If you can’t fight, and you can’t flee, flow (Robert Eliot)
Perhaps you or a friend may have said, “I don’t like it when.” or “I become angry whenever.” or “I can’t stand it if.”
You can fill in the blanks. Here are some examples: “I can’t stand it when someone interrupts me while I’m speaking. I don’t like it when people speak rudely. I become angry whenever people say stupid things.”
What do these sentences have in common? Well, they are examples of what psychologists call “demands”. That is, they are rules we make for an ideal world. In other words, in a perfect world people would not interrupt, speak rudely, or say anything stupid.
But we don’t live in an ideal or perfect world. We live in this world. Here people interrupt, speak rudely, say something stupid, and do many other unpleasant things. So, demanding that people behave as you want them to is unrealistic and foolish. It is unrealistic because you will be unable to avoid meeting people that don’t follow your rules of behavior. And it is foolish because whenever you get upset, you rob yourself of your own happiness.
Did you ever stop to analyze the meaning of what you say? For instance, when you say, “I don’t like it when.”, the actual meaning is, “I refuse to be happy when.” Does it make any sense to refuse to be happy? Why not ACCEPT the world as it is? You cannot change others, and if you insist on trying, all you will gain is frustration and unhappiness.
And before I continue, let’s consider this notion of getting upset when people say something ‘stupid.’ Just what do you mean by ‘stupid’? That is just a word you use to describe someone that has a different opinion. If they agree with everything you say, they’re ‘smart.’ If not, they’re ‘stupid.’ It is arrogant to believe others are ‘stupid’; do you really believe you know more than EVERYONE, ALL the time? That’s hardly likely.
Some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, you don’t have to work with the nasty people I have to.” I am going to share a secret with you. It is not your coworker that annoys you, but a childhood memory. You see, one of your parents, relatives, or teachers may have done something nasty to you as a child, and it hurt you deeply. So, when your coworker acts in a certain way, it triggers painful memories of your childhood.
It’s not really the coworker that you’re angry with, but the caregiver who treated you badly in childhood. Now, to further complicate matters, perhaps your caregiver did NOT do anything nasty. Perhaps you misinterpreted what was done; after all, you were just a child. Yes, you may have misinterpreted the event just as you are misinterpreting your coworker today.
Try to imagine for a moment the freedom you will gain if you can open your heart and mind and accept the world as it is. What greater gift can you give others than unconditional acceptance? When you do so, you become a role model, elevating everyone you meet.
I already told you one secret. Now I’ll tell you another. THERE ARE NO NASTY PEOPLE. They just appear that way because of our fears, suspicions, self-doubt, misunderstanding, or misinformation. Awakening to this fact empowers us. We become peacemakers and bearers of good tidings, both of which are greatly needed.
As you read this, someone may be scratching his or her head and saying, “I can agree with some of what you say. For example, I agree that if I allow myself to become angry, I am merely robbing myself of happiness, but if someone speaks to me rudely, I can be assertive without getting angry. I can stand up for my rights and explain that I don’t like it when they speak that way, and I expect them to stop. What’s wrong with this?”
There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just that unconditional acceptance is superior. If you cannot tolerate rude behavior, you are setting a ceiling on what you can bear. The inability to take it is a sign of weakness, not strength. By standing up for yourself and correcting the rude person, all you are succeeding in doing is making yourself his or her equal. But when you unconditionally accept others, any insults hurled your way fall aside like rain off a duck’s back. When insulted, you would laugh and say something like, “My! You’re having a bad day! Hope you’re feeling better later.” At that point, you are not their equal, but their superior.
This is not to say that when we accept the world we allow it to subdue us. Part of accepting the world is to accept that it presents challenges in need of solutions. If someone insults me, that is too trivial a matter to be concerned. But if one nation tries to colonize another or one race tries to oppress another, those are grave social injustices in need of remedy. And it was situations like those that gave rise to such heroic figures as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela.
Some cannot accept the world because they believe existence is equated with suffering. Others, who are on a higher level of spiritual awareness, see the world as a balance of suffering and joy. As did William Blake (1757 ~ 1827), for he wrote, “Man was made for joy and woe; And when this we rightly know, Through the world we safely go.”
Still others, on a yet higher level, warmly and eagerly embrace life, for to them evil does not exist. True, there are injustices that are in need of remedy. Yet, those who take up the gallant fight for justice are catapulted into greatness, becoming inspirational role models for the rest of us to follow. It is suffering that allows man to prove his grandeur, unlock his potential, and uplift others. So, in the grand scheme of things, how can suffering be considered evil?
Long Chen Pa describes the view from the highest level, “Since everything in life is but an experience perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one may well burst out in laughter.” That is, a fully enlightened being moves beyond mere acceptance. Rather than just accepting life, he EXPERIENCES it. He becomes one with it. He becomes life. And rejecting life becomes as inconceivable as rejecting himself.
For most of us, however, merely learning to accept life without complaints would require a giant step forward. Just before typing the preceding sentence I experienced a power outage. Not something simple that I could fix, for the whole neighborhood lost electricity. What was I to do? I could curse the darkness, but how would that help me? I choose to accept that now and then power outages occur and was thankful that they are so rare. So, while I waited, I listened to beautiful music in my battery powered CD player. Can you see how acceptance liberates us, frees us from worry and anger and allows us to go on enjoying life?
Doesn’t this kind of attitude make sense? Marie Stilkind thinks so, for as she elegantly wrote, “Today I know that I cannot control the ocean tides. I can only go with the flow…. When I struggle and try to organize the Atlantic to my specifications, I sink. If I flail and thrash and growl and grumble, I go under. But if I let go and float, I am borne aloft.” Yes, it makes sense to accept the unavoidable and go with the flow, or as Robert Eliot expressed it, “If you can’t fight, and you can’t flee, flow.”