My coffee-loving friend Gerald told me, over a coffee, that there’s a guy working in the coffee shop who doesn’t listen. This frustrates the hell out of him, as he often has to repeat his order, and even then, sometimes the guy gets the order wrong.
My friend complained to me, “He should listen; the staff should be trained to listen; he should get a different job; I should tell him; I’ll write to his manager and complain; I’ll write to the company and tell them they should train their staff to listen.”
Of course, none of this changes the fact that there’s a guy working in a coffee shop who doesn’t listen, but my friend would say that if he were to do something about it, then things might change. I suppose he could be right about that. Perhaps the guy would get fired!
But the real problem for my friend is that daily, he experiences many frustrations—not just with the coffee shop guy, but how people are in general. Gerald often says, “I can’t stand that. It makes me so angry!”
Starting with the coffee shop guy, Gerald wants to change the world for the better, so that he won’t feel angry anymore. Of course, that’ll never work, because there are countless things—big and small, personal and universal—in our daily lives and the wider world that may be wrong and may need to be changed.
We certainly can be agents for positive change. But to want to change everything, one thing at a time, because you think this will stop your feelings of frustration towards people, is like hating the rain and then trying to stop one raindrop at a time from landing on the ground.
An angry taxi driver
Many years ago, I counselled a London [England] taxi driver who hated the London traffic and often became quite upset with other road-users. He was frustrated and angry, and got into countless arguments and confrontations. As his stress escalated, his blood pressure rose higher and higher.
So during our sessions, I asked him rather repeatedly, “What can you do about the London traffic?”
Eventually, he got it, and realized that at a profound level, there was nothing he could do about it. Once he’d accepted this “truth,” he became more aligned with reality, and less frustrated and more tolerant. His acceptance went beyond an intellectual understanding and was felt more deeply than that. Something in him clicked, and he became more free and easy about the busy, congested roads, with frustration no longer weighing him down.
Acceptance, non-acceptance and the present moment
Back to Gerald, my coffee shop friend: Gerald said that perhaps he should try to be accepting of the non-listening coffee shop guy. “No,” I said, “That’s not it, that’s not acceptance, that’s not how it works.”
I explained that we can’t override our felt emotions because we don’t like or want them. We can’t make ourselves become more accepting by telling ourselves we should be, and we certainly can’t make this a future goal. Acceptance is about noticing and acknowledging how it is right now, and perhaps more importantly, acknowledging how we feel about how it is.
When you next feel frustrated, ask yourself, “Am I accepting or not?”
If you’re non-accepting, can you accept it without making non-acceptance wrong? Ask yourself, “Can I accept my non-acceptance?”
And if you find that you just can’t accept your non-acceptance, then can you accept that you can’t accept your non-acceptance?!
Acceptance always wins, because it underlies and trumps non-acceptance. If you don’t accept that statement, acceptance accepts your non-acceptance of it.
Acceptance always wins, because it underlies and trumps non-acceptance. If you don’t accept that statement, acceptance accepts your non-acceptance of it. And if you disagree and feel infuriated about that, acceptance accepts your disagreement and infuriation, whether you want it to or not. We don’t have to like it, but acceptance is always here anyway.
When we’re accepting, we hardly notice it, as we’re just naturally going with the flow of what is. But when we’re non-accepting, we can be bothered by small everyday irritations or shocked into non-acceptance by the “big stuff,” like a job loss, a relationship ending, a serious injury or illness, or the death of a loved one. This can hit us like a sledgehammer.
When something happens that we don’t like and don’t agree with, it hurts. We experience this hurt as frustration, irritation, anger, resentment, pain and/or sadness—all of which can be suppressed, pushed away or even denied.
Non-acceptance is the loss of what we wanted, of how we expected things to be, when it comes to small everyday irritations or the shock and grief that often arises due to the “big stuff.” Non-acceptance occurs when we’re having a personal argument with reality: How things are versus how we wanted or expected them to be.
The layers of non-acceptance can go on and on until we hit rock bottom, in a good way. For universal acceptance is the bedrock of non-acceptance: supporting, containing and holding it all. An all-embracing acceptance is already here (and always was), available for us to align with. We get to it by staying exactly where we are and noticing and admitting what’s here now, in the present moment.
