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!