Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance
Mel sat on my life coaching deck with a curious smile. Her mind was working at full speed. We always joked that her thoughts were on a constant race to nowhere. Sometimes, when people come to coaching, it is clear to me what they want to achieve, but Mel was different – she wanted someone to debate the philosophy of life with her. She wanted to achieve an idea. When I figured it out, I told her she could register for a philosophy course.
“No, Ronit. I can’t do that with a bunch of young students”, she said with a smile. Mel herself was a college professor.
“Why not? Why does it matter there are other people in the class and why does their age matter?” I asked.
“They are young and haven’t had time to develop their thinking. I want a private philosophy lesson, in which you help me question everything in my mind”, she said.
“And what makes you think that my thinking is developed enough?” I asked, unsure I could cope with her speed.
“I know you can. I’ve researched you for days and read everything about you. There is some sense about you that I want to learn”, Mel said confidently.
Suddenly, it was not the Be Happy in LIFE coaching program I needed to use but something else that was foreign to me. Coaching is never about the coach, it is all about the client, and I had to make sure that would be the same with Mel.
“What do you want?” I asked her (this question repeated many times during our sessions).
“I want you to question what I think until I find the thing that I’m missing to make sense out of life”, she said.
“Why would you want to do that?” I asked her, a bit worried. I never thought I had my own perfect formula, let alone someone else’s. Making sense was not one of my greatest strengths and for a second, I was not sure how to give her something I did not have.
“Because something doesn’t make sense and I can’t live like this”, Mel said.
I have heard this sentence in many different ways. For some people, things need to make sense and for others, it needs to feel right. It is almost like there is an ultimate truth or feeling that we need to discover in order to find our place in life.
“What will happen if you find a way to make sense of everything?” I asked her.
Mel stopped and looked at me surprised and then smiled a big smile. I knew my question had taken her to a different place in her speeding mind. She was happy, because I did exactly what she wanted. I stopped her thoughts for a second and put them on trial.
“I think this is the ultimate happiness”, she said with a big happy smile, as if she had experienced that ultimate happiness for a brief moment, “There is peace and quiet in understanding everything”. I got scared for a second, thinking I did not know I could help her understand everything, because I did not understand all of it myself.
I chose to tell you about Mel because she was generally miserable. On the surface, she ticked all the boxes of a wonderful life – she was a college profession, she had the cutest kids and she loved them very much, she was married and loved her husband deeply and she was financially secure. Yet, nothing made her happy – thoughts were her allies, but she found people most unreasonable. She was unhappy with the way they behaved and kept saying they did not make any sense.
Some people confuse acceptance with apathy, but there’s all the difference in the world.
Apathy fails to distinguish between what can and what cannot be helped. Acceptance makes that distinction.
Apathy paralyzes the will-to-action. Acceptance frees it by relieving it of impossible burdens
– Arthur Gordon
Although I am not convinced there is a formula for being happy, I think there is formula for being miserable. Mel had that formula and lived by it every day of her life. Through clients like Mel, I have seen how the mind can create this suffering. As a very smart, curious person, Mel had some beliefs, thoughts and ideas that made her miserable and caused her to think she did not understand the world and could not make sense of it. What Mel missed was the understanding of acceptance. She confused acceptance with having low standards, with compromising on mediocrity and with giving up.
Mel was an amazingly smart woman, but she could not understand why others did not understand what she did. She did not understand why people did things that hurt others. She did not know how to relate to people without knowing their motives. She did not understand emotional (she called them “illogical”) decisions. When I told her that I never make logical decisions, because I am kinesthetic, she looked at me shocked. “What else is there?” she asked.
For me, 6 things summed up Mel’s thoughts and ideas and contributed to her self-torture. They were:
- Logic is pure thinking
- Advantages and disadvantages
- Frustrated fortuneteller
- Allergic to mediocrity
- Motives and reasons
To be continued on Wednesday…