Category Archives: Acceptance

Storms make the world green again

It’s been stormy here in California for the past couple of weeks. Pelting rain, thick clouds, even some (gasp) thunder.

Growing up in Toronto, Canada, rain was a common occurrence. Nothing to blink an eye at really. But here, it makes the nightly news. “Rain coming! Be prepared!” Some schools even closed for a few days.

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Now admittedly it did rain a lot, probably more than I’ve seen in the 10 years I’ve been living here. But that’s not the amazing thing.

The day after the ‘big storm’, I was picking up the kids from school when I noticed that the hills all around the Bay Area were covered in an amazingly vibrant green coat instead of their usual brown, dry grass.

The beauty of it struck me, and I realized that we actually need storms sometimes to make the world green again.

As in nature, so in life. My therapist describes the process of growth as “repeatedly falling apart to fall back together again, better.” We need to break sometimes so that we can learn, process, integrate, and rebuild a stronger, maybe brighter version of ourselves.

So that’s my nudge for today, in this holiday week. If you’re weathering an internal storm, try to give yourself some gentle time to let it run its course, keeping yourself as lovingly warm and cozy as you can. It will pass, and the sun will come again.

And you just might find your inner world becoming a more vibrant shade of beautiful green.

With love,

Alexandra

Take life one step at a time

Although it’s been a while since I last got out there, hiking in unfamiliar countryside with only a map and compass to guide you can be an exhilarating experience.

I’ve always enjoyed following a detailed map closely enough to feel pretty good when the landmark I was expecting loomed into view.

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An expedition such as this works best when you know where you’re headed, but the step-by-step progress generally requires most of your attention to be focused on where you are now, and where you’ll be going in the next half mile or so.

If you fail to work like this, and instead simply keep staring at your destination on the map, you’re probably going to end up well and truly lost.

Quite rightly we’re encouraged to ‘look at the big picture’, to set ourselves targets and goals, to have grand visions.

And to some extent there’s nothing wrong with doing so.

But once you’ve a broad idea of where you hope to be one day, I think it often makes most sense just to focus on the here and now.

Perhaps it’s good enough (and possibly utterly appropriate) to simply concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other?

Do know where you are, though. (And beware of the bull in the next field.)

Stay with your experience

I was driving down the 101 yesterday, on a sunny California November day, listening to the wise words of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.

In her Getting Unhooked audiobook, she talks about the power of “staying with your experience.” The basic idea is that whatever you are feeling, whether it feels intensely good or intensely uncomfortable, try to stay with it.

Don’t push it away – but don’t cling to it either. Give it space to be there, like opening your home in warm welcome to a friendly guest.

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Many of us (me definitely included) try to escape when hard feelings come up.

On my drive I was feeling anxious about some potentially life-changing news that I was waiting to hear. Waiting, day after day, not able to do anything but worry and try to be patient. My usual escapes are doing physical exercise like yoga or dance, eating comforting foods like ice cream or homemade chili, and watching 18th century British period movies (just ask Jon, and he’ll roll his eyes.)

I started to wonder, what if I don’t try to escape? Pema says that if we can manage to stay present with whatever we’re feeling, chances are it will shift after a while and move on by, like a cloud in the sky. If we try instead to either escape or hold on to it, it will tend to grow bigger and more powerful in our minds.

So, since I’m always game to learn new things, I decided to try it this morning to see what would happen. I woke up with a grip of anxiety in my stomach, and I said to myself, OK, this is anxiety. It’s perfectly normal to be feeling this right now, and I’m going to just let it be here with me.

Hello, anxiety, nice to see you. Have a seat here beside me. Would you like some tea?

It sounds silly, but I found that the feeling stayed around for an hour or so, then softened, then evaporated when I biked down to a new yoga studio near our house. The anxiety had completely left my body and I was in a blissful state.

Pema talks about this as a practice that we can include in our lives. I know rough feelings will keep popping by to visit me every so often, and hopefully I’ll remember to greet them with love and compassion. Maybe I’ll even be able to expand that compassion to everyone else in the world who is feeling like this right now.

We aren’t so different, we wonderful human beings. And if we can learn to stay and not run away from ourselves, we might find a new understanding. Deeper insight into ourselves, and deeper insight into the human condition.

Wishing you the courage to stay with one tiny experience today, even just for a minute. Let me know what happens!

