June's Gift: Acceptance
As I do most days lately, I woke up this morning remembering we are still in a worldwide pandemic. And as I do most days, I reminded myself that my own moderately annoying and sometimes troubling experience has been many times over easier than the experience for so many people. That said, my distress is my distress and here’s where I am at the moment. This morning I had a clear and happy plan to write my June blog post on acceptance. On the 9th day of my strict Vermont Covid 19 quarantine, after a somewhat daunting drive from Florida, all was going reasonably well. Looking longingly out at a beautiful summer day, I was actually feeling pretty good. Yesterday was slightly better than the day before. Yesterday, I hadn’t seen quite so many wasps invading our three-season room, so maybe I didn’t have to call in an exterminator. Yesterday, unlike the day before, I had not experienced a single encounter with the determined little snake living under the back deck who was eager to join me at even a slight opening of the patio door. We had found a way to get groceries delivered and were well supplied with food (and even wine). After a Saturday-long struggle installing a new cable box, we were set with movies. Last night we finally figured out how to open the painted-stuck bedroom windows and a cool breeze had surrounded me in a relaxed, deep sleep. As a dear friend always reminds me “these are quality problems I have,” right? Now happily enrolled in an online yoga program, I enjoyed a sweet first class from Kripalu Center via zoom, and it seemed that life was finally beginning to get a bit back to normal. Today I was set for a live- stream yoga class, a relaxed brunch with my husband, and Facetime with my grand-daughter. I could see and feel the end of quarantine just around the corner and soon-to-be sunny walks by the lake were in my future. Two hours of quiet writing time loomed ahead of me as a true pleasure as I sat down with my coffee and my laptop. I thought to myself, “you got this.”
A short thirty minutes into my peaceful writing time, my husband appeared at my closed writing space door, and calmly said, “the upstairs bedroom window just fell two stories to the ground.” He pulled on his shoes and his mask and ran just outside the door to fetch a big presumed-shattered window. Finding it was (amazingly) still in one piece but not possible for us to put back into place, we spent the next hour figuring out how to cover the gaping hole in our bedroom with plastic. We started searching online for window repair people who could come for an appropriately distanced visit after quarantine ends. Dutifully and carefully taping ourselves in with plastic we found in the basement seemed the perfect metaphor for where we were this morning. Really wanting all the windows WIDE open, we actively worked together to safely seal this one up as best we could. The window taping worked great and happily the day went only slightly downhill from there. “At least the plastic is clear,” we said to ourselves. Now eight hours later, I am back at the computer feeling a heightened need to practice acceptance and find a way to better tolerate distress. After all, things aren’t that bad for me right here, right now; nevertheless, I am still feeling short on acceptance and long on aggravation.
“Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.”– Mary Oliver
Doing some research on acceptance, I bumped into information on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). As I began to educate myself a bit about this therapy approach, I learned that DBT was developed by Marcia Linehan in the 1970s through her work with clients with borderline personality disorder. DBT is especially appealing to me because of its connection to Buddhism and its focus on mindfulness. There is quite a bit of info about DBT on line and I easily located several DBT therapists, so check this out online if you want to learn more. While this form of therapy has been used in variety of treatment settings, it has some basic tools that can be useful for anyone in daily life. (Sevlever, Melina, PhD., manhattanpsychologygroup.com)
Two DBT concepts that seem particularly relevant today are the idea of “radical acceptance” and a set of skills called “distress tolerance skills.” For the past several months, and especially in the last couple of weeks as we have begun to move into a new phase of dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic, I have been looking for words to describe what I feel like I need to do to find acceptance to transition to a next step. The term “radical acceptance” makes sense to me in this context. Radical acceptance means coming to a place where we accept that things are the way they are. It doesn’t mean, we have to like the way things are. It just means deciding to stop fighting the way things are. It means stopping complaining and stopping trying to change the situation to some other situation. It means not being in denial. It means looking the reality straight in the face. Accepting the situation RADICALLY means, doing so fully and completely. As Swami Kripalu would say, this means accepting the situation as it is, without judgment.
DBT uses “distress tolerance skills” to help one deal with painful emotions without making the situation worse. The “Wise Mind Accepts” below are ways to distract from one’s emotional response to a distressful situation. Some of these techniques may work for some of us some of the time. They are worth a try to see if we can let go of some of the emotionality in the situation to move closer to acceptance so that we can figure out how to move forward instead of just being stuck in sadness, worry, fear and anger. We could try one or two and see how they work. The first letters of each skill go together to form the word “ACCEPTS.” Dr. Melina Sevlever offers the examples below. (Sevlever, Melina, PhD., manhattanpsychologygroup.com)
Activities: Engage in some kind of healthy activity and shift your attention to that activity. Examples include calling a friend, baking cookies, and going for a bike ride.
Contributing: Contribute to someone else. Surprise someone with a thoughtful gesture or volunteer. Doing things for other people causes us to feel better.
Comparisons: Compare yourself to those less fortunate or to yourself at a time when things were worse. Try to come up with a list of things you feel grateful for. Your pain is still valid, but the focus is to put it in perspective for now so you can tolerate what you are feeling in the moment.
Emotions: Create a different emotional experience by listening to something that usually makes you laugh or feel happy. Listen to your favorite upbeat song or put on a funny video.
Pushing Away: For the moment, decide that you will put thinking about the crisis on the backburner and chose to think about something else. This does not mean we ignore our problems, it means we decide to come back to it at a time when we are more able to handle it.
Thoughts: Replace your thoughts with any other thoughts that are neutral and unrelated to the situation. If you fill your head with other thoughts, there will be less room for thoughts related to the problem. You can do brain teasers, sing songs, imagine positive memories.
Sensations: Distract yourself with physical senses. Our bodies are designed to focus on new or intense sensations. If you engage your body in a sensory experience, such as putting your face in cold water, holding an ice cube, soaking your feet in hot water, your thoughts and focus will follow.
Another example of an activity to shift your attention:
“Petunia takes her mind off her problems by reading about Dr. Who”
Reading by Veronica A. Welsh, age 8
the beautiful blue sky
in a fantisy or mystery
hearing the birds chirping
like there talking to me
and the flowers’ fun singing
fun and beautiful land
This month’s yoga pose: Yoga Mudra Pose
Don’t practice yoga mudra pose if you have recent chronic back, knee, abdominal, or shoulder injury or injury or inflammation of the eyes or ears or uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Yoga Mudra means “the symbol of yoga” and is done with an attitude of surrender, placing the head below the heart and with great awareness of the breath. Begin seated on lower legs with knees together. Lengthen though the waist and reach through the crown of the head. Raise your arms in front of you. Sweep arms to the side and back, interlacing the fingers if possible and keeping the elbows unlocked. Reach your knuckles down toward the floor, lengthening the arms and hugging shoulder blades together as you open the sternum. Lifting the tail bone, hinge forward from the hips and extend the torso over the thighs. Bring the forehead to the floor or a block or cushion. Reach your knuckles away as you lift arms overhead pressing outer edges of the hands toward the floor in front of you. To release, extend sternum forward and up and reach back through knuckles, and raise shoulders over waist. Release hands to thighs.
Wishing you a gentle summer entry with time for finding acceptance of what is.
I hope the idea of radical acceptance provides some support as you begin this unusual summer and work to find moments of acceptance and ease in our shared new normal. Take some deep breaths, let go of judgment, work on tolerating the distress, and do what you can to move yourself gently into a welcoming summer.