Ironically, we’re already naturally aligned to present-moment acceptance, and we’re only ever not so in thought. We literally think our way into non-acceptance, which can only be arrived at through thought, as there’s no other way to get there. On the other hand, acceptance isn’t really about thought, so thought is either aligned with acceptance or we think, “No, I don’t like, want or accept that.”
Can you see that acceptance and the present moment are the very same thing, and that neither one is a destination you have to get to or a concept you need to learn? Both acceptance and the present moment are already here, right now, and they always were. Noticing these two constants is to be in alignment with them. Acceptance is an acknowledgment of the unconditional moment, and these two things are one and the same.
We need to let our emotions live and breathe
So I explained to Gerald that acceptance is all about him noticing that there’s a guy working in the coffee shop who doesn’t listen, and acknowledging that it frustrates the hell out of him. There’s nothing more for him to do than be with the truth of that—but sometimes being with what is can be the last thing we want, because we want to feel better, and for that to happen, we genuinely believe something needs to change.
Instead of trying to change your situation or someone else, you can just allow yourself to accept the reality of how it is, and also allow your emotions to live and breathe, to come and go just as they are. Eventually, sooner or later, you’ll feel better, guaranteed.
Remember that no matter what you do, all emotions come and go anyway. Of course, this isn’t to say we should all take a no-change stance, because acceptance is also about accepting change, and sometimes about taking charge and making changes ourselves.
I said to Gerald, “Before you walk into the coffee shop, say to yourself, ‘The guy is allowed to not listen because he doesn’t, and that’s reality.’ And before you give him your order, say to yourself, ‘When he doesn’t listen, I’m allowed to feel frustration, because I do.'”
Our intolerance and denial of our non-accepting self, of others and how things are can cause us to dispute and argue with the very reality of our experience of how things are; then, we become upset by whatever emotions we’re feeling in reaction to that.
As well as struggling to accept how things are, sooner or later, we become non-accepting of ourselves. Some of us come to think we should become more accepting by being more “spiritual”: by being accepting in “turn-the-other-cheek,” passive ways.
We try to be more loving, kind, giving, caring, helpful, non-confrontational, non-argumentative, balanced and emotionally stable, and we can actually become over-focused on not wanting to upset others. But all of that can be a way of denying and suppressing our thoughts and feelings, which can then manifest as depression and anxiety, so it’s best not to do that.
Just notice that however it is and however you are in the moment is neither right nor wrong—it just is—and that’s acceptance.
“All that is” has already been accepted by a universal acceptance that’s not personal to you, but deep down, is you. Like everything else, you’re part of a universal acceptance; and therefore everything, including you, is already accepted exactly as it is, however it is. Non-acceptance just isn’t possible. It’s an illusion, just a concept that the mind creates and then believes in.
So there’s a guy working in a coffee shop who doesn’t listen, and a taxi driver is annoyed about the volume of traffic, and there’s frustration. This is how life goes, and what we think and how we feel about that is already accepted.
So all there is for you to do is notice how life is right now, and how you are about that. Again, true acceptance is noticing the acceptance that’s already here and aligning yourself with that, which is done by acknowledging your thoughts and feelings about how it is and not deeming them wrong.
Remember, this kind of acceptance isn’t about personal acceptance, and therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with you. So don’t argue with what is, just simply notice it while acknowledging and admitting to your felt experience of that.
We all know that we can’t always have what we want, such as easy experiences, agreeable people to deal with, positive thoughts and pleasant feelings.
Internally and quietly acknowledging what you’re thinking and feeling in relation to others and your experiences—without labelling yourself as wrong—is to be genuine and authentic with yourself. And even if you do label yourself as wrong, it doesn’t really matter, for that’s allowed and accepted, too.
That’s how to align yourself with the underlying, already-here acceptance of what is. It’s introspectively noticing how you are in relation to what is, and becoming aware that however you are about that—whatever your internal and external responses happen to be—is accepted.
The bottom line is: All that you’re including within your non-acceptance is accepted by acceptance!
You’re profoundly connected to the acceptance I’m talking about, for it resides in you, and that’s who you are.
You literally are the very acceptance that you seek, unless you think otherwise, and when you think otherwise, then you experience a non-accepting thought—which is accepted by acceptance, because in this present-moment reality, non-accepting thoughts are allowed.
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