Acceptance : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 001

[Just joining the discussion? Feel free to check out the introductory post.]

“Man is his own star; and the soul that can
Render an honest and a perfect man,
Commands all light, all influence, all fate;
Nothing to him falls early or too late.
Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”

— Epilogue to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Honest Man’s Fortune

The first thing that struck me in this quoted passage at the beginning of Self-Reliance was the line: “Nothing to him falls early or too late.”

I immediately thought of acceptance (maybe even a bit of Amor Fati) – the idea of equanimity, or even joy, in the face of whatever life hands us (or we hand to ourselves).

Acceptance is not passivity. It’s not resignation. It’s a recognition of the fact that things are what they are right now.

I first learned about acceptance in Alcoholics Anonymous. There’s a popular passage in their Big Book (pg. 417 of the 4th Edition) that starts off with “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.”

The author goes on to say that we can’t find peace until we can accept everything.

I both agree and disagree. If the problem is “lack of serenity” (I’d prefer the term “equanimity”), then yes, acceptance is the answer.

But acceptance isn’t the answer to all of my problems. Acceptance won’t pay my bills. Acceptance won’t provide the medical help I need for my Bipolar Disorder. Acceptance won’t even stop me from drinking if I’ve got a problem with it.

But acceptance will:

  • allow me to face the reality of my bills and create a plan to get them paid
  • put me in a position to recognize my illness and find a doctor and a way to pay for her and my medication
  • help me to admit that I have a problem with alcohol and seek help

So no, not the answer, but the beginning of all answers, because it defines and clarifies the question of what the problem is in the first place.

There’s another way to look at acceptance that I’ve been playing with lately. I got this one from Steven C. Hayes and first heard him talk about it on The One You Feed podcast.

Dr. Hayes says that we can look at acceptance from the perspective of “accepting a gift.”

People often talk about taking action “despite” something, as in I’m going to work on getting these bills paid “despite” being unemployed, or I’m going to get to work today “despite” my symptoms kicking up, or I’m going to not drink today “despite” the cravings.

What if by accepting these things (bills, depression, cravings, whatever your demon is) as gifts instead of obstacles, we could live our best lives? Not in spite of, but because of.

Amor Fati just may be possible, and for the person who practices it…

Nothing comes too early or too late.

I’d love to here your thoughts! Let’s get a conversation going in the comments section below.

The previous post in this series can be found here: Seek Inside Yourself : Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson : 000


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