Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Word Wonder -- accept

1. To receive with favour, willingness or consent.  2. To give an affirmative answer to.  3. To receive as satisfactory or sufficent: to accept an apology.  4. To take with good grace; submit to: to accept the inevitable. [From the Latin acceptare and often accipere, which mean "to take": ad- to + capere to take] -- Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary

When I started writing this blog post I was going to use the word "acceptance." However, as I typed the definitions, I decided that acceptance, as a noun, seems to be a more passive word than the verb "accept." When I think about acceptance I get a peaceful image of somebody not much like me -- some guru guy meditating serenely on a mountainside or something. Nice image, but sometimes it's hard to replace the image of the guru with an image of myself.

On the other hand, the verb "accept" carries some energy with it. This is something I can do, even if it's hard or unwelcome to think about. Since I believe in taking positive action to help myself and others, I switched to the verb form of the word. As I've said before, sometimes doing anything is better than doing nothing.

Acceptance is the result of taking the action to accept, so it makes more sense to me to begin at the beginning.

When something is going wrong or unwelcome news comes, most people's first defense is to feel shock or surprise and a sense of unreality: This can't be happening! As time goes along, the change usually starts to feel less surprising, even if it's still unwelcome. There are no absolute reactions or order in which they come, but many people do feel angry, frustrated, sad, confused and/or unwilling to accept the change. These reactions to change and stress can last minutes, days, weeks or longer. Everyone is different.

What is similar about us, though, is that we all have a choice about accepting the change that's been dumped on us. As you read in the definition above, to accept refers to many related actions:
  • To receive with favour, willingness or consent.
  • To give an affirmative answer to.
  • To receive as satisfactory or sufficent
  • To take with good grace
Nowhere does the definition talk about being delighted or thrilled; instead it speaks of willingness and receiving and taking with good grace. The kind of challenges that are hard to accept usually bring pain or loss or something else few of us welcome. But positive action is still possible. Here are some statements you can say to yourself (in your own words, if you like) that might make change easier to accept:
  • This is really hard, and it's a good idea to allow myself to feel all my feelings. BUT I am willing (even the smallest amount) to receive this change, to stop rejecting it and everything connected to it. I don't have to like it, but it doesn't help me to dwell on my anger and resentment, either.
  • I will open my heart, mind and hands as far as I can to see where I can say "Yes" in this situation.
  • This is what it is, and I can't change it. But I can change me and my response to this challenge.
  • There is so much in this situation that I can't control. BUT if I look, I will find something I can do something about.
  • What have I (or others) done in the past to handle tough circumstances? Maybe I'll try one or two of those things now. When one thing doesn't work, I can' always try something different.
  • Life happens to everybody, and it isn't always fun or terrible. It just is.
You probably already use some of these ideas or others like them. I do, too. But it can be helpful to re-examine even familiar strategies, to refresh our thinking and feeling so that we can act in ways that help rather than hinder. None of this is likely to be a steady uphill climb. Many of life's challenges feel like a roller coaster ride of fear, pain, hope, effort, support, loss, success, confusion and more change. That's really just the way life is sometimes, and learning to accept that helps when a world of hurt hits you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Grief websites

Since the death of my step-son a year and a half ago, which was followed by the deaths of a number of friends and community members, I've become even more aware of the need for support during bereavement. As a life coach, I have counselled others about grief and have read and written about it. But our own life experiences have a way of bringing things into sharper focus... sometimes whether we like it or not.

If you or someone you know is grieving the death of a loved one, the following websites might be useful. This is absolutely not a complete list; it simply presents some sites that have been helpful to my family and me. There are so many ways to get the support we need at tough times -- talking, praying, keeping busy, being still, reading, getting active, and so.

I hope this list of supportive websites offers you some measure of comfort and help:

Forum for Grieving Dads -- a very private site for men whose child has died

The Compassionate Friends -- for anyone who has lost a child. I wrote a post about the site in March of this year. Read it here.

The Canadian Mental Health Association -- a general website offering information and support on many topics, including grief

Sameet Kumar, author of Grieving Mindfully - A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss (Click here to see the book on Amazon) -- You can follow Sameet Kumar on Twitter if you're so inclined.

The Grief Recovery Institute -- offers support for all sorts of loss and grief, whether through death or divorce or anything else

I encourage you to reach out. Get some help. Get a hug. Trust your own feelings and allow yourself the time and space to grieve and heal.

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Are you a free or a caged bird?
Of what do you sing?
Of what do you dream?

Whatever it may be, please keep singing, and please keep dreaming,
for we all need each other in order to be free.
Our dreams and our music bring us to freedom.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It is What it Is

Maybe it's my age, but I seem to be hearing this expression more and more: "It is what it is." This little gem generally follows a small or medium inconvenience or problem, such as a somewhat painful medical test, a disappointment at work, or a hurtful comment by a friend or relative.

