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  • Writer's pictureMartin Stepek

Accepting When it’s Better to Accept

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

Things happen. Unexpected things. Unhappy things.

As I write this, in late November 2020, we’re into month nine of the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland. Christmas is coming, as is the hoped-for cavalry, in the form of three vaccines. But sadly Christmas comes before vaccines, so Covid-19 still impacts on the biggest holiday season of the year, and for many, one of the most important religious festivals in Christianity.

For many people this presents problems. Us too. Our son left for a job in Japan around this time last year, so we had an early Christmas with him then, as the actual event was going to be the first one we have not spent together as a family since our marriage. Because of Covid he was unable to come back to Scotland to visit us, and our own planned trip to see him in Japan in April was of course cancelled because of restrictions on travel. Now he is coming back to Europe, for work reasons, and to see his long-term girlfriend, who also planned to go to Japan to see him but had to cancel it.

So it’s great news that he is coming home but he has rightly put his relationship with his girlfriend first. That kind of relationship needs togetherness much more than a parent-son relationship. They need time together, and we can wait until they feel at ease and are then able to plan to see us.

However it is a classic frustration. Unable to see your son for a year because of a pandemic, then unable to be with him on his return to Scotland because he has another, more important and urgent, priority.

There are much worse realities. People will be “celebrating” Christmas this year with an empty chair where a loved one was expected, a loved one who died of the virus, who otherwise might have been expected to still be alive at Christmas.

Others will be worried today and every day right through the Christmas period because their job or their business or their financial situation more generally is on the brink of collapse.

Things do happen. Unexpected. Grim.

What to do about this fact of life?

Whilst I can’t discuss every possible thing that people might be facing this Christmas, I can share some thoughts on how best to handle the reality you’re facing, and the negative responses to this.

Firstly, work daily – or several times a day – on managing your thoughts and moods. They can be so unhelpful, and are the source of all our forms of unhappiness. However they are also the source of all our happiness, pleasure, laughter, and fun. We can’t prevent our mind from producing unhelpful reactions and feelings, but we can deal with them when they appear.

Each time they arise, simply accept that it’s happening, don’t get annoyed at it, try to gently accept it, smile at the absurdity that your mind keeps producing unhelpful things, then gently take your attention to your breath, fully and enjoyably.

Notice the clear, fresh air going in, then the gentle, quiet, and peaceful sensations as the air flows back out.

If after a few goes that doesn’t work, try something else, like noticing your feet on the ground, and the sensation of stability and stillness this gives you.

And if this doesn’t work – in other words if your mind keeps on coming back to a negative thought or mood – still don’t get annoyed at it, nor give in to its unhelpful feelings. Try going outside for a five minute walk, or longer if you want. Even if it’s cold, windy, and wet. Better to be cold and wet but have a clear mind free of misery, than a moody, downcast state of mind.

Remember this key truth. It is not reality that makes us unhappy to gloomy. It is our mind, and it does so simply because it has developed programmes to do this over millions of years. It’s not you, it’s the mind. How you feel is solely a result of what your mind produces.

And you can learn to take your mind to a better place when it is causing you misery.

So I accept the bizarre situation of my son being back in Scotland after a year abroad, but us not being able to see him and hug him for a while yet. I’ll just get on with my life and my work, and when the mind produces unhelpful junk about the situation I’ll just take it to somewhere pleasant – my breathing, my body still and stable, or enjoying the weather and nature as I head out for a walk.

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