Well, you’ve probably already heard the sad news that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Friday, which means we’re in for six more weeks of winter. So don’t put your snow boots or shovels away just yet. It’s realistic to expect we’ll have more days of frigid winds and slippery surfaces. Which is depressing, isn’t it? Most of us are mentally well on our way toward spring.
Of course, Phil might not be the only groundhog worth listening to. In fact, there are at least eight other official groundhogs, who are also skilled in weather prognosticating, who have their own opinions to share. On his Facebook page, Unadilla Bill, from Nebraska, predicted an early spring. Likewise, Chuck from Staten Island, NY, Chuckles IX, who is the Connecticut state groundhog, Sir Walter Wally from Raleigh, NC, and Pierre C. Shadeaux, from Louisiana, all say spring is coming early (and Mr. Shadeaux apparently has a 75% accuracy rate, so that’s saying something).
So there may be a reason for hope. But no matter what we’re prepared for, what we expect, or what we want, the weather will arrive each day, as cold or as warm, as snowy or rainy or sunny as it is. We won’t change it. We will simply live with it and adjust—maybe by adding layers of clothing or removing them, taking an umbrella as we head out the door or sprinkling ice melt all over the sidewalk. We may grumble, we may fuss, but ultimately whatever comes, we’ll adapt and change, and look forward—maybe more than ever—to spring.
Buddhist scholars say that the part of us that resists what we don’t want—the part that inwardly gripes about the snow—is the source of suffering. They call it resistance, a kind of pushing-back energy that fights the way things are. Resistance says, “This isn’t how I want it” or “I need to change this somehow.” And then we get all worked up inside, pushing back on the reality, making plans, creating stress, mobilizing our defenses. On the flip side, however, is the peace of acceptance. “Oh, this is just how life is today,” that thinking goes. “Maybe I can just let it be as it is.” And then, in that calmer attitude, we put on our snow boots.
I wonder whether you can feel the subtle but important shift between those two ideas. When we resist something, we say No to it. No to a job change. No to an illness. No to changes in governance. No to reality, however it appears today. When we accept something, that feeling of hardness, of steeling ourselves in our gut, is missing. There’s a sense of more openness, allowing, a willingness to go with the flow. “It is what it is” is a saying commonly used today to mean, “that’s just the way things are right now.” It takes us toward acceptance.
Sometimes folks misunderstand the idea of acceptance—they think that accepting something we don’t like, especially if it’s an injustice or something that offends or hurts us—means we’re giving in and going along with some bad thing someone has done. But what I hope you’ll hear me say is that acceptance isn’t condoning bad behavior or learning to put up with injustice but rather accepting that it is the reality at the moment. It’s a reality that people are afraid. It’s a reality that life is often unclear. It’s a reality that we can’t always trust what we hear or read or even think.
The big difference acceptance offers us is that when we accept that there’s something going on that we don’t like—inside or outside—we don’t feel compelled to fight it, to fuss about it or choose sides or further aggravate the situation. We’re not fighting back and adding to the rancor. Instead, the shift is a shift in our energy, where we let truth interrupt the resistance in our minds and bring God back into our awareness. Ultimately, remembering God clears the way for better answers—better answers for us and all involved–illumined by God’s light.
For example, I love the story we heard from our Old Testament reading. There’s a lot of background to this moment when David says, “Leave him alone, let him curse me, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.” Instead of resisting the news that his own son is cursing him and plotting his death, David says, “Hold on—I believe God is doing something bigger here.” Acceptance for David in that moment is letting things be the way they are, not responding with righteous indignation and striking back, which would only add to the violence and struggle in the story. Acceptance in David’s situation—and in our daily lives as well–means waiting and watching, holding on to the idea that God is not finished unfolding our circumstances yet. Sooner or later, this approach reminds us, God will bring this to something good.
