Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes… (acceptance, compassion and the force of love)
It’s almost a cliché to state this fact of nature. However, everything, everyone, everyplace and every situation changes — sometimes moment by moment. In this highly changeable environment, it can seem hard to hold on to anything like its “real” or reliable or true. Humans hate change. They admire the changes around them(or at least they pretend to). Discussions about weight, salaries, marital status, homes, kids, etc. all live in a world of what I would call “change conversations”. People ask themselves: “Are things CHANGING for me?” “Are things getting BETTER?” “Am I doing BETTER than the people in my life?”
There is no BIG change or little change. There’s just change.
So, if things just change — why are we so effected by sudden changes when we see them?
Take my 81-year old father.
I am effected by all the changes in his life and in his wellness because I remember him in his late 40s as master of the world. He could pick-up the phone and make “impossible” things happen for himself and his clients. He made a foturne doing so.
Now at 81, the money is gone. The endless swirl of “busy” that was 5 decades of his life is now a distant memory. He is in his wheelchair or walker. He sits silently in a rehab wing in a huge nursing home complex in Northern Westchester county. He is almost helpless. I think what’s bugging me most is that I am not sure he wants to “change” his circumstances. In short, he’s done. Total surrender. So, the idea of “change” as I have been creating in this article is now washing over him. Would I like to see him battle back and expire with “his boots on”? I think that would be more for my ego than for his quality of life. So, despite everything he’s done or not done — he is where he is and that’s all. Conditions on this level are an absolute. Some people call this “cold” or “harsh”. It just is.
We can’t effect change. We can’t change change. So, now what?
Acceptance. I am learning that the ultimate expression of love is not affection, spending time with or grand romantic gestures — but rather accepting people for who they are and who they are NOT; when? — — right now. Being able to choose acceptance is the most powerful tool we have in the face of change. In the case of death or loss, acceptance is impossibly hard. It’s almost like accepting the tragedy is agreeing with it or letting the person go into the ether. No, acceptance gives you space to lessen the noise, the drama and even the grief and to celebrate the person without the suffering that comes along with NOT accepting things as they are. As humans, we create our own suffering. We create our own pain. We create our own drama and drama and drama — — no matter how many times we KNOW not to. What’s inspiring about acceptance as an everyday event is that once the other person knows that you accept them — they have space to do the same for you. It’s not supposed to be reciprocal. It’s choice. I am reminded of the funerals in New Orleans that are filled with music, dancing and joy. Celebration can replace suffering if you let it.
Acceptance of a situation or a person can seem like you are giving-up. It’s not. You know when you’re giving-up or quitting and when you are simply accepting what is and what is not. Acceptance can silence years of “fighting for” or “fighting about” things with the quiet power of choice. There are many things to fight for and to be an activist about. Not accepting the “status quo” is very powerful. However, it will only be when you truly accept things as they are that things will transform. In business, it can be looking at the bottom line without emotion — rationally. In an relationship, you see what is and is not working and you talk about it. Armed with acceptance, it makes the actions and choices you make actually choices.
I see for myself that I have wrestled with NOT choosing myself for my whole life. How I look. What I do. Who I am. It has only been in the last few years that I have accepted myself as myself that has given me an access to bring compassion and consistency to how I take care of myself and that I am hearing the love and acknowledgment that are all around me. Until recently, my attempts at creating acceptance in myself was met with “you’re crazy” or “no way”. That’s why my weight has been up and down so much. In 2009, I weighed 130 pounds more than I do now. Lack of acceptance is also why I have had such extreme career ups and downs. I have been battling with (read: suffering) acceptance for decades.
It takes real courage to accept.
Most people do not accept. They forget. They “move on”. They do not accept as a choice. To accept someone, you have to forgive them and in the end, yourself. This is why acceptance is so much about love. Forgiveness and love go together. People don’t accept because they cannot forgive. They cannot forget. They cannot let go of being “right” — — even with people who are now deceased in situations that ended decades ago. One of my favorite phrases about being right is: “you can be happy or you can be right”.
So, now what? Will I pretend that this article will have you making new choices to accept those around you? No. I think that being a son or daughter is impossibly hard. Being a father equally so.
Here’s what has taken me years to grasp:
I choose my father as he is now. I don’t like the way he is but I accept it because it is the way it is. Can I forgive myself for being a jerk to my father? Yes. Will I. Yes. Can this enable me to bring love and joy to him versus my suffering and concerns? Yes. I want my father to know how successful his life has been by creating our family and giving us the opportunity to express ourselves and pursue our lives.
What I want for my children is to go as far and wide as they can knowing that I love and support their choices. I may not LIKE everything they do. But I will always support their choices. Their lives are theirs. (Note to parents: I will not pretend for a second that letting go and empowering our children on this level is brutally hard and for some of us — impossible.)
Choice and acceptance are so powerful that they can heal the past and they can create a powerful new opening for the future. It all starts with love. Now, I just have to keep it present in my life — everyday. It helps if I love myself… first.
Michael Whalen is a dad, husband, brother, son, friend, author, teacher, speaker, music maker and recovering ontologist who is 51 years young. He is grateful for his life and the opportunities he has been afforded to make a difference with others. More information: www.michaelwhalen.com