This past week I’ve been teaching the Mental Wellness course online and we’ve been working with the theme of Acceptance. Normally we associate Acceptance with passivity – we certainly don’t think of it as related to Taking Action. But it is related. Let me explain.
In our course, people discussed things that they can’t accept, or, struggle to accept. Here are some examples:
Traumatic problems from the past
Your sibling’s behavior
Your diagnosis of a serious health problem
People who commit atrocities against others
Feelings of low self-esteem
Poor service at a restaurant
Consider this: you only have so much energy available in a given day. If you spend that energy struggling against something you can’t control, you don’t accomplish what is truly important in your life. For example, you can’t control the past. The past has already happened, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. It is what it is (actually, it was what it was). When you struggle against, or resist, something from the past (even, yesterday), it uses up your energy. That energy could be used for:
Writing your novel
Raising money for a worthy cause
Playing with your dog
Learning a foreign language
Or anything else that’s important to you.
When we accept what we can’t control, we free up our energy to do what we can control. You can’t control your sibling’s behavior but you can act with integrity and kindness toward other people in your family. That’s an action you can take, instead of ruminating about what your brother did/said to you last week.
I have a “board” that is known as a Buddha board. It’s about the size of a standard laptop with a very light grey surface. There is a brush (basically a traditional calligraphy brush) that you use to draw on the board. Instead of ink, you use water. You can write or draw on the board and is has the appearance of black ink. But after just a few minutes whatever you have drawn begins to fade. And in a few more minutes it has disappeared.
No matter what you write – a poem, your name, a maxim – it lasts only briefly and then it’s gone.
During one of our Certification programs several years ago, one of the women here had the assignment of writing the word acceptance on the board and trying to keep it “alive.” She had a very strong will. Being strong-willed is an asset if you use your energy in a productive way. But if you waste your energy, then being strong-willed works against you. So she would write the word “Acceptance” on the Buddha board and, of course, it would fade, and then she would write it again.
Now there’s acceptance.
Now it’s gone.
In Japanese Psychology, we use the term, “Arugamama” to describe the state of acceptance. To accept something just as it is. Or to accept someone just as they are.
Of course, it’s one thing to understand the idea of acceptance. It’s another thing to cultivate it and make it a real part of how you are in the world.
So that’s our challenge. And that’s what we’re working on in our course.
Gregg Krech is a leading expert on Japanese Psychology and the author of several books including, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (Stonebridge Press). His newest book, The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology, will be available in late September, 2014.