Tag Archives: acceptance

acceptance, is, ought, and baby food

a few weeks ago we had a conversation about acceptance. one of the things we discussed there was this:

acceptance is about the past not the future …

a common trap that we fall into in our thinking is when we jump without reflection between what is and what should (ought) be. in philosophy, that has been referred to as the “is/ought” problem. just because i say that yes, teachers used to beat students, and yes, i used to smoke (the “is”) does not mean that teachers ought to beat students and people ought to smoke.

one of the commenters then wondered how we can move away from an unpleasant “is” to a better “ought”

we could use a situation like this:

i can walk 4 miles an hour [the “is”]. since i believe this to be true [i.e. i accept the “is”], how can i believe that i could walk 5 miles an hour? [i.e. moving to the “ought”]

interestingly enough, around the time that we had this conversation, i also wrote about solution focused brief therapy. the solution focused tradition has much in common with appreciative inquiry, which has something to offer here.

we work from what is there: it engages the whole system. data from the past is analysed for common themes (including data from the client’s conversations with selected colleagues).’ this establishes ‘what is’. the client then articulates ‘what will be’ and ideas are put into practice.


it is quite permissible to experiment with not talking about the problem at all as it is ‘irrelevant to the solution’ and the coach also has ‘no idea where the solution will come from’. as gregory bateson pointed out, the solution comes from a second, or higher, order of thinking.

let’s combine our previous conversations about acceptance with these words about AI and see what happens if we apply them to the above situation:

in the past, i walked 4 miles an hour.

this is the reality, this is what happened. there is no regret, and it is not labelled a problem; it’s just “what is”.

by next year, i will [or want to] walk 5 miles an hour.

note that there is no “ought” (“i should”).  it is a future-directed expression of faith (“i will”) or desire (“i want to”).

i can do this by hiring a trainer, buying those expensive runners, rewarding myself with a trip to the south pacific, going to the gym each day, reading biographies of famous walking athletes, getting a really fast dog, befriending a training buddy, or signing up with a walking group.

there is no discussion of how hard it is to walk 5 miles an hour, or how you’ve trained before but it didn’t work, or how you can’t get motivated because walking reminds you of your athletic girlfriend (which would be discussing the problem). the brainstorming that created the ideas comes from a different part of the brain than the problem.

in the conversation that follows, we might choose one possible solution as an experiment and look for “one lazy step to take away today that will take you towards your solution,” as carey glass, the coach mentioned in the link above, says. “spy on yourself and look for tiny things that are helping: think baby food and it turns out to be caviar!”

i have seen this magic work over and over again. for example, i routinely ask clients who are very shy about networking to make one super simple phone call. “call them and ask them for their fax number; that’s all!” once they manage to do that, sweaty hands and all, they often surprise me by telling me that they found the person on the other end of the phone so nice that they ended up chatting for 5 minutes.

what would be your baby food?

understanding acceptance

last month we had a conversation about acceptance, and i’d like to continue it.

evan said, “i think changing the world can be valuable, too.”

maybe there is no either/or between acceptance and making changes.

to accept comes from the latin, meaning to receive (as in “UPS delivered a parcel for you, and i accepted it”.) if we agree with that meaning, acceptance is about the past. changing the world (or ourselves, or our marriage, etc.) is about the future.

there is absolutely nothing we can do about the past (assuming, as i will for now, that we use the concepts of past, present and future in the ordinary, linear sense). the sun did shine five minutes ago, and i my father did die on august 21.

acceptance does not equate liking or condoning. i don’t have to like the fact that there was a time when i smoked two packs a day. and there is also no point in berating myself for having harmed myself that way, or in lying about it. yes, i used to smoke, sometimes a lot. yes, it made my hand shaky and my friends rolled their eyes when i absolutely had to go out to buy a pack at 11:30 at night. it’s not pretty but i accept it – that’s what the reality of it was. so there’s a strong connection between honesty and acceptance.

acceptance is not the same as fatalism. that relates to the idea that acceptance is about the past not the future. for example: “it used to be okay for teachers to beat students. that was a fact, and we can’t change it. it’s NOT ok for them to keep doing it.”

a common trap that we fall into in our thinking is when we jump without reflection between what is and what should (ought) be. in philosophy, that has been referred to as the “is/ought” problem (for those of you interested in the more intricate points of why this is referred to as a problem rather than a logical fallacy, see the meatyard). just because i say that yes, teachers used to beat students, and yes, i used to smoke (the “is”) does not mean that teachers ought to beat students and people ought to smoke.

