Have you ever been confronted with something so daunting or downright scary that you have become paralyzed just thinking about it? Surely you have; at least you probably have if you are a soul having a human experience. Over these past eight months, this Soul-Talk series has addressed the question of how to expand rather than contract in the face of the twists and turns of daily life.
When confronted with the unexpected, especially the unexpected negativity that life can throw your way, contraction seems like the natural response. You know the drill: Some part of us just wants to curl up into some kind of fetal position and rely on hope that something will turn out for the better.
If you're like me, I'll bet you have actually found that curling up and hoping seems to work from time to time. What actually takes place is just another form of timeless wisdom: this too shall pass. Indeed, no matter what befalls you, the circumstance will change. To be sure, the remnants may not be all that happy, but at least the immediate circumstance will change.
In case you're one of those who prefer to toss this kind of approach to life in the rubbish bin as, well, rubbish, let me point you once again to my friend W. Mitchell. Undefeated by a blazing motorcycle accident and a paralyzing plane crash, Mitchell learned to move into acceptance and assume responsibility for the countless changes that would forever accompany him in his life. As he writes so eloquently in his powerful book by the same name, It's Not What Happens to You, It's What You Do About It.
The first rule of overcoming any kind of adversity or fear that comes upon you is acceptance. Acceptance does not mean liking what has happened or entering into some kind of Pollyanna-like pretense that all is well. Acceptance simply means acknowledging what is present -- recognizing that what is, is. Surely Mitchell (as he prefers to be called) did not relish the disfiguring burns from his motorcycle crash much less the paralysis that followed the small plane crash.
However, Mitchell did recognize that while he could not change the circumstances, he could control his response to them. With remarkable focus and certainly more than one moment of backsliding, he discovered that by accepting the obvious, he could actually thrive despite a reconstructed face, the loss of all of his fingers and thumbs, and rolling through life in his wheel chair.
Notice that I did not write "confined" to his wheel chair. Indeed, Mitchell does roll through life as a free spirit having a human experience: He has become an internationally-recognized motivational speaker, a coach and mentor to troubled youth, and a bon vivant in his own right. He knows full well that confinement is a choice, not a requirement. Mitchell chooses freedom in the face of what many would define as severe limitation.
In my own life, I have had my own set of challenges, ranging from family bankruptcies, to living in my car, to creating and losing businesses. While I have not always approached my forms of adversity with the kind of liberating acceptance that Mitchell demonstrates so remarkably well, I have learned that "how you respond to the issue is the issue." (My friends Ron and Mary Hulnick have provided some profound support and advice on this approach to life that you can read in their superb book Loyalty to Your Soul.)
Each time the unexpected has arisen for me, some part of me still wants to retreat to the fetal position thing again while another part wants to rail against the unfairness of life, blaming my circumstances on someone else. These responses arise from my Self-Talk, a kind of limited or negative thinking that I learned or adopted earlier in my life when I was not so aware of the power of my own ability to choose.
However, each time life challenges arise these days, that quieter, softer voice of my Soul-Talk keeps reminding me that when I enter into acceptance and trust in my inner connection to my soul, God not only opens a window when He closes a door but actually opens an entire new universe. Indeed, each apparently-adverse event over these many years has opened the door to an ever-expanding experience of life.
The key to finding that expanding universe lies in acceptance. The longer I persist in the fetal position, blaming others for my circumstances, the longer it takes me to discover the opportunity hidden inside of the apparent adversity. As my spiritual teacher, John-Roger has taught me, once you accept something, you start to feel better about it. By accepting what is happening, you probably still won't like it, but you may stop fearing it. At the least, you will probably fear it a little less. Fear seems to be accompanied by contraction, and it is pretty hard to discover choices or opportunity while in a contracted frame of mind.
As you move into acceptance, you not only start to feel better about life and yourself, but you also start to find choices that did not seem so apparent when you were stuck in the fetal position, bemoaning your fate. If you want to expand, learn to accept what is present. Then, and only then, can you begin to find that new universe.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject. How have you moved into acceptance? How have you found the ability to expand in the face of adversity? Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, "Workarounds That Work." You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
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