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My dad is dealing with something.
It's been on my mind a lot lately.
He had knee-replacement surgery three and a half weeks ago.
The surgery itself wasn't the hard part.
It's the recovery.
Beyond that, it's that the recovery is not progressing as quickly as he would like--and not according to the typical recovery schedule he was told.
This is incredibly frustrating. I feel for him.
In reality, this kind of thing happens all the time.
Reality doesn't match our expectations of what should happen.
I've struggled with this as well, and I've developed my own guiding principles to get me through my frustration.
The progression is pretty interesting, and I never thought I'd get to that point...
Learning To Accept Reality
When I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I had grand ideas.
I thought that if I mapped out my future, it would roll out exactly how I planned it.
All I can say that now is, "HAH! What was I thinking?"
I can't really blame myself, though.
I didn't have enough experience dealing with reality.
Up until that point in my life, my expectations for what should happen to me pretty much matched what actually happened.
But, as we all learn when we venture out on our own, the universe doesn't care what you think should happen.
You can't plan what happens to you. Horrific events have a way of appearing whenever they want.
Illness. A death in the family. Financial stress.
All of these can appear at any time.
As I got older and older, the more bad things happened to me, the more I started to panic and feel anxious about the world.
That is...until I changed my approach.
Accepting Reality - A New Approach
I didn't see it at the time, but I was really struggling with my mental health in college.
I was anxious all the time, and I constantly compared myself to others. I drank heavily on the weekends to cope with my feelings.
One day, a friend gave me a book by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun based in Canada.
Reading Start Where You Are blew my mind, and it sent me down a path to read books by Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh, and other Buddhist writers.
What hit me the hardest is the approach that Buddhists take when it comes to difficult events. Instead of fearing them and hating them for what they do to people, Buddhist teaching focuses on acceptance, openness, and curiosity.
As the years went by, I tried to open my mind more and more. You could say that my early twenties were the start of my real life.
One day--and I mention this frequently on The Mental Health Update--I found stoic thinking.
Stoicism had the principles of Buddhism with the practical wisdom that I needed. It wasn't just vague statements. Stoic writing from the likes of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca empowered me to take action based on what I was learning.
Over time, I developed sort a personal philosophy for dealing with the awful events life gave me.
Here's my "Accepting What Is" Philosophy:
- Bad things happen all the time. They are inevitable. There is no escaping them.
- Rather than trying to escape or wish away the catastrophic effects of bad events, it is better to learn to accept them and eventually embrace them.
- Acceptance is a muscle. It can be improved over time through practice.
- It is always better to accept reality than to deny it.
- Dealing with reality in an open and honest way is a superpower.
- Lowering expectations doesn't mean that you don't care about what happens or that you're adopting a defeatist perspective.
- Life is about managing expectations, about dreaming big, but also about grounding yourself in whatever is right in front of you.
That's it. For now, at least. I hope reading my philosophy inspires you to create your own.
It's not that I don't care about what happens to me now.
I just know that anything can happen at any time--and that I might as well be prepared for that.
I could be gone tomorrow.
That doesn't frighten me as much as it used to.
In fact, it empowers me to make the most of the life that is right in front of me.