from a logical point of view, that makes sense but emotionally it’s not that easy. in teaching, childraising, training, psychotherapy and other such tasks we rely heavily on modelling. we want people to look at what is and infer from it what they ought to do. we don’t swear in front of our 2-year-olds, and we encourage university students to read biographies – that’s modelling.

i believe the trick lies in the reflection. we can go from is to ought. but let’s not jump.

let’s accept what is, the reality we see right in front of us, as unfiltered as possible.

then stop. breathe. ask yourself the question: “inasmuch as i can, should i support and nurture a repetition of this reality, or should and can i do something to change it?”

if you can and want to do something about it, do something.

if not, don’t fret.

that’s acceptance, too.

walking away from guilt: a conversation, part 2

dealing with guilt, walking away from guiltthis is a continuation of my blog post a little while ago on helping a person overcome guilt.

clara’s and my exchanges were a conversation, with a thread going through it of questions (on my part) and replies (on carla’s). at the end of our process, i asked clara to tell me which questions were most useful to her in helping her lift most of the burden of guilt that she had been feeling, and to say a bit about those questions. (of course, names and identifying characteristics were changed.) i will also make some observations. so let’s continue:

how exactly have the people in your life been harmed by the specific things you feel guilty over, e.g. your eldest witnessing you taking getting drunk?

much of the guilt i carried over this particular incident has been reckoned with. i now understand (and accept) that what my children choose to do as adults has little (or nothing) to do with that isolated event.

comment: one of the reasons why i asked that question is that when we are plagued by guilt for a long time, there is usually what i call a “movie” associated with it. i call it a movie because it often has that intense and clear quality, with a complete memory of colours, details, even smells and textures. it is also often a “movie” out of context, i.e. just a snippet. paradoxically, what perpetuates the guilt is keeping that movie inside, never talking about it. so telling another person about it AND putting it in context are often very healing moments.

you weren’t even 18. how well prepared for motherhood do you think you were? how well prepared do you think ANY 16-year-old is?

i have looked at myself (objectively) as a 16 year old who was quite immature emotionally, even for the average 16 year old. i was looking for acceptance and love through sexual contact, probably due to the crisis in my family when i was 12. in retrospect, being a parent at 16 was an unbelievable challenge for me, as i also worked a full time job to take care of us. i was literally a child who was suddenly thrown into an overwhelming situation. though i do (somewhat) carry guilt over what my daughter had to go through. though i always wanted to be a good mom, i just didn’t have the skills i needed to make that possible

comment: when we look back at our behaviour in horror (and guilt), we often assume that we should have known then what we know now. we’re usually not aware of that assumption. so we walk around with thoughts like “how could i have done that! what an awful mother i was!” when really, in this situation, for example, it was a case of not having been ready at all for the task.

the words “objectively” and “in retrospect” show that now, carla is able to look back at the situation with much more balance and compassion for herself.

did you know about the abuse your children were experiencing?

i truly did not know about the sexual abuse. the guilt is over how i handled it afterwards, because though i did believe my children when they told me about it and turned it over to the authorities, i feel i should have left my husband then, instead of putting the family through years of counselling only to have him attempt to reoffend. i feel i gave the wrong message to my children, two of them who have struggled with abusive relationships.

comment: as indicated before, our conversations, while significantly lessening the burden of guilt, did not magically resolve everything. this seems to be an area that needs a bit more resolution.

have your children forgiven you?

this is a question i have thought a lot about. in my heart, i know that they have forgiven me, but i also hear from my youngest child different references made in regard to their upbringing, for example she was talking just the other day to someone about issues with her husband regarding their relationship and her children. she made the statement that nobody will ever come before her children. a few months ago, she told me that she felt i put my husband before her and the others. while i am glad she is able to be outspoken about her feelings, it does hurt that she feels this way.

i am still working on this. thanks for bearing with me, isabella. and by the way, the last time you wrote, your words were so encouraging, and i will never forget how much they helped me. i can now visualize myself sending guilt to the back of the bus (along with all the other riff-raff!)

