we can extend in the world is limited only by the compassion we with hold from ourselves. Thank you. O

  7. Thank you sooooo much Oriah!
    I'm constantly striving to do more, give more, being more perfect. I almost beat myself to do all my "chores" at work and at home. I feel guilty whenever I sleep too much and I feel being a weirdo for needing my down time and for needing to not having to speak or listen to others problems. I keep comparing myself to others who lead such a busy life and feel like a totally lazy woman and totally forget that working from 8 till 6 on weekdays can not really be called lazy. It's okay to stay in bed and sleep and read and do nothing (else) on Saturday (well, a bit of cleaning the flat) and just reading and going on walks on Sunday. You showed me once again that me-time is okay and that I am not weird. I have much compassion for others but not very much for myself and my true needs. Thank you for always, really always, making me instantly feel better after reading your posts. I am deeply grateful to you. Thank you for giving me so much joy, your words feed my soul and bring grateful tears to my eyes. Nothing is so healing than reading your blog or your books. Your books are my pleasure and my biggest treasure. Bless you so much for sharing and giving so much with your words.

    Lots of Love & Hugs, Sabine

  8. Sabine, sounds like you, like myself, may be a developed introvert- which means you can and are with people and do fine socially, but you need down time alone to recharge. I finally accepted this when I watched a workshop leader I know end a four day teaching session with more energy than she had had when she began. She is an extrovert- she GETS energy when she is with others, interacting, talking, listening. I am an introvert. I often enjoy being with others but it always costs me energy- alone time is where I recharged. (Conversely this extroverted teacher has written several books and talks about how hard the writing months are for her- because it is soliary work it costs her energy.) We are all, of course, a mix of these two aspects but when we have a sense of which way we lean for energy replenishing- and accept this (hard in a culture that highly values extroversion if you are an introvert- you can think there is something wrong or wierd about you!) it does help to just see and accept this. :-)

  9. That was really helpful - hadn't heard the term 'developed introvert' before but it helps pierce one of my clouds of unknowing. I see hardly anyone now and it has made me acutely aware of how contact drains me. And I would certainly have been thought of as extraverted when I was 'in the world'. The paradox made me a good counsellor but also a pelican in the mythical sense.Thank you.

  10. Thank you Oriah. And all of the comments. Oh how I can relate to all! I still work full time but in a compressed work week to accomodate my over 30 years fibromyalgia which has many similarities to CFS. Some days it is really hard to get through the day. Thankfully I have an understanding boss who appreciates my hard work and a husband who struggles with his own declining health and empathizes well. But acceptance is definitely something I struggle with, having been an overachieving carer all my life. Some days life seems such a burden and I long to go home on my final journey. What keeps me going is my children, my husband and my work which I love. I don't take nearly enough time to be creative because I'm usually too exhausted - despite once having dreamed of being a writer and/or artist. I am in my office looking at my neglected drawing table and life story which my daughter asked me to write. With your inspiration, I will get back to the latter and attempt to take more time for myself more often.

  11. Be gentle, Be gentle, Be gentle with ourselves....and others.

    Peace and Harmony and Good Health, and Abundant Energy to all.