Accept the inevitable
Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand. The famous Dr. William Osier had once crossed the Atlantic on a great ocean liner where the captain standing on the bridge, could press a button and-presto!-there was a clanging of machinery and various parts of the ship were immediately shut off from one another-shut off into watertight compartments. So when he addressed the students at Yale University, he said: “Now each one of you is a much more marvelous organization than the great liner, and bound on a longer voyage. What I urge is that you so learn to control the machinery as to live with ‘day-tight compartments’ as the most certain way to ensure safety on the voyage. Get on the bridge, and see that at least the great bulkheads are in working order. Touch a button and hear, at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting out the Past-the dead yesterdays. Touch another and shut off, with a metal curtain, the Future -the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe-safe for today! … Shut off the past! Let the dead past bury its dead. … Shut out the yesterdays which have lighted fools the way to dusty death. … The load of tomorrow, added to that of yesterday, carried today, makes the strongest falter. Shut off the future as tightly as the past. … The future is today. … There is no tomorrow. The day of man’s salvation is now. Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future. … Shut close, then the great fore and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of life of ‘day-tight compartments’.”
Well certainly this does not imply that we should not make any effort to prepare for tomorrow? Not at all. In fact the best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate and pour in all my enthusiasm into making today’s work my best work. That is the only possible way I can prepare for the future.
When it comes to our happiness, circumstances alone do not make us happy or unhappy. It is the way we react to circumstances that determines our feelings. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is within you. That is where the kingdom of hell is, too. We can all endure failures and tragedy and come out on top-if we want to. We often tend to think we cannot, but we have surprisingly strong inner resources that will see us through if we will only make use of them. We are a lot stronger than we think.
If we resist and kick against the situation and grow bitter, we won’t change the inevitable; but we will change ourselves for the worse. I know this to be true and I know that you know what I am talking about. I have often in the past and sometimes even now refused to accept an inevitable situation with which I was confronted. I tried denying it, complained about it to anyone who cared to listen and then rebelled against it. My days started to drag; they became unbearable thinking of the same thing, going round in circles. Everyone around me avoided me because I was so dejected all the time. After all that, I still wasn’t able to change the situation. I brought upon myself everything I didn’t want. Finally, after the prolonged self-torture, I had to accept what I knew right from the start that I couldn’t possibly alter.
The late Dean Hawkes of Columbia University had a rhyme as one of his mottoes:
For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
A number of the leading business men of America are examples of co-operating with the inevitable and leading lives free from worry. If they hadn’t done that, they would have cracked under the strain.
J.C. Penney, for example, said in an interview: “I wouldn’t worry if I lost every cent I have because I don’t see what is to be gained by worrying. I do the best job I possibly can; and leave the results in the laps of the gods.”
Henry Ford believed in much the same thing. “When I can’t handle events,” he said, “I let them handle themselves.”
K.T. Keller, of the Chrysler Corp, also said: “When I am up against a tough situation, if I can do anything about it, I do it. If I can’t, I just forget it. I never worry about the future, because I know no man living can possibly figure out what is going to happen in the future. There are so many forces that will affect that future! Nobody can tell what prompts those forces-or understand them. So why worry about them?”
This same philosophy was taught in Rome nineteen centuries ago. “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”
Consider the journey of a river that is on its way to meet the ocean. On its path it is bound to encounter numerous obstacles – let’s look at the example of a big rock as one such obstacle. Now if the river were to want the rock to move or break then how likely is that to happen? It could fight against the rock with all its force but the rock will not move; instead the river will become stagnant and live to tell the tale of an unfinished journey. On the other hand, it could choose to see the rock, acknowledge that this rock is not something it can alter and decide to find a way around it. This would enable it to continue on its journey, continue to nourish all the many beings that depend on it for their living, and most importantly reach its destination- the ocean. It’s useless to fight against the inevitable. Not only is it a humungous waste of energy but it also holds me back from moving ahead in my own journey. Whose loss is that? And whom should we be holding responsible for that loss? We often blame the situation or another person- that would be akin to the river blaming the rock! Does not make a whole lot of sense now, does it?
Consider yet another example of being on a road trip from your home to a very beautiful holiday destination for the weekend. Now I am bound to come across a number of scenes along the way. I may even stop to get out of my car and take a closer look at some of them. But how sensible is it for me to start adjusting the scene, maybe demand for a tree to be pruned or have the mountain be just a little higher? No, we don’t do that. We acknowledge the scenery for what it is and move on in our journeys. Circumstances in life are simply these scenes along our journey. We can’t change them or control them but what we can do is choose how we react to them or handle them.
While we often feel helpless and experience great loss when we encounter a negative situation, it is critical that we remember the absolute truth that we have enormous strength within us- all we have to do is summon those powers. For it is in the mind we see, and in the mind we live, whether we know it or not. How I feel is quite literally based on the quality of my thoughts – this is the power that I have control on and can summon. Change in my life is bound to come- what was true 10 years ago or even 10 days ago may not be so today. It is not this change that I am usually worried about but rather of how it will affect me that is of concern. But then, I can’t control this change or prevent this from happening. What I can control is how I handle change and that will decide whether the resulting situation will be pleasant or not. How? because a situation is nothing but my reaction to a stimulus, not the stimulus itself. How I deal with the stimulus makes the situation either pleasant or unpleasant – it is not so to begin with.