The expression itself is almost too ridiculously obvious to utter, and yet I (and others) seem to find some comfort or strengthening in the words. I think its power lies in the expression of the obvious, because it counteracts our (or at least my) innate desire to have the bad thing go away, like the little child I sometimes feel like. That little kid stomps her feet and makes little fists and gets mad and weepy at the "bad thing" that's happening.

But It is what it is seems to help the adult take over. It's easier to get real and get on with it. Okay, fine. I don't like it, but oh, well, it's here. Deal with it.

Then I'm okay again. Most interesting. I can more calmly look at my options and make a choice about what to do or what to feel or focus on instead of my hurt feelings or discomfort. Much better. It's amazing to me how very simple it can be to change my mind about my feelings and my actions. It certainly doesn't work all the time, but that is what it is too, eh?

Monday, June 6, 2011

King, Viking or Favourite?

Here is another Celtic triad -- threefold bits of wisdom from ancient times:

Three people that are hardest to talk to: a king bent on conquest, a Viking in his armour, and a low-born man protected by patronage.

Though I don't run into many kings, Vikings or low-born men these days, I can see ways in which their modern counterparts can be hard to talk to!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

If fear weren't there...

I couple of weeks ago, in the midst of various health challenges and changes, a friend passed on a question she'd heard recently:

How would you act if fear weren't there?

Hmmmm... Good one. Although I didn't have much energy when I heard it, part of me liked this question because it cut through all the rhetoric and emotional roller coasters. The question asks me to set aside my ordinary reactions and more objectively ask myself what actions I would take in a situation if I (or even others) weren't afraid. It doesn't ask or expect me to stop feeling the fear, just to consider what I'd do if the fear weren't there.

My favourite definition of courage is "to feel the fear and do it anyway" -- whatever "it" might be. This new question I'm writing about is, to me, a helpful way to move from the theoretical definition of courage into action. And since I'm a great believer in action as the antidote to many sticky situations, this is something I can get my head around.

For example, if you were faced with an unexpected and unwanted job change, such as a layoff or being fired, a common reaction would be to feel afraid (among other feelings). Fears about your financial situation, changing status and/or respect, loss of workplace friendships, having to move, and so on. Many people would feel fearful in such a situation.

But now imagine that instead of dwelling on the worries and what-ifs, you just sat down and for a few minutes pretended you were an android or a robot. Imagine yourself moving into 'Droid Mode in which you feel nothing and simply have a problem to solve -- a problem no more emotional than sorting through the junk drawer or sweeping the floor.

In 'Droid Mode, you say to yourself, "Okay, so this is not what I wanted or expected. The situation appears to leave me with no familiar options, but I will consider every option I am able to see at this moment. Some will be familiar, perhaps, while others may not. That is no matter. I will simply weigh each one to determine how helpful it might be in this situation. Then I will choose reasonable actions and carry them out."

And so, ignoring all emotional reactions to the change, you simply list problems that have arisen and what you can do right now and in the near future to address them.

What would you do if the fear weren't there?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Changes, Changes

A couple of weeks ago I had my right knee replaced. Having had the left one done last year at this time, and having had a generally great experience, I was actually looking forward to getting this one done. More mobility, less pain, etc.

Without launching into the details, I'll just say this experience is being a mixed bag of great, not so great, and really difficult. The knee itself is generally doing extremely well. However, problems have arisen which, coming on the heels of a tough eighteen months of grief and illness, I'm finding my resilience is slipping. Or at least it feels like it is. I'm usually an optimistic, forward-looking person, but that part of me has been soundly buffeted by circumstance for the past many months. And then I am aware of my committment to keep up with this blog. It's been two weeks since I wrote a post, and that's just too long.

My debate, now that I'm feeling a bit better physically, has centred around the content of this post. How do I write something that could be helpful to somebody "out there," while still being true to my own experience and feelings? How can  I write honestly without sounding like a whiner, when I am at a pretty low ebb? As I get going here, I'm remembering my usual approach when I don't know what to say or write -- just get started, be honest, and see what happens.

I am finding that my usual anchors aren't working so well, and that feels scary. I don't know what to feel or do about the changing circumstances in which I find myself. I don't trust my previous optimism. I don't trust my concept of Something More. Yet here I am, writing it out, however vaguely. Somehow that feels like something, at least. What, I don't know. But something, some positive response to myself and my own previous decision to keep up with this blog, to commit to it for my own sake and, hopefully, to be of some help to somebody else.

It seems my rambling is done for now, but by doing something, even as small as this, I do feel a bit better. I think it's about reaching out past my own concerns at a time when those concerns are feeling like quite a load. It's the offer that matters, not the result. I can control my offerings, but I can't control the result.

I hope you are making a great day for yourself or for someone else. Mine has gotten a little bit better. Thanks.