What am I willing to just accept?
When I started 'taking stock' as a route in to figuring out where my life was headed next, I looked at what was already wonderful and at what wasn't. It would seem logical that the next step would be to look at the 'not great' and set about making it great. That's what all my previous guides and mentors and coaches had suggested.
There is this 'wheel of life' concept that they all use. It's a circle and you divide it into a given number of segments. Each of those segments you label as an area of your life: career, family, spiritual practice, contribution, fitness or whatever it might be for you. Then you give each area a score on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is utterly shiningly brilliant and 1 is "erm, I'd really rather not tell you".
Then, we're told, the aim is to look at each area in turn and figure out what it would need, to take it from where it is to a 10…or at least to move it up a couple of notches.
I've always struggled with the model and the process. I used to think it was just me, but I've come to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with the whole idea, and it is this: it might not be possible to get to 10 in every area. It might not even be possible to lift every area above where it is right now. Or it might just take so long and be such hard work to do so, that the progress will so incremental that you don't notice it happening, no matter how much you work at it.
It also works on the premise of the pursuit of perfection. I reject the pursuit of perfection, even self-defined perfection.
Instead, I embrace the notions of 'progress not perfection', of 'direction not destination', of 'actions not outcomes'.
I bristle at the idea of having to measure my life-matrix on an arbitrary scale. Who am I in competition with for goodness sake? Even if it's only my own idea of what my career or my social life or my spiritual practice should look like, is it really healthy for me to tell myself it's not good enough?
If we take that approach, I feel, it will never be good enough. We will simply keep pushing ourselves towards this mythical perfection and like the rainbow or the horizon it will keep moving away from us.
So instead of taking that apparently logical next step, I interspersed one. I thought: before I start figuring out what I want to change and how and what help do I need and where do I find the time and on and on and on piling on the pressure (because I'm a bit like that!), let's wait.
Let's think about this. Like everyone else I have a life which is mixture of wonderful and woeful.
But also like everyone else, there's a fair bit on the woeful side of the equation that I can do very little about – or where doing something about it will take an investment of time, money, emotional energy or whatever else that, right now, I don't think I can make.
There is nothing to be gained at looking at an aspect of our life and thinking how un-great it is and pondering what needs to be done about it, if time and again we're going to come against the 'nothing to be done' or 'really can't do it right now' barricades. It's stressful, it's artificially induced pressure, it is unhelpful and it is totally unnecessary.
We can choose instead to nurture our ability to accept.
We all know the serenity prayer: grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I like that a lot. But even that suggests that we must change what we can; that all it takes is courage. If only life were so simple.
It will take courage. It will also take commitment and time and the juggling of priorities and the sacrifice of something to create the space to do what needs to be done. It may take money, or creativity, or both.
It will undoubtedly add – at least in the short term – to the life load we're already carrying.
Well, here's a thought. To quote my man yet again: you don't must.
The alternative to thinking about how to push forward in every (or indeed any) area of our lives, is to start by thinking about where we won't.
Before thinking about what I really wanted to change, I decided I needed to work out what fell into the "don't must" box. In other words, what am I willing to just accept as it is, regardless of whether or not it can be changed?
When I first answered this question, my answer was very short and showed just how much I was still resisting reality. It's an area I am still working on.
Today, I suppose the first thing I accept is that 'acceptance' is something I'm not very good at it. It does not come naturally to me. I have to work at it, think it through, consider it intellectually as well as emotionally before deciding to 'accept it as it is rather than as I would wish it to be'.
And then some!!!
When I first answered the question, my immediate response was: only that which I cannot change.
I'm living softer now. I'm accepting that imperfection can be beautiful, even if we could restore or create perfection in its place.
We only have so much emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual energy. It makes sense that we consciously choose where to direct it and having done so, check that we are willing to accept the status quo, or even a decline, in those areas which do not receive our focus. This is the price to be paid, so we should start by deciding if we are willing to pay it.
So, then, what am I willing to accept?
I accept the things I cannot change. I let go of my resistance to them. I work to release the pain associated with them.
I accept that I cannot change who comes into my life, and who leaves it, or how they react to me while they’re here. I can, however, choose how I respond.
I accept that while Clive will always be part of who I am, he is gone and it follows that I also accept that for a time I am meant to be alone.
I accept that trying to be brilliant at everything is not worth the candle.
I accept that some of my current areas of study will be long and slow and I may never become proficient and that's ok.
I accept that changing the direction of one's life cannot be done on the flick of a switch. Identity is a sticky thing. Unsticking oneself to swim free takes more than the courage to do so.
I am learning to accept, willing to accept, that things happen in their own good time, that I cannot force the river or urge the tide. Being willing to accept and being able to do so are not the same thing. I am impatient by nature. Perhaps I should accept that too and understand that sometimes acceptance will not come easily.
Life will never be perfect. If it came with a guarantee, that ran out long ago. But a lot of beauty lies in the imperfections and so this is not something to accept but to relish. I would never choose pain over pleasure, but I understand that there cannot be one without the other. Someone once said that happiness is not a state of mind, but a point of comparison. We should therefore choose carefully which comparisons we make. I could compare what I have with what I have lost. I could compare what I have with what I might have in some ideal fantasy future life. Or I could compare what I have with those who have so much less. As my Mam always reminded us, there's always someone worse off.
In the end I decide to compare what I have with what I really truly fundamentally want. I find the gap to be fluid and shifting, but not so very great.
This led me to a final thought. When we talk about 'acceptance' we think of it always in terms of allowing things we would wish to be other, to be as they are. It occurs to me now that there is the other side of that coin: the acceptance that things actually are as we would wish them to be. Accepting that it is already wonderful doesn’t come easy in a world where everyone is so quick to tell you what is wrong: wrong with the world, wrong with you. We don't have to listen to those people.
The willingness to accept our own uniqueness, our own talent, our skill, our energy, our spirit, is also something we need to learn.
Am I willing to just accept that I am already the writer that I wish to be? That I already have the life I want? That every day some things will score high and others low and the scores are as meaningless and transient as fleeting clouds? Am I willing to accept that all areas of my life are as near perfect as they ever need to be, and if I choose to change something, or work at it, it's purely for the pleasure of doing so? Am I willing to accept that, whatever the rest of the world thinks, all areas of my life are a 9 and they will never be a 10 and that's absolutely fine?
Maybe not yet, but it's a thought to conjure with. A place to start.
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