Living in Acceptance: Seek Balance

Acceptance through Balance

The Problem

Having bipolar disorder means life is a balancing act. Trying not to go too far on the manic side and not fall too far on the depressive side. It’s fitting that I’m a Libra. The symbol for Libras is balance. The scales. Life, for me, is constant turmoil trying to stay in that balance, and this monkey brain of mine does not make it easy.

I am an alcoholic. The most difficult part of my recovery was to learn to accept that I have little control over most things in life. The world does not operate on my wants and perceived needs. The following are excerpts from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful.

What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him.

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making

I am a Buddhist. The Buddha taught that life is suffering. The cause of suffering is craving or thirst. We continually search for something outside ourselves to make us happy. But no matter how successful we are, we never remain satisfied. The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. Live in a state of acceptance. Seek balance.

The Christian Bible teaches of acceptance in Matthew 6:25-26

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Even psychology gets in on the act. The late psychologist, Abraham Maslow stated that, “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

Okay, so you get my point. The point is that I believe the key to balanced living is through living a life of acceptance and apparently I’m in good company. But, how does one live a life of balance when in the grips of depression? How is it possible to overcome the racing thoughts that come with mania? We all know that one cannot think their way out of depression or mania. We are frequently offended and hurt when people tell us to just “snap out of it.” Don’t they understand that if we could we would? Who would choose to live in depression and despair?

My Three Steps Toward Acceptance

There are times it is difficult for me to accept life on life’s terms. There are times that no matter how hard I try I can’t reach the balance I strive for. Fortunately most of time I am successful if I follow my three steps below.

1. You don’t have to like it. There are no good or bad feelings. They just are. They act as signals to what is going in with you, but they don’t define who you are. Accept the feelings. Stay in touch with them. Take a moment to stop and be still. If you are depressed, allow yourself to feel it, acknowledge it’s there and that it will eventually go away. It always has, hasn’t it? Accept it. Touch it, feel it, then let it go..

2. Look around you; there’s beauty all around. There is so much to live for. Don’t try to overcome your pain by focusing on those who may have it worse than you. Yes, there are people who are hungry in the world, but I’ve found that focusing on those in greater need is rarely, if ever successful. At times, when I am in the midst of despair, I go to the window and look out and see that everything is in its place. The world is fine and spinning as it should.

3. Meditate. This can be a tough one when we are not balanced. Who wants to sit quietly and meditate when you know your monkey brain is going to chatter away? Meditation takes time to learn. There is likely a meditation group in your area to help you learn. I’ve been meditating for years and I still struggle at times. If necessary, I chant. Meditation does not have to be silent. Depending on where I am, I chant verbally or silently in my head. There is no right or wrong way to meditate. I’ve found that meditation puts me at peace and one with the universe. It puts me in a state of total acceptance.

Do you have specific methods that you take to maintain balance in your life? Shut off that chatter brain? Leave your method in the comments section. I’m anxious to hear from you.

12 comments on Living in Acceptance: Seek Balance

  1. i have heard all this before, but the way you put it here puts it in terms i can actually wrap my mind around. i am going to try to be more mindful, more in ‘acceptance’ with the world around me.

  2. I have found that the more I work on moving toward “enlightenment” which is the ultimate goal of the Nichiren School of Buddhism, and something that we can achieve just as we are; perfection is not a prerequisite, and neither is giving up earthly desires. In fact, the book I am currently reading has a statement to the effect that handled in the proper way, earthly desires can be positive. The book I am reading covers the four sufferings: Birth, Aging, Sickness and Death. These are common to all people. The difference lies in your acceptance of these four things into your life as inevitable, and to not be afraid of any stage. That’s very simplistic, but it works.

    You mentioned that the Buddha taught that life is suffering. Nichiren (the “father” of my school) also taught that life was suffering, but that as you continue in your practice and study, you will come to accept these sufferings with happiness and an indestructible spirit that you can turn the situation around, or resolve the matter in a way that benefits everybody.

