Change starts by accepting what is. While this might sound like a paradox, let’s think about what happens when we fail to accept reality.
When we fail to accept reality, we complain. Our thoughts and energies are focused on themes like, “My job should pay more than it does, my loved ones should be different from how they are, and the world should recognize my talents.”
When we fail to accept reality, we also paint ourselves the victim. If only I was given a chance. If only I had more money. If only I hadn’t had a child at such a young age. If only everyone shared my beliefs and values. If only my husband was more ambitious. If only she wasn’t so mean to me. If only our government wasn’t so corrupt. If only people weren’t so ignorant.
When we fail to accept reality, we argue endlessly and pointlessly about how things should be. I’m embarrassed to admit it now, but during the years I lived in Seattle I fell deeply into this trap. For various reasons, the US in general and cities like Seattle in particular are hyper-political environments. This was especially true during the Bush Presidency. In Seattle, I became an expert on arguing how things should be. The government should stop lying. Cheney should be prosecuted for war crimes. People should demand a military exit from Iraq and Afghanistan. People should be outraged about wars based on lies. The government should serve the people. Democrats should grow a spine.
While it would be nice if all of these things happened, these ideas are ridiculous because none of the statements reflect reality. The political reality (then and to this day) is that the US Government is controlled by a small number of ruling elites who are mostly invisible to the public. Their goal is resource extraction, increased power concentration, and ever-more effective exploitation of the powerless. Their sole purpose is to advance their own self-interests and to maintain their position at the very top of society (in short, to rule). Their Corporate-controlled system functions exactly as these individuals intend. The system is doing exactly what it was designed to do! Therefore, to argue that the government should be democratic (i.e., a true reflection of the people’s will), that it should reflect economic and ecological justice, that it should be a reflection of pure, honorable values…this argument is absurd because it is a naïve denial of what is. These arguments actually make the system seem credible…as though any of this were possible at all within this system! When we fail to acknowledge the truth about what is, we get stuck in arguments and actions that cannot succeed because success cannot come from a misunderstanding of reality.
When we fail to accept reality, we look only to the external and we blame only the external. None of our thoughts and criticisms are turned inward. None of our revelations have to do with ourselves. The irony is that the only thing we actually can control is ourselves.
A while back, I left that hyper-political environment and came to a place where I could barely speak the language. My thoughts became more pure, simpler, and more focused. I was far less influenced by the media. I had surrounded myself with people who did not share my views or my way of thinking. After some time I came across a simple idea: what is just is.
What is the first thing you think of when you hear this? Think about it. At first the thought seemed absurd to me. A logical mind says, “Of course what is just is. What’s the point in making this statement?” Furthermore, the notion that “what is just is” seemed so passive, so lazy, so defeatist. But like any good idea, it stuck in my mind and slowly changed my perception of reality.
There are two things that can happen when you accept that what is just is. First, you can find happiness and contentment. You release yourself from the imagined burden that it is on your shoulders to change the world. You realize that you have no actual power to change the world. You can stop waiting for your life to start “someday when”. You can stop wishing for things that will not happen. You have no power to change friends or loved-ones. You have no power to change the way people think or behave. The only power you do have is to change yourself. With this new understanding, those old complaints, those old “what ifs”, that old way of thinking and feeling no longer cripples you. You find peace and you focus on what matters: that which you actually have power over.
The other thing that can happen when you accept that “what is just is” is, ironically, change. Success can flow from an effective response to reality. Let’s consider changing people. You cannot truly change people or change their behavior by simply demanding it, wishing it, or complaining about it. Only when you understand and accept human nature, when you understand and accept the truth about who someone is, when you understand and accept what makes them how they are, when you understand and accept how men are and how women are, when you understand and accept what they want from life, when you know and accept what others want from a relationship – only then can you hope to influence any change. But you cannot start with the goal of change. The goal is only to learn about reality, to embrace the truth, and to do so with no other end in mind. Only then can you begin to share your opinions, your stories, your views, and your values. Only when you perceive and truly listen to others will there be any hope of them doing the same for you. But this cannot be done for the purpose of changing the other. If the person changes or the relationship changes, it will happen naturally. It is not your goal or your burden to change someone else…only to know and accept.
How you would feel if someone accepted you unconditionally for exactly who you are? What would that person mean in your life? How far are you from doing just that for the people who mean so much to you? How can you claim to love someone if you cannot accept all of her unconditionally? What exactly do you love then?
To accept that “what is just is” also requires a great deal of work, study, and exploration. You have to read popular and unpopular ideas. You have to consider the conspiracies. You have to observe people and society without bias. You have to become educated and then question that education. You have to listen to varied opinions. You have to be open to experience. You cannot get to the place of accepting reality until you first know what it is. This is a lifetime journey and the goal is awareness. In order to accept "what is", you have to first understand it.
Now let’s think about social or political change. What would happen if a population would stop arguing foolishly about what “should be” or how everybody else “should think”? What would happen if we stopped arguing about how outraged everybody “should be”, how everyone “should” go to Church (or not), “should” recycle, “should” turn off the TV? What would happen is that we would clearly see, and plainly speak about, the truth. A population that clearly sees and speaks about the truth could not be governed by today’s propagandistic, dishonest, theatrical tactics. We, as individuals, would make different decisions about how to live, how to love, how to spend our money, and what to do for a living. We, as a collective, would look at how to organize, how to work together, and how to exist. We would find those “cracks” in the system and we would become very creative about how to exploit new and unimagined possibilities. We would invent change. Where we used to complain, we will do. Through effective communication about reality, and through effective action that is a response to reality, we will change ourselves and change the world.
Of course this will not happen. I accept the fact that people like to lie to themselves. People choose the lie for a short moment of false comfort while they derail the possibility of a lifetime of contentment, happiness, and positive change that can only come from awareness. So this idea will not be accepted on a massive scale. But this could happen in your life.