Almost five months ago I had a major knee operation. It’s been one of the most testing physical challenges to occur in my life thus far. But more than that, it’s been one of the biggest psychological tests too. And whilst I’ve had many concerns and setbacks over this period, it turns out that my best friend and ally has been the act, and somewhat the art, of learning to accept.
George Orwell once said “happiness can only exist in acceptance” and the psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden said “the first step toward change is awareness. The second is acceptance”. These are not quotes I’ve paid much attention to, up until now. Up until now, I never realised how important and life-changing acceptance can be. It’s a key which unlocks many situations. It’s a key to a happier life, to greater wisdom, to freedom and ultimately to understanding yourself better.
You see, when you accept something for what it is, including the limitations of yourself or the situation; it opens up the possibility to relax. To give yourself space and time away from the constant judgments we tend make on ourselves and on what happens to us. We spend our lives battling against what is and I’m convinced that this is a major cause of our stress and unhappiness. We fight against ourselves, against situations and against what is happening to us. Yet when we accept, we relax. We breathe a sigh of relief. And now that I’m aware of this powerful tool, I apply it wherever I can to the situations I know I cannot change, at least for now. And in doing so, I’ve also noticed how much pain not accepting a situation, causes others.
Of course, I am not saying we should accept everything. I could give hundreds of examples of what we shouldn’t accept in life (the #metoo campaign is a good example of this). But there are some things we cannot change (maybe forever, maybe for the time being) and rather than fighting against what is, we would do far better to accept. Let me give you an example. Right from the outset, I decided to accept that my knee would take one year to get back to normal. That’s a long time, but right from the word go I told myself it would take that long. And to this day, five months in, whilst the journey has been much like this
where I’m continually required to reset my expectations, and apply massive amounts of patience, overall, I am quiet and calm about my situation, because I have accepted that this will take a year. It’s important to note that am not ‘settling’, and nor should you. I am working very hard towards getting better as soon as I can. But by accepting, it gives me the strength to keep going. It means I’m able to be more patient (which is important, and difficult, for me at least) and allow.
The allowing is very important in all this. If I had not accepted my situation and agonised over why it had happened and how terrible it is that I still can’t walk properly, won’t play tennis for a year, can’t go on some of the beautiful walks I dream of, then my journey through this would have been altogether very different. I know I would have been miserable, constantly questioning and assessing my recovery and labelling any progress as failure. In accepting the situation as it is, in the realistic time frame I have set, I have made peace with myself.
You cannot always change what is in life and I will have to leave you to make sense of what you situations you apply this lesson to and what you don’t. But my experience suggests it works on many situations that arise throughout life that you cannot change (at least for now) but continue to do battle with.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Using acceptance on a daily basis will change your life for the better. Try it. Start today.