    When I was first diagnosed, I was convinced that life as I knew it was over, and it really was over. My life became a steady stream of medication as the doctors tried to stabilize my moods, it became a steady stream of doctor’s appointments and trips to the mental ward, and I had no belief or faith that any of this would change. I tried several times to end the suffering, but every time drew back and called for the paramedics. Clearly, something was at work, but I being wrapped in my suffering did not see it. I was put here to do something. I do not know what it is,yet, but I have an inkling. I was finally stabilized when I was about 38 years old. I was diagnosed when I was 30. I began my practice of Buddhism when I was 38.

    I am beginning to accept having Manic Depression as a blessing and a curse. Everything is dualistic by nature. Over the past two or three years, i have begun to realize that I feel more intensely which can be a bad thing, but it allows me to have empathy for other people. It allows me to have compassion and sincere appreciation for all that I have; my family, my friends, the roses blooming outside my apartment, the roof over my head. I have begun to slowly realize that this is how I was meant to be; I was meant to be a Buddhist, I was meant to be Manic Depressive due to the struggles and triumphs that are inherent, I was meant to feel other’s feelings and to feel compassion for them, I was placed here to respect my life and the lives of others, I have a strong feeling that I am here to help people with their struggles and obstacles because I have been alcohol dependent, I have been street drug dependent, I am currently dependent on benzodiazepines which I do not like but I accept because they are part of the “cocktail” that keeps other people sane.

    A friend of mine commented to me the other night that he has seen a huge change in me since I began my practice. At the beginning, I was angry, I was sad, and I was depressed. Now, I see this obstacle was placed here to make me stronger, more appreciative, more grateful, and more desiring of this life that I have been handed. I no longer feel a need to end it all. If I feel that way, i chant about why I feel that way, and I will arrive at my answer. I have learned how to change “poison into medicine”, another important concept of Nichiren Buddhism. I have achieved balance.

    If you think about it, manic depression is balance; it is the presence of one (or both) and the absence of another, and sometimes you meet in the middle. Life may be suffering but one can learn to view that suffering as a human growth potential thereby opening the way for you to learn the truth that will lead you to the enlightenment or truth about all phenomena. Including illness.

    Sorry for the book. I have been really into study and practice for the last few months. Somebody I know and used to care for a great deal has landed themselves in the realm of Hell, and I do not want to be dragged back there. You made some really good points about acceptance in the face of adversity. You also made some really good points about lack of control. I think that is what I have let go of. I cannot control this, and I know it and that’s okay with me.

    You are on quite the tear with the awesome blog posts!! Keep it up! 🙂

    1. Jennifer, somehow I knew I’d get your attention. Though we are in different sects of Buddhism (I practice Dzogchen), we have much in common. I’m thrilled you have found what calls to you. Mental illness can be a blessing and a curse. Regarding meditation, there are many ways to meditate and I’d like other readers know you don’t have to adhere to one particular belief or credo. Although I am Buddhist, I attend a meditation group each week that is non-secular. I still leave in a blissful state each time.

      I always appreciate your comments and this: “You are on quite the tear with the awesome blog posts!! Keep it up!” Gave me the biggest smile of my day.

  3. You know, first of all, Jennifer is right. You have been writing some really stellar blog posts lately!

    I do the same three things you do: accept life, meditate, and seek out beauty. To quiet my chatter, I also read (if possible), do dishes, organize something, or write a blog post and get it out.

    1. (blush some more)

      It’s good to see that you do the same. As kat said, these are all things we’ve been told many times before, but sometimes we need a swift kick in the ass to get us going. I’m glad they work for you.

  4. I used to think acceptance was equal to giving up. I am judging it less lately, which makes all the difference in how I feel about my mental illness. I see acceptance now more as admitting to something I cannot change and loving myself just as I am.

    I meditate as well, sometimes silently, and I also like to use a free apple app called Insight Timer for guided meditations.

    I think out of the 3 steps you listed, the second is the hardest for me to practice. Because of my childhood traumas, I have such a hard time seeing the beauty and good in the world at times. My brain just isn’t naturally wired that way. Cynicism is one of my biggest character defects. I have faith that God will change that in time.

    1. In a sense, Wil. acceptance is giving up. It’s giving up having the world on your shoulders and accepting you can’t control it all. As far as the difficulty living with step 2, just keep in mind that life is a journey and not a destination. It’s a terrible cliché and I hated typing it, but, it’s true..

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