If we were to consider this world as a stage and ourselves actors in the unlimited play that is life, then as is the case in any good play or movie, there are bound to be both happy and sad scenes. When we go through a sad scene, we feel dejected and catch ourselves complaining – why me, why this, why now? But really when you think back to any bad experiences you’ve had so far – say a bad job, a bad friendship or a tragedy, it is guaranteed that we have learnt a valuable lesson from each one of those experiences. It has taught me yet another new thing about human relationships but even more importantly made me aware of things about myself. Do I have a gap within myself that I was trying to fill with a particular relationship? Was I looking for someone else to respect me when I wasn’t respecting myself? Was the other person really wrong or is it simply that our personalities were not compatible? Was it really a bad job or was it that I did not have the right skills or temperament for it? If there is a lesson to be learnt, learn it and move on. It will come in handy in the future. We all look at our neighbor and feel that he has it better than me. Is that really true? We all have our own journeys, we all take different routes to the same final destination and consequently we have different challenges. We all have different roadblocks, different detours. While one may have a scenic route, it might take him longer to get home. Someone else might seem like he got home lot quicker but may have had nothing but the woods on either side.
Come to think of it, I am sure that if we all had the chance to pool together all our life stories, our journeys and had the opportunity to pick whichever one we wanted, we would all pick our own! Each challenge that I have faced in my life’s journey has revealed a different jewel in the form of a lesson but they all taught me one thing each time- acceptance. It taught me that nothing life could bring me was beyond my strength to endure. It taught me, as John Milton discovered, that “It is not miserable to be blind, it is only miserable not to be able to endure blindness.” We are all unique souls with our unique specialties that set us apart. We are lot stronger than we think we are- believe it!
Going back to the analogy of the unlimited play, why not realize that a bad scene will not last forever. This too shall pass and a happy scene will certainly arrive. But an even more important fact to consider is what these changes do to me- to my internal stability? Is it healthy for me to constantly go through the swing of being happy one minute and sad the next based on the scene? Probably not. Perhaps I’m better off maintaining a stable stage armed with the knowledge that this is but a scene in the play and that this shall change. Rather than allow myself to be influenced by it, I will remain stable and not be affected by either praise or defamation, good or bad.
Acceptance is really the key. Back in the day when automobile tires were in the stage of evolution, they were first designed to “resist” shocks from the roads-of course, this resulted in them being shredded into pieces. Then they were built to “absorb” shocks instead. In other words, they were built to “take it”. We are built to take it too and we have to believe in this truth and accept change for what it is. If we resist rather than absorb, this drama of life will drive us over the edge- make us anxious, angry and frustrated when we could be enjoying a smooth ride instead. Waves of an ocean come and go, but those who know how to swim in those waves experience happiness in that. They jump across the wave and overcome it as though they are playing.
Acceptance should not be confused with turning our back on reality. What this means is to me is when encountered with a change:
(1) Gather the facts objectively as though you were doing this for someone else.
(2) Analyze the facts to determine options to proceed
(3) Make a decision and execute on it immediately
Once you’ve learnt what was to be learnt and have done what you can, the rest is out of your hands. Accept reality, put a dot, not a question mark or an exclamation mark but a dot and move on. Life certainly goes on…it’s time for the next scene in the play and you need to be ready to give your best shot. Being caught up and refusing to move on from the last scene makes me a sore loser and a bad actor. Life is too short and too precious a gift to be wasted caught up in just one scene.
As the famous serenity prayer written by Dr. Neibuhr goes:
God, grant us the…
Serenity to accept things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can, and the
Wisdom to know the difference
Patience for the things that take time
Appreciation for all that we have, and
Tolerance for those with different struggles
Freedom to live beyond the limitations of our past ways, the
Ability to feel your love for us and our love for each other and the
Strength to get up and try again even when we feel it is hopeless.
Acceptance means to me not just acceptance of the situation, the play itself but also acceptance of the other actors in that play. This is what the line “Tolerance for those with different struggles” means to me. When something goes wrong, we tend to not just blame the circumstances but also the other person for behaving the way he/she did. This goes back to a point discussed earlier about examining myself first to see if perhaps there was something lacking in me? It is like the river blaming the rock. It is futile to blame others- think about it… would any of us do something despite knowing it is wrong? No. While something seems wrong to me, it may seem the most logical thing to do to the other person based on his/her situation, his/her scene. What is not right to me is perfectly justified to them. It’s a matter of perspective!
If I think back to the play, each actor is playing his/her part accurately and we all teach each other important life lessons and make each other better at our art. When I think about life this way, all I can say is wow, what a grand play this is! What a vast stage this world really is lit up by the sun, moon and the stars. What superb actors we have to play our scenes with. And boy, what a plot with so many twists and turns….it keeps the spectator at the edge of the seat. That’s right, I am an actor and I am center stage with everyone else, good actors themselves, watching me perform my every scene. I need to ensure I give my best shot each time and not be caught up in the last scene, not be caught up in the drama!