Why do some people rise above suffering while others are destroyed by it? This was the question that led Dr. Marsha Linehan to create Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Marsha discovered that those who did not suffer were able to accept the pain in their lives. Those who couldn’t accept the pain, suffered. Acceptance seems like an easy concept. It’s mandatory for us to accept situations in life that we can’t control, like the weather or someone else’s mood. Yet, acceptance is often mistaken for admittance. We may admit that we can’t make it stop raining, but unless we let go of our internal struggle with Mother Nature, we are not accepting.
The internal struggle is often more painful and damaging than the outward one. A relationship ending may feel like a threat to our existence, when in reality, it is a common occurrence. The threat is emotional, and emotions take us on a roller coaster ride that leaves us feeling miserable.
The Greek mythological story of Pandora highlights this concept. At her creation, Pandora was given gifts from the gods. Hermes gave her a golden box he told her never to open. Pandora was happy and provided for, but slowly she became restless with curiosity about the box. Her mind buzzed with guesses and reasons why she should open it. So preoccupied with these thoughts she became that one day she opened the box. Out flew the ills of mankind; disease, age, famine, insanity.
Acceptance cannot be won with the mind alone. Pandora’s thoughts only served to increase her restlessness and cause her to forget her contentedness with all else. In the end, Pandora’s inability to truly accept and be at peace with what she could not control, led to great suffering.
DBT utilizes Eastern Philosophical ideas urging people to “go toward” that which we must accept. Our thoughts, our feelings, our circumstances, our urges. To accept these, we must know them and know them well. Acceptance asks us to fully embrace what we want to avoid or discard. Only in embracing these unwanted pieces of ourselves or the world, will we find the ability to accept them and be at peace.
In The Tracker by Tom Brown Jr., the author writes about his acceptance of cold weather by embracing and inviting it. He would stand half clothed in the chilly air until his body and his mind no longer resisted. With time and practice, cold weather brought him joy, not pain.
What are you resisting in your life? Does your suffering come from the thing itself, or from your thoughts, feelings and perceptions about it? What would change if you stood in the midst of it all and just let go?
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