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Notes on Resilience: ACCEPTANCE

A series of writing pulling together themes and pillars of resilience

Accepting circumstances as they are, instead of how you want them to be. It seems so simple, effortless even, but a lack of acceptance has held me back. It has stopped me from taking action, it has kept me stuck too many times and it has taken up so much time, avoiding feelings I was never going to be able to run away from. If resilience is as simple as moving through tough times, it starts with acceptance.

If I ask myself where I feel resistance, which part of my life feels like I am swimming against the current, then I am guided to the parts that are asking for acceptance. This doesn’t always mean they are asking for me doing nothing, to surrender fully to the flow, but to see this as the first step. Before I decide what I am in control of or not, before the work begins; what am I not accepting at this moment?

Too often we are fed the idea that if we want something enough, we just have to work for it, or simply change our mindset, and we can achieve anything we want. There are some facts that no mindset can change though. There can be a place for looking at how we think and talk to ourselves in resilience, but not before an acceptance of facts as they are, and an acceptance of those things we can’t change, no matter how much we would like.

When I was talking to the physiotherapist about my MRI results I tried to positively think myself out of it, straining to think there had been a mistake. It couldn’t be that I had so much damage in my knees and bone rubbing on bone, it ‘shouldn’t’ be like this. His advice was to see a surgeon as soon as possible. He must be wrong I thought. This was a recurring thought, at each stage. A denial. That this was suddenly going to be a huge mistake and a few weeks of a strength and conditioning programme was all I needed. That the damage wasn’t so bad. That there must be more treatments. That something other than surgery is an option. It echoed some of my thoughts during my chronic illness. Did my hope and belief change the outcome of this? No. Would it help to ever change it, if I could just hope and believe it more? Not at all, no matter how many years I devoted to it. What did help was finding the ways I could help my knees and prepare for surgery, such as . What helped was finding connections with people who never talked about running and opened up my world from the narrow furrow I had found myself in. What did help was finding joy away from running, nourishing my body, mind and soul with other ways of being alive, instead of the repeat loops of how my life had fallen apart and how I wished it hadn’t.

Is it True?

Is it true? Before I move through acceptance there is now a stage where I try to be the witness for my thoughts. Is it true I ask myself? Undoubtedly, unquestionable faith in my perspective being correct usually tells me it most certainly is true at this stage. So, I ask again, but is it really true? In one yoga nidra and journaling session, I was invited to write down my greatest fear. With a heavy hand and heart, I wrote ‘that all of my best days are behind me’. The future felt bleak. Is it true? I couldn’t see anything good to come. I was in pain, I was limited with my mobility, facing years of surgery for no promise of pain-free days to come, scared about what the future held for work, and doubting my ability to sit with the grief of many things. I could not see anything coming close to as being as good as the days I had been out running, and racing, the days I have loved being a lawyer, and the days I had been bursting with joy at excitement about the future. Is it really true? ‘…I don’t know’ was the deepest answer I could give at that time, but even just this new sliver of doubt was enough. I could only had half of my days on earth already, and the time I have in the future contains infinite possibilities, so how could I be so sure that no better days were to come? Years later I still think about what I wrote as my greatest fear. Sometimes I find my use of the word ‘days’ as meaningless, such a constructed amount of time, when a minute or less could be more a drop of happiness more pure than I had ever felt in 24 hours. Years later, I feel I have softened, and grown away from it still being my deepest fear, it has dimmed to be something I think about because I no longer believe it to be true. I never needed to accept it. I only need to accept what is true.

Toxic Positivity

Emotions such as anger, sadness and fear can be uncomfortable, both for the person they are in and those around them. There can be a tendency to reach for something to stop those emotions or subsequent feelings, something positive, even if it might not be true, something to try to calm the immediate storm. Numbing through scrolling on your phone, or numbing through the distraction of work or excessive exercise, we have so many opportunities to hide from the feelings we don’t want to feel. It can be a lifetime of hiding. Positivity that’s unfounded, or too soon, can be toxic, a poison to kill the space of feeling the sadness, the fear, the grief. Taken to push it away, try to grasp at the comfort of the feelings we like, of happiness and joy. But without the space to feel uncomfortable, there cannot be space for acceptance. Batting away reality to one that is more pleasant doesn’t change what is, to what you want it to be.

Some of the least helpful things people have said to me have often been the most positive.

You will get better from this illness.

If anyone can prove the surgeons wrong, it can be you.

Going through tough times can be a lonely place. I understand where these reactions are coming from, they want to make me happy, and positive and take away the darker feelings. But dismissing or overruling the fears of another doesn’t make them go away. As I processed the tough times, the greatest gift someone could give me was sitting there with me, in the dark and messiness, in the vulnerability of it all. What if the worst was true, what then? I don’t always need, and very often don’t expect, anyone else to have the answer for me. But can you sit there with me while I find a way? Or even just at this minute as I try to process it all.

There is no timeline for acceptance, and maybe with bereavement, this will be a lifetime’s work. Bereavement doesn’t follow the paths of resilience in the same way other setbacks do. Grief too, such as the grief of childlessness, can follow a meandering path to acceptance, to walk over decades or more. Maybe not one act of acceptance but a lifetime practice over and over again, finding acceptance in different ways. It sounds consuming, but it doesn’t always have to be the only path we are on. While you find the space of acceptance, is there also space for sadness, joy, anger and all the other parts of what our heads and hearts throw at us? While you work on acceptance, can you keep the doors open, to the possibilities of other visitors?

Tough times will come

Part of acceptance for resilience is accepting that the tough times will come. I used to think the goal was to aim for happiness so unshakeable that nothing bad happened. I would strive to push down feelings I didn’t want to have like sadness, loneliness and shame, as though they were a sign of failure, that I hadn’t been good enough at happiness. But a resilient person is someone who knows that life has both the bad and good, the uncomfortable alongside the comfortable. That bad times happen, and feelings we don’t want can be welcomed, as bringing us messages about action and change to take.

What would I do if I was handed a magic wand and granted a you wish? Erase the difficult times? But a consuming desire to change the past takes me away from acceptance, and intoxicates me to spend time wishing away. I cannot change what has happened, only embrace the present, and how I step into the next moment, into the future. What could I wish for going forward?

Acceptance for me isn’t always held alone. I have held on to an acceptance of one situation while still working to change it. I work on accepting the advice I cannot run again, grieving the life I had planned out, while still working on doing everything in my power to give myself the best possible chance of that not being so. It can seem contradictory, to hold these two opposing beliefs. Sometimes hope can seem heavy and I drop it, sinking into the grief of accepting what is now to always be. But when I have the strength, I find the power to hold both, the acceptance and the faith in what I am doing. That life isn’t binary. It recalls to me the power of opposites, as part of a yoga nidra practice. An invitation to sense feeling heavy for example, and then lightness, and then both together. It can feel the same dance with acceptance and faith, but in certain circumstances both heavy and weightless at the same time.

Acceptance Practices

Journaling or meditation prompt: Where are you feeling resistance right now?

Lying or sitting comfortably, I invite you to sense heaviness over your body, weighing you down, sinking into the surface you are lying on. Then can you sense a feeling of lightness, of feeling weightless even, so light you could float away. Now can you begin to sense those feelings together at the same time? Heavy and light together.

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