comment: again, this is an example about an issue that hasn’t “gone away”. and many of them will never completely vanish. i don’t think that is the goal of therapy. therapy cannot erase scars, and it can rarely prevent or take away pain. what therapy can help with is to live with the scars – at times even proudly – and to remove or reduce suffering. it’s one thing to say, “geez, i guess i still feel guilty over that”, and another to lay awake at night playing the scenes of guilt over and over again, going down into an ever deeper spiral of suffering. it is the former that is normal – a quick pang of remembered pain, perhaps even the healthy guilt that serves as a reminder to avoid certain behaviours. the latter is torture, and torture serves no one. we could say, then, that one important goal of therapy is to end self-torture.

image by floato

letting go of guilt: a conversation

earlier this year, i wrote a few posts on guilt. this turned into a case study with one of my readers where over the course of a few months, we sent emails back and forth. this reader, let’s call her carla, has agreed to publish some of our emails. of course, we’ve changed some of the identifying characteristics of the story to protect carla’s identity.

we hope that this will help some people who are dealing with guilt to find inspiration, and i also hope that this can be a bit of an illustration of how i help people in online consultations.

we’ll present this in a series of two or three posts.

carla, tell us a little about yourself:

i am a married, 60 year old mother of three, and grandmother of ten. i am a christian, though not in the traditional sense. i work full time, and i love to spend time with my with my grandchildren.

what interested you in the initial blog posting about guilt in the first place?

my own battle with guilt, for over a year of my life prior to reading the blog posting i was plagued with feelings of guilt.

how would you describe your state of mind when you first read that post?

plagued with thoughts and feelings of guilt which made it difficult to think of much else. that caused me to feel pretty depressed, and overshadowed any feelings of happiness. i felt extremely sad, and cried a lot.

how would you describe your state of mind now?

i am definitely a happier person, more at peace, feeling like i may finally be able to forgive myself for the mistakes i made with my family. however, i still struggle with placing blame on myself for mistakes they are making in their own lives, like they really didn’t have a good foundation to build upon. i have come a long way toward accepting my failures, but i still try to make up for my failures as a mother, in whatever way i can.

what changed?

i am able to see myself more objectively, with a degree of understanding that i didn’t have before, and would not have thought i deserved to have. i can now accept that i failed, not because i wanted to (on the contrary, i always wanted to be a good mother to my children). i now see that i didn’t have those skills i needed to be as nurturing and loving as i wish i could’ve been. a lot of that was through no fault of my own. (my mother left us when i was 10, and my father was emotionally distant). i think i may have struggled with some degree of mental illness, and perhaps still do.

this is part one. in the next post about carla’s progress we’ll show you some of the questions i asked carla, and how answering them was helpful for her.

blogathon: overeating and “enough”

change therapy is the home of the carnival of eating disorders. i’ll put up the “easy” version of the carnival on the promised date (july 31). for this blogathon, i’d like to feature three articles that have been contributed.

for this post, we’ll look at carol solomon’s stress eating: “not enoughness”

do you feel like you don’t have enough?

enough time . . . money . . . love?

or that you “aren’t” enough . . . not good enough . . . not worthy enough?

this is scarcity thinking, and it can show up in a lot of really subtle, sneaky places.

where does “not enough” show up in your life? i’ll tell you where it shows up in mine.

on the airplane, i worry about not having “enough space” to store my bags . . .
i worry about not having “enough time” to accomplish what i want . . . both on a daily basis . . . and being on this earth long enough to make a difference in the world. …

practice noticing when this subtle “not enough” feeling emerges for you (we all have it). when you feel it, you know that a gremlin (self-saboteur) is at work. it may be just the signal you need to “do” less, or to know that something in your life needs to change.

carol solomon also suggests to write gratitude lists, to practice receiving, and to connect. i like what she has to say here

have you ever gone out with friends and had a wonderful time connecting and just being together? it’s very fulfilling, and you don’t feel the need to fill up with food. fostering a sense of community helps you feel less isolated in the world. when you do things that fulfill you, you don’t need to “fill up” with food.

the topic of “enough” is fascinating, and i have written about it here.

much compulsive overeating is about a sense of not having enough. it might be very directly related to food – e.g. for a person who grew up in poverty. it can also relate to other things. is there enough love, enough attention, enough pleasure? if not, is food used to fill the hole? sometimes the deprivation was in the past but food has become such an easy way to get what we want that the gravy train just keeps on running, despite changed circumstances.

and of course food is just one way to fill the hole. the “drug of choice” to get that elusive feeling of enoughness can be anything else – heroin, shopping, working, the internet …

does any of this resonate?

next blog post in the eating disorders section of this blogathon: sexy at any size!

