I start off each new year with an intention, a gift to myself that produces more growth than a quickly forgotten resolution. When setting my intention this year, I struggled with what I needed to work on and narrowing my focus on just one word. Acceptance kept coming up, but it seemed silly and I was unsure why or how to cultivate acceptance as my intention. I went with acceptance for 2018, entering into the unknown, clearly not knowing what I didn’t know.
Do we truly understand what acceptance is and how it applies to our being? Dictionary.com defines acceptance as the act of taking or receiving something offered. Aha! The word that resonated with me was “receiving.” It is easy for me to accept little things like traffic, an illness, an ache or pain, an inconvenience or a little stress. I can receive them, not always with gratitude, but I can receive them, be slightly annoyed, and then let go, move on. Though receiving or accepting these examples might seem easy, when it comes to accepting yourself, your thoughts and emotions, it is much more difficult and challenging. It is especially challenging for me, because I am a doer. Part of the difficulty is that it is hard to silence the doer in me, the fixer that swoops in to take action wanting to problem solve and change the world.
I’ve had plenty of little things that have required acceptance in the first month of the new year like inclement weather, issues with my aging mother, a daughter with medical issues, usual family drama, and most recently, a wrist sprain. They’ve been easier to handle, receive and accept. However, my mind, my thoughts, my emotions, and my ego were having a different experience with acceptance and much more of a struggle.
After only a month of working on acceptance, I realized not only how few answers I actually have, but that my desire to control everything, especially my thoughts, actually has me avoiding a lot that needs attention and change. This revelation didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy or like a lightbulb switched on. Instead, I felt fear and discomfort. And I know when I face my fears, and when I am outside my comfort zone, that is where I grow, learn and transform.
My first major hurdle with acceptance this year:
With the 3-year anniversary of Larry Jr’s passing approaching, I started to build up my strength, like I was preparing for some uncontrollable meltdown and lapse of control. But the truth was, it wasn’t strength; it was resistance as I later discovered. Once the dreadful day came, I had little energy because most of it was used to not let thoughts of him or the loss consume me. Classic avoidance also kicked in as I had slept in that morning, taken an afternoon nap, and went to bed early.
When I wasn’t sleeping, I pushed away negative thoughts and replaced them with happy thoughts, but sadness kept returning. I became judgmental that I felt self-pity, instead of gratitude. Then, when I succumbed to the awful void, I judged myself more for having a victim mentality. My mind stirred the pot more by replacing pity with desire and feelings of “this is not how it was supposed to be.” Self-criticism also had quite the party in my head for feeling entitled to how I think life should be. The more I judged and criticized myself, the worse I felt. I chased them away with the alter egos of MaryBeth, the Fixer, the Controller. My mind went to “don’t feel that way,” “don’t think that way,” and “that is negative,” and “be more grateful, more joyful, be stronger and move on.” The reality was that nothing I was thinking, feeling, or doing was getting me out of my funk. Sadness had consumed me, and so much so, that I had little awareness to how my husband was doing, coping, sitting right next to me.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, acceptance was knocking at my door. I had been chasing one feeling with another, one thought with another, fighting amongst myself, part of my mind trying to control another part of my mind, heartsick, and I was stuck in a continual loop of disconnection from my true self. It wasn’t until I stepped back and went to my intention for 2018, acceptance, that I realized what I needed was to just accept, “This is where I am right now.”
I stopped resisting and empowering the underlying emotion driving all the madness, my grief. I stopped judging everything that came up and gave up the resistance. I stopped criticizing myself for how I felt and why I felt it, and let grief just be present. I received grief. There were no answers and nothing to be fixed. There was just grief needing to simply be felt and acknowledged. I didn’t need to control my thoughts or adjust my perspective; I needed honesty, truth with myself.
Where I Am Today:
I like being “Susie Sunshine,” so when Susie isn’t sunny, the internal struggle and self-dialogue begin. I self-judge, self-criticize, resist, and wish for what I want or feel entitled to. I’m quick to not let myself be down, low, or in a funk. I grab my “tool bag” and go to work. But I am learning the real work lies in acceptance and the raw truth behind all of it.
Accepting isn’t giving in or giving up. For me, acceptance means receiving and not judging or criticizing myself for what I am feeling or my inability to control a thought or emotion. I am choosing to give power to my attention and acknowledgment of where I am at that moment, what I am thinking, and the belief behind it. I am no longer resisting and am silencing the urges to change how I feel. I am becoming the silent, non-critical observer of all of it. I believe that once I truly allow acceptance to be completely present in my daily life, my relationship with myself will become more honest and authentic, allowing my relationships with my students, friends, and family to be more honest and authentic as well. And, as I continue to cultivate honesty and authenticity, the sunshine returns to Susie, and she can shine her light even brighter.