How to get better at acceptance

Practice? Practise?

I don’t know about you but it’s one of those spellings I really have to think about, like ‘effect’ and ‘affect’.

But even when you come down firmly on the side of one (practice, say) there may still be more than one way of looking at it.

As a verb, it can either mean ‘to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually’ – as in ‘practice politeness’.

Alternatively its definition can be ‘to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient’ – as in ‘practice the act’.

This is a slightly roundabout way of introducing the concept of us having much to gain when we ‘practice acceptance’, the idea that it is generally self-defeating to try and change those things we stand no hope of influencing.

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Now, in its original form, I suspect the version of ‘practice’ which was meant was the ‘customarily or habitually’ one, but in a neat semantic twist, maybe it’s also handy to think about the other one – working repeatedly at acceptance so we become better at it?

I suspect that you can’t go from accepting nothing to accepting it all overnight. I’m sure that just like all change, progress will be slow and steady.

But any progress is progress, and every journey can be thought of as a series of steps.

So could it be that the best way to practice acceptance is to practice, every day?

Pessimism, optimism, and the other more helpful -ism

What’s the point of pessimism?

One might imagine that it’s the optimists who will inherit the earth, leaving the pessimists to wallow in their general lack of hope and expectation.

After all, who’d want their glass half empty rather than half full?

Well. Let’s just stop and think about this for a second.

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Imagine you and I were standing one side of a chasm. At its foot runs a piranha-infested river, and it’s – ooh – nine metres wide, a little over 29 feet 6 inches.

Your task? To jump to the other side.

As an eternal optimist you might declare ‘no problem’. ‘Go for it.’

This, however, would be foolish. In the extreme.

The world record for the men’s long jump currently stands at 8.95 metres (7.52 for the women’s) so even an Olympic athlete would end up as fish food.

The point about the confirmed pessimist is that he or she would probably shy away from the jump even if the gap was less than a metre.

But somewhere between these two extremes sits sensible behaviour, which I think we’d probably call being realistic.

I’m not sure about you, but on a bad day I find myself taking a very downcast view of the world, while longing to be the complete opposite, a total optimist.

Better, surely, to recognise that it’s being realistic about things which gives us the best hope of success.

Sometimes moods change without any real cause

In the 1960s and 70s, Paul McCartney’s poet brother Mike (McGear) was a member of pop group The Scaffold, whose best-known hits were ‘Lily The Pink’, ‘Liverpool Lou’ and ‘Thank U Very Much’.

Judging by the last one, ‘txt-spk’ is nothing new, and it was actually a well-recalled line in it which drew me to an extraordinarily long online discussion thread the other day.

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I knew that The Scaffold had sung ‘Thank you very much for the Aintree Iron’ and wondered idly what the Aintree Iron is or was.

In these Google-days you don’t have to wonder, you can search, so it was that I discovered a vast array of people’s suggestions as to its meaning, ranging from a Liverpool railway yard to others a bit too edgy for a Moodnudges post.

In the middle of this cascade of conjecture, however, came the real kicker. Mike McGear himself had pitched in, suggesting that as he’d written the song, he ought to know what he’d meant. And basically, he explained, ‘you’re all wrong’.

Frustratingly (and a little deliciously) he then refused to divulge its meaning. Perhaps there actually isn’t one, even. But we’ll probably never know.

To me, this is a brilliant example of the way in which we humans can be desperate to find reasons for everything, to understand and to classify. This is perhaps never truer than when we seek to understand ourselves, and in particular to find explanations for why our moods rise and fall.

Sometimes there’s a reason. But not always. Now and then your mood changes because, well, it just does.

There’s no harm in setting out to better understand yourself, but the very second that you begin to agonise over your bafflement, perhaps it’s better to shrug your shoulders and simply accept it?

Then (and here’s the important bit) just move on, thank u very much.

What you can change, and what you can’t

Kermit had a point when he grumbled that it’s not easy being green.

His argument was that being green made him blend in with so many things, which sort of ignores the evolutionary benefits of camouflage, but we do get what he meant.

The big thing of course is that Kermit was, is, and always will be green.

You’re a frog for goodness’ sake, man.

It’s easy to believe that things would be different for you if they weren’t as they are.

You’d be happier if you did this or that. You’d be better off if things were different. You’d be more content if only, if only.

Sometimes, of course, change is possible. But only sometimes.