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link;if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps. thank you!

a buddhist carnival – june 2008, part 2

temple of forgiveness at burning manhere, friends, is the second part of this month’s buddhist carnival. the first part is here. enjoy!

andrew, on his blog rants of a gay lunatic (i have to confess that such a title immediately makes me perk up my ears) does not directly mention buddhism in his article why we must forgive president george w. bush but i’d say it is exactly in line with buddhist thinking:

we are trying to change the world and re-create a great country. i have said that george w. bush has failed as president, and i have said that i forgive him. i will take that a step further and say, “thank you for trying.” i am convinced he did a better job than i could have done. i appreciate his ambition and bravery in accepting – indeed, pursuing – such a responsible position. i don’t envy that responsibility and i don’t envy bush’s lack of popularity. but i do appreciate his attempt, and i wish him well in his retirement.i hope that we will all be able to forgive president bush. not everyone can be a great president – or a great anything for that matter. but in order to create and re-create and continue to create a great and a good nation, we must move past our anger and move on to love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

self-expression, self-less expression
wayne always has something interesting to say, although one of these days i have to get around to asking him why his zen blog has become so insanely busy visually lately (or i guess i’m doing this right now). one of wayne’s interests is how we live in our bodies. this article, self-less expression, is part of that series:

the goal is not to figure out we have a body, only to “give it up,” and become all spiritual. it’s about accepting ourselves exactly and precisely as we are. and then, finding a way, or multiple ways, to be the totality of who we are.

and here, from the tao of simplicity:

ever since i became interested in simplicity, minimalism, and the present moment, i have become more sensitive.

the most powerful number is zero! excess information causes paralysis and represses you!

i see that people (including me) have a tendency to take too many notes, hold onto too many emails and paperwork.


what else do we have? “glowing face man” wants to awaken the badass within (a worthy goal, wouldn’t you say?) and says “pause and look at the world around you: it will end in a moment.” the daily mind proposes that we meditate at work:

we spend most of our lives at work. some of us will have the same job we have now til the day we die and we will be there from nine til five every single day. if we do not use our work time carefully we will waste a significant portion of our existences doing something that we resent. the way to change that is with meditation.

and our friend anmol, who has also been seen here numerous times, shares his experience with raising enlightened children:

the one thing that children need, is your simple, unadulterated egoless presence and attention. it is the most important thing for them to have, and is the key to providing them the right atmosphere to grow freely and fully. here are some important highlights of what this translates into.

other submissions included

and that’s it for now. the next edition will come out on july 15, 2008. remember, if you have an article about buddhism you would like to see featured here, please use this submission form. also, if you’d like to host a buddhist carnival, talk to me!

(image of temple of forgiveness at burning man by almost jaded)


one of my favourite sayings is, “acceptance is the key.” it’s something that can be misinterpreted as fatalism, as acting like a doormat. but that’s now how it works. acceptance is saying, “ok, this is what is. this is what presents itself. let’s deal with that, rather than denying what’s going on or deluding myself.”

my wonderful blogging friend nickie has written a very insightful post about acceptance. nickie is a young woman who lives with RSD, a severe chronic pain condition. please go to her blog and read what she has to say; her wisdom goes way beyond her age and her illness. here are a few teasers.

one topic which i still struggle with in dealing with RSD, and pain in general, is acceptance. i find it difficult to accept the pain, and the challenges it brings to my life. i want to get better; i don’t want to accept the pain, and the way it’s gotten worse. but recently, i started to realize that maybe, i don’t have to accept the whole thing, just little parts at a time, and maybe each part needs to be accepted multiple times.

i frequently want to have needs which are exactly the same as the needs of other. but that’s not always possible, and i’m working on accepting that.

another need is the need for relaxation and self-care time.

one thing which i frequently need to accept is that i need to acknowledge my feelings, acknowledge my pain and acknowledge the things i do well. … one example is blogging. i’ll sometimes write about how upset, sad or challenged i feel in dealing with something. i usually start by writing “i feel bad about writing this, but…” then write in depth about whatever it is i am upset about. that simple step seems to help a great deal.

accepting the need for mutual support … one of the common values of americans tends to be the desire for complete independence. we don’t like thinking we need support.

acceptance is a journey, because we need to find the right level of acceptance. for example, accepting the need for acknowledgement is good, but accepting it to the level where all i do is acknowledge my feelings and pain wouldn’t be healthy.

thanks for sharing yourself with us, nickie! you make the world a richer place.