(Originally published as an article for Imbue Pain Relief Patch)
Acceptance is an essential prerequisite to letting something go. Although it’s natural to fight the things we dislike, when the struggle is within us, it only strengthens our relationship with the thing we dislike. Perhaps you’ve heard this put simply as, what you resist persists.
When we fight the things we dislike or disagree with, it usually means we’re neglecting our gift of higher thought. This gift – when we use it – lets us discern two important things: (1) When fighting might actually be to our benefit. Most of the time, fighting gets us nothing but more angst. (2) The fact that accepting doesn’t have to mean liking. Not accepting is equal to arguing with reality. You can accept and dislike all you want; at least you won’t be lying to yourself.
I’m not telling you if someone is trying to grab your child, you should just stand there and do nothing. This is one of those rare times when fighting is your mandate. By all means, accept the reality of the situation, and then bite, kick, scream, tase, and do whatever else you can to save your child. But when it comes to, say, wanting to stop the passage of a law outlawing gay marriage, the fight in you will steal your energy and make you less effective. Don’t confuse enthusiasm and passion with resistance.
When we’re dealing with pain, the fight in us makes us as weary as the pain itself. Fighting our pain is what takes the joy out of life. Arguing with the reality of our pain makes us feel hopeless. Just the tiniest argumentative thought – “It shouldn’t be this way” – is enough to keep us miserable for life. Not wanting our pain isn’t at all the same as accepting it.
Once in a while, a patient of mine will say something like, “I just had to let go of [insert thing or situation they don’t like] because [it wasn’t doing me any good / I knew things weren’t going to change / etc.].” But, whereas I’d expect someone who had really let go to be at peace with their situation, they don’t seem to be at peace. More likely than not, the person in front of me has never actually accepted whatever it is they claim to have let go of – not having a relationship with their father, not being as pretty as their sister, not getting into law school, having a partner who doesn’t clean up after themselves, whatever.
We all do this sometimes. It’s like saying, “I’m going to let go of this pinecone now,” as if the pinecone is in your hand, but actually it’s in your pocket. You open your hand to show everyone. See? Nothing in my hand – no more pinecone! In the back of your mind there’s this voice: “Psst! Dude, it’s in your pocket!” But instead, you pretend you can hide things from yourself. What pinecone?, you say. I don’t see any pinecone. Do you see a pinecone? I must have let go of it!
Interestingly, sometimes pretending sort of works. We really do convince ourselves we let something go. We believe we no longer care one bit about that time our fourth grade teacher gave Becky Finkelstein-Schlitzbaum a gold star for her James and the Giant Peach diorama when our diorama was so much better and we didn’t get a star. We can’t see the pinecone. The thing is, if we would tune in to it, we can feel the pinecone. And this is a great thing. It can be hard to use the mind to chase the mind. But, when we bring an issue to mind and we experience, as openly as possible, how our body feels in connection with this, it is usually apparent right away whether there’s something uncomfortable in our pocket or not (where “pocket” could be anywhere in our being). Are we at peace with this fourth grade incident? Ask the body, not the mind, and the answer will be clear.
With pain, what’s the pinecone we’re letting go of? Is the pinecone the pain? No, the pinecone is our non-acceptance of the pain. It’s the thought, This isn’t fair or Why me? that keeps us engaged in an adversarial way with our pain. Ask yourself, “How do I feel about my pain?” Close your eyes and see what comes up in your body. Are you at peace with your pain or not? If not, there will be an additional dimension of pain – our resistance of the pain itself (in fact, this may be all the pain there is). If any unpleasant feeling comes up when you bring to mind your pain, or your fears about the pain (it will always be this way, it will keep me from being able to…), or any other unresolved issue, you have something to practice acceptance with.
Hone in on this feeling. As a means of accepting it, see how willing you can be to experience it. See how little resistance you can have to feeling it. See how much you can unclench, allowing it to open up, unconfined. Examine its characteristics. How much does it weight? What color is it? Does it have a texture? Does it have a smell? Does it have a taste? How big is it? What shape is it? As you willingly experience all of its characteristics, you let go of your resistance to it. Breathe. Stay with it for a few minutes. And let it go.
Then, remember, just because you accepted it, doesn’t mean you can’t later resist it again. Don’t be discouraged if you discover you’ve picked your pain back up. Just be efficient: accept it, then let it go. There’s no use scolding yourself or trying to figure out why.
While I opened this article with, “Acceptance is a prerequisite to letting something go,” in actuality it’s often difficult to separate acceptance from letting go. In the moment of acceptance, the dynamic of attachment is neutralized. Letting go happens. That said, sometimes giving ourselves the invitation to let something go is a helpful additional step.
To transcend means to go beyond or to rise above. The prefix trans- means across, beyond, or through. Thus, to transcend your pain doesn’t mean to deny it, to ignore it, or to avoid it. There must be acceptance in order to move beyond it. I encourage you to explore your internal terrain and accept whatever you find.
Copyright 2012 by Peter Borten. No reproduction allowed in any form without permission.