Applying Radical Acceptance

I learned today that a friend and peer was recently diagnosed with cancer. My first reaction, counterproductive as it may have been, was to fight tears. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with a good cry, but there’s also a time and a place. My friend is still very much alive, and his doctor caught the illness early, so his chances of recovery are relatively good. Now is the time to be rational, practice gratitude, and remain as mindful as possible.

It’s also a time to be realistic: Regardless of what happens, the outcome is out of my hands. And no matter what the odds, I do still suffer a chance of losing my friend to this.

Radical acceptance is the practice of being at peace despite issues that threaten our happiness, health or well-being. It doesn’t mean becoming apathetic to the emotional aspects; instead, we accept and process our feelings when it’s appropriate. If the Fates choose that my friend should lose to the odds and succumb to this illness, I will cry for him. Until then, I will keep gently reminding myself to remain emotionally neutral until I have a good reason to change that. I serve us both best by directing my limited energy in useful ways.

Keeping the Balance

Our thoughts can take us to dark places when we’re faced with scary or uncertain situations. Just two words—”what if?”—can be so incredibly powerful, and if we’re not careful, we can fall down the rabbit hole of catastrophizing, needlessly squandering our energy on possibilities that may never be. It’s exhausting. Who has the reserves for that?

To stay balanced when unexpected negativity creeps in, force the mind to look at every possibility with even weight: My friend might get terribly sick, and he could even die, but he might also recover quickly and completely. By keeping an emphasis on the fact that the latter is every bit as possible as the former, I’m able to guard my emotions from unnecessary drain.

This is different from living in denial. I’m not senselessly telling myself everything will be okay; I know it might not be. I’m simply making a choice to stay in the present. Tomorrow could bring good or bad news. Today, I choose to appreciate that he is, at this moment, still alive. Falling into despair now would only tarnish any happy memories we have left.

Some questions to ask when possible bad news looms:

  • How much information do I have? (Enough to make any real conclusions?)
  • What is the best use of my energy right now?
  • What are all of the positive possible outcomes?
  • Is there anything I can do to improve the situation?
  • How can I prepare myself for the worst without dwelling on it as the only possible outcome?
  • What can I do to practice self-care?
  • In what ways can I remind myself to remain mindful?

Life is uncertain, and some of the roadblocks we face can threaten to derail us completely. Tragedy happens, and none of us knows when we might be the next up for the Fates. Every moment we’re able to seize is a blessing—and no matter how long or short we have here, our time is finite. Why not be mindful and present for as much of it as possible?

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