There’s an old Taoist story of a farmer who had worked on his farm faithfully for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Oh! Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe so,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse came back, bringing with him three other wild horses. “Oh! How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe so,” said the old farmer. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg badly. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “What a horrible thing!” they said. “Maybe so,” answered the farmer. The next day, military officials came to their village to draft all available young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Your family has been blessed!” they said. “Maybe so,” said the farmer.
Rick Hanson is the author of the book Hardwiring Happiness, and he also writes a weekly newsletter that this week shared some thoughts about acceptance and how crucial it is to inner peace He says that we naturally resist all kinds of things in our lives: stress, emotional pain, conflicts with others, and more. We inwardly fight against our bodies changing with age, we struggle with old hurts we haven’t been able to forgive, we mourn lost opportunities, people we love, places we miss.
Hanson suggests that the first step toward healing those types of things that continue to hurt us is simply in accepting that that’s how life is just now. We can start by recognizing one thing we strongly wish we were different: Maybe it has something to do with a relationship that causes us pain or something about ourselves we don’t like. Perhaps we think, “I’ve never forgiven her for the way she treated me that night.” Or, “I never have liked my ears.” (Actually, that used to be true for me, but I’m glad to say that about ten years ago, I realized I just have my dad’s ears and after that, my ears and I were friends again.)
When we try to accept something we’ve been resisting, we may feel a subtle but important change inside. If we’re admitting we haven’t forgiven someone, the thoughts that serve to justify our behavior toward her get quiet. When we just accept that our weight is what it is or that we run out of steam faster than we used to, feelings of self-compassion may rise to the surface. I’ve been being hard on myself, we think. Acceptance stops the fight.
When we let ourselves be in that truthful, accepting place, a natural softening occurs. Our defenses aren’t needed and they dissolve. Maybe our stomach unknots a little, we breathe easier, or we feel ourselves relax in our pew. Something deep inside gets gentle, opening a little. Truth is safe. We think, this is just the way it is for me right now. I may as well let myself be honest about it.
Is there more work to do? Probably. Is God faithful and able to help us see what that work should be? Absolutely. The most important things to do next are simply to rest, to thank God, and to let ourselves be at peace. That deep soul-level honesty can sometimes be tiring work, and our spirits needs to be nourished with lots of gratitude and God time.
This kind of acceptance helps us stop fighting the reality of our circumstances and reminds us to listen and watch for God’s leading toward something good. God is providing for us, step by step by step, if we have the eyes to see it. As the New Testament reading from Matthew says, God knows what we need in every moment and is always faithfully answering that need. Are we worried about clothes, about what we’ll have for dinner, about our futures? When we accept that we have a need but God is working, our faith is strengthened as we watch for the solution—and it comes. But when we resist—either by being upset there is a need, by denying that we have a need at all, or by forgetting that God is already about the business of answering it—we stew and fume and plan, working ourselves up into a state that may ultimately make it harder for us to get our needs met. And at the very least, we’ll miss the gratitude we’d feel if we recognized God’s companionship along the way.
In her poem, Allow, poet Danna Faulds reminds us that the force of life itself is uncontrollable, uncontainable, and ever-changing; but that there is a grace watching out for us, bearing witness to our truth day by day. She writes,
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.
The whole world—the world of our experiencing—becomes clear to us when we stop resisting the flow of life, in our veins, in our families, in our life stories, in our meeting. When we can get to the place of acceptance—this is how it is for us just now—we make our peace with what’s here, and open our hearts for the ideas, blessings, solutions, and new loving possibilities God has in store for us next.
What an amazing thing it would be to be able to live, as people of faith, with the simple accepting prayer Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary General of the United Nations, steered his life by: He prayed simply, “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.”
- OT 2 Samuel 16: 10-12
- NT Matthew 6:25-33
- Punxsutawney Phil
- Hardwiring Happiness, by Rick Hanson
- Dag Hammarskjold
[Photo credit: Time Magazine, 2016: //timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/ground-hog-day.jpg]