Yesterday afternoon I was tired, and I was grumpy. I was upset with someone for not having behaved how I wanted them too, or how I thought I would have behaved in their situation. I worked over the situation in my mind. I was justifying my upset feelings to myself, but of course this just kept the frustration alive.
I watched the rain running down the window as I did the washing up after lunch. The view across the valley was obscured by a fine grey mist.
Somehow I managed to catch sight of what I was doing: I was resisting reality. I couldn’t change what had happened, and every time I went over events in my mind I was getting more upset. I was pitting what I wanted against what had actually taken place and, naturally, reality won out.
We create a huge amount of pain for ourselves by resisting reality. We’ll all have our own style of doing this, and different styles at different times. Perhaps we distract ourselves by opening a bottle of wine; or reaching for another chocolate; or ordering a new pair of shoes, or that latest collectable online. Perhaps we’ll try to push reality away, getting upset with other people, or inanimate objects. Often anger is an attempt to create distance between us and something unsettling. Perhaps we’ll simply try to pretend that what we don’t like isn’t there, and become exhausted or even depressed as it takes all of our energy to hold reality at bay.
When I was stood at the sink, as soon as I noticed what my mind had been doing my tiredness started to lift. I felt awake again. As I had started to accept reality the energy that I’d been putting into railing against it, or just ignoring it, was suddenly available for other uses.
Along with giving us some energy back, accepting what is means that we can then give ourselves options: the more we resist reality the less options we have.
With my hands in hot water, washing the dishes, I not only saw the choices my friend had made that had upset me, but also saw his reasons for making those choices. I was also able to see the version of reality that I was trying to protect, and that it was simply a misplaced expectation.
Once I had seen more of what was real I was able to sit down with my friend and talk over what had happened in a pretty relaxed way.
One common thing that affects how well we are able to accept reality is a confusion between things that are inside our control and things that are outside our control. I couldn’t change what had happened, or my friend, but I could change my response. Many situations that we struggle with are like this, and thinking clearly about what is and isn’t in our control can help us move towards acceptance and creating options.
There’s a simple exercise I use sometimes to help with this. I create three columns in my journal, the first for elements within my control, the second for elements I can influence, and the third for things completely outside my control. Then I fill in the blanks.
Anything that brings us closer to seeing what is really there is a good thing. The more clearly we can see, and accept what is in front of us, the more likely we are to be at ease with what is happening and to make a good response.
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A version of this article appeared in All About Malvern Hills