Embrace the Givens of Life

Givens can be embraced with an unconditional yes to that which is, without subjective protests, an acceptance of the conditions of existence… acceptance of my own nature as I happen to be.” – Carl Jung

In our daily busy lives we regularly need to step back and become aware of our inner and outer experiences. We may become aware of magic moments and miracles, but often we may become aware of difficult challenges. Some of these difficulties can be changed, and some of them we need to learn to accept… sometimes radical acceptance is needed. Mindfulness means to be aware, in this very moment, with acceptance… whether it is pleasant, or unpleasant.

One of the books I often refer to in many of my therapy sessions, is “The Five Things We Cannot Change… and the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them” (2005). David Richo wrote this after thirty years of experience as a psychologist, to remind us that anything can happen to anybody. Once we begin to learn to accept the following five givens of life, we start to realize that they give us profound opportunities.

1. Everything Changes and Ends. So many times, we experience losses as very personal, while it is a given that every person, hobby, job and relationship in some way has a beginning and an end. When we watch the seasons change, we start to realize that life is committed to variety and growth, and that comes at the prize of endings. We often act as if we were not created being able to handle changes and losses. When we start to accept this given of life, we can grow through the hardship of adjustment or mourning with awareness, self-compassion and self-care.

2. Things do not always go according to plan. A colleague of mine taught me once to “expect the best, prepare for the worst”. Somehow, we keep on insisting that everything go our way and to be in control of life. We focus on how we are loved instead of how we love… on what we cannot get instead of on how we can give. Although it is important to have a plan A, B and C, we know that there are forces at work bigger than our ego’s. Sister Mary Fisher, a mentor of mine reminded us several times “…remember, you’re not God…” Accepting this given of life makes us open to see the synchronicities which reveal itself in a felt meaningful coincidence.

3. Life is not always fair. There are so many examples of how “good” people sometimes go through suffering, and people who hurt others intentionally sometimes get away with it. Yet, some of us keep on believing that if our faith is strong enough, we can assure that we will be blessed by only good things happening to us. When we start to accept that life is not always fair, we can become aware of healthy anger or sadness, and start the journey of forgiving, mourning and letting go. The daily practice of mindfulness, even if just for fifteen minutes, helps us to experience a yes to the present moment, whether fair or unfair, with compassion and wisdom.

4. Pain is part of life. “There are circumstances that must shatter you, and if you are not shattered, then you have not understood your circumstances. In such circumstances, it is a failure for your heart not to break.” (Leon Wiesteltier). We somehow struggle to learn that pain is not punishment, and pleasure is not reward. We suffer physically, psychologically, and spiritually and we grow in those same ways. When we learn to accept this given of life, we accept the shadow side of life, find a way through it, and become an escort of compassion to those who also suffer – not by feeling sorry for them, but rather accept them as an equal and their pain as something we may feel sometimes too.

5. People are not loving and loyal all the time. Kirsten Neff taught us that self-compassion means remembering that nobody is perfect, and nobody’s life is perfect. Other-compassion would expect us to remember the very same thing. So, growing up and growing older we learn to receive love and loyalty with gratitude, and receive dishonesty and betrayal with the strength we gather by our psychological work. We learn to respect others not for who they are, but for who we are.

To be able to live with contentment, we need to acknowledge the light and the shadow side of life. In learning to embrace the givens of life, we can we can mourn our losses with patience and awareness and search for the meaning in brought in our lives. Although they are not easy to accept, they bring us gifts because they are ingredients of character, depth and compassion. Let’s say yes to life as it is!

Dr Mariki Smith

August 2018