So if you can’t change something, isn’t it better to simply accept it?

If you’re a frog, you’re green, and that’s the way it’s always going to be.

Surely only a muppet could disagree with that.

Accept the parts of life you can’t control

Of course, everyone knows how to turn their bathroom taps on and off.

I’m getting used to American plumbing, which generally positions a second set of taps in the pipes hidden away under your bathroom sink, allowing a plumber to work on the upper taps without needing to turn the water off at the main (generally somewhere outside the house, or perhaps under the kitchen sink).

99% of the time you’ll only ever need to operate the taps on the sink itself. To be honest, few people even know how to turn the water off at the main. That’s something they leave to the plumber.

In a similar way, during the coming day there will be some things you can control, and it’s mostly wise to exert your powers in this regard.

There may be others, though, over which you’ll have no control, and with these perhaps it’s wisest to simply accept this?

Control what you can. Accept what you can’t.

Keep a balanced scorecard

Remember that life brings darkness and dreams, and both are an important part of life.

I heard the most amazing song yesterday, and I’ve been singing it to myself for the past 24 hours. It’s from an Enya CD that Jon picked up at our local thrift shop over the weekend.

Here’s the opening verse:

Once you had gold,
Once you had silver,
Then came the rains
Out of the blue.
Ever and always, always and ever,
Time gave both darkness and dreams to you.

This seems to me to be a helpful thing to remember when we are in dark times: there are always dreams waiting for us too. So many songs are either about intense love or intense heartbreak, so it’s refreshing to see one that encompasses the spectrum of human experience in a more balanced way.

It reminds me of something a business advisor once told me: when you’re pitching an investor, always give a balanced scorecard. Don’t go in saying everything is wonderful, and don’t go in saying everything is terrible. Say what’s wonderful and what’s terrible, to give a complete and realistic picture.

I wonder what would happen if we gave each other balanced scorecards every day? When someone asks how you’re doing, rather than pretending everything is fine or complaining about how awful life is right now, why not share a bit of both? It might help you gain a bit of perspective on how your day, or your life, is really going.

Enya’s song, called Once You Had Gold, ends on an uplifting note:

What is the dark?
Shadows around you.
Why not take heart
In the new day?
Ever and always, always and ever…
Time gave both darkness and dreams to you.

May you have a balanced day with inspiring dreams lighting the darkness.

Love,
Alexandra

Why it’s best to accept yourself as you are

Don’t blame yourself when things aren’t good, simply accept and love yourself for who you are.
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This time last year I hadn’t yet moved to California, so was still living in the UK and frequenting the local Caffe Nero for my morning coffee.

Over a couple of years I’d got to know the manager. Chris and I would always pass the time of day, and every so often have a longer chat – sometimes in the coffee shop’s back room, which was a kind of storage space and office. Talk about shabby, though.

Naturally enough, the shop itself was pretty well fitted-out. Nice furniture, decently decorated, clean and tidy, that sort of thing. But this back room was something else. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t dirty or anything like that, it was just that it had clearly escaped the eye of the painters and decorators when they’d fitted out the shop.

And actually there’s nothing too surprising about this. Very many businesses have the part which is seen and frequented by the public, and the part that definitely isn’t. The difference? Well let’s just say the former is generally a good deal fancier than the latter.

Of course the great majority of people never get to see Caffe Nero’s store room, so their impression of the premises is the one the business wishes them to have.

I wonder if something similar happens when you and I compare ourselves with others? You know, I think perhaps it does.

For instance, when I met a friend for coffee last weekend she said it was good to see me looking all shiny and happy, but the truth was that inside I felt anything but.

I think many of us do this. We look around and imagine everyone’s happier than us, less anxious, more content, better adjusted. But that’s simply because we’re comparing our insides with other people’s outsides, and more often than not this delivers a strictly one-dimensional view.

If you’re someone who, like me, struggles with low mood now and then, I think it’s pretty common to imagine it’s only you who feels this way: the rest of the world is full of the joys of spring while you (and only you) are withering on the vine.

But of course this simply can’t be true, can it? After all, depression and anxiety are two of the most common triggers for visits to the doctor’s, and around one in four people will be formally diagnosed with a mental health problem during their lifetime.

Battling with low mood is hard enough as it is, but blaming yourself for it is the ironic icing on the cake.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to accept yourself as you are.

Even better? Love yourself for who you are.