My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. – Michael J. Fox
For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
People talk a lot about “being present”, or “being in the moment”, as the key to happiness. I have talked a lot about my intrepid search for it here on my blog. For some of us, it is a frustratingly hard skill to develop. One can understand the concept intellectually, but then absolutely fail at doing it when the moments are at hand.
As many of you know, it has been a rough year for my father, who has Parkinson’s disease. It has also been been a rough year for my brother and me, who have had to watch the continued, painful decline of a fiercely independent man.
Throughout 2014, whenever I visited him – in his assisted-living apartment, or in the hospital after yet another fall, or in a rehab facility, I was usually swamped with negative emotions – sadness, anger, frustration – all swirling in my heart, just a big miserable tempest of pain. Wishing it would/could be different, struggling with how to make it better, what to do next to help him or my brother, how to best behave to deal with it all.
On the second day of the New Year, I stood by my father’s bedside, helping him eat lunch. He is completely bed-ridden now, but has regained limited use of his arms. He can hold a spoon, but often misses his mouth. Sometimes he can swallow, and sometimes not. Even when he can swallow, he eats very, very slowly.
I stood by his bed, holding the plate. Sometimes I held the spoon, bringing the food to his mouth. Sometimes he wanted to take the spoon and try to do it himself. In the past, when I helped him with a meal, it usually brought tears to my eyes, and I couldn’t wait for it to end. To feed my father, like I once fed my infant sons, is a very hard thing for me to do.
But on this day, I did not feel that tempest of misery and anger swirling in my heart. I stood there with the plate for probably 20-30 minutes, feeding him, talking about the holiday, about current events, about family, about many things. Sometimes he would gently grasp my hand that held the plate. It was only the two of us in the room, which is often filled these days with a scrum of nurses and aides.
Later that day, I thought about the experience, and realized with a shock how different it was from previous moments of 2014. I held very little sadness, no anger, no frustration, but only gratitude and a new kind of acceptance. Gratitude that I could do that one, very little thing for him. Gratitude that he was still here, after so many times this year when we thought he would not be. Acceptance of the whole damn shitty situation. A situation that just WAS, one that I or my brother could not fix. And yet, a situation that offered its own kind of beauty; a special opportunity for closeness with my father that might never come again.
The feeling of gratitude and acceptance just washed over me. The contrast between what I had felt at his bedside for most of the past year, to what I was feeling now was extreme. It pretty much smacked me in the face.
In that moment, I not only intellectually understood all the advice of the happiness writers about the benefits of being in a moment without judgment, I actually felt it. Really FELT it. Felt it in a way that might just be transcendental. And boy did it felt good.
When I gave up all the anger and frustration and my fierce desire to CHANGE things, I was flooded with gratitude for a special moment that will stay with me forever. When I just let go and accepted the situation, I glimpsed a slice of sweet, intoxicating peace.
That feeling has stayed with me for days, and I have been thinking alot about how it might apply to other areas of my life. I spent much of 2014 royally PISSED OFF about a lot of things – railing internally at how much they sucked, and how I wanted to change them. Organizational changes in my professional life, actions of my children, choices of my husband, situations I deemed failures in myself… in all areas I could find examples of this toxic way of looking at the world.
On January 2, I opened my arms and lifted up my face to the rain of that damn shitty situation, and it freed me. It was a refreshing new way to look at the world.
Deepak Chopra said that “nothing brings down walls as surely as acceptance.” I think that lesson may apply not only to walls between people, but to walls of pain and negativity within oneself.
One of my primary resolutions for the New Year is to remember the feeling I had when I leaned into that moment and opened my heart to what was, versus all that I thought it should be. There is beauty, peace, wonder and possibility behind that wall, even if it might be raining.