What Is Possible When We Allow Ourselves to Feel Discouraged?

As much as we try to maintain a sense of positivity, we might find ourselves feeling defeated by the headlines in the news. Clinical psychologist Steve Hickman outlines three steps to turn that defeat into a driving force for action.

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I’m just plain tired. Wrung out. Depleted, defeated and discouraged.

After the past year, the feeling of turning on your phone and bracing yourself for the worst has become all too familiar. Headlines with the words: injustice, intolerance and other inhumanity have become the new normal. As we near the 1-year mark of the pandemic outbreak and navigate our new normal, it can be hard to witness it all and maintain a sense of hope.

To combat this feeling, I sit and follow my breath. I confront the fact that I am struggling and suffering, comfort myself and try my best to hold what I can with compassion and equanimity. But when the sense of utter deflation and overwhelming defeat sit so heavy on my heart, simply sitting with it can sometimes feel insufficient.

Or is it?

Awareness is Where a Revolution of the Heart is Born

Awareness is simple, but it’s not always that easy. We may meditate each day to increase our capacity for awareness and accept our life as it is, not as we hope it was. But we do not sit on the cushion to escape life—but to live more fully in it. The cushion is not just a refuge but a launching pad.

Many of us might find ourselves confined in a bubble, believing that we were somehow immune from the injustices, intolerance and marginalization taking place in the world.

Pop! When that bubble inevitably bursts, we are exposed to the world’s realities in all its beauty, pain, and insanity. Let’s not blink or look away. Regardless of what caused that bubble to burst, each of us must move with awareness, acceptance and action, in this moment and in all the ones to come. And this process begins with acceptance.

Acceptance is the First Step to Change

Acceptance has gotten a bad rap. When we say “acceptance” many hear “complacence”, but this is not what acceptance really is. If we can simply accept the reality of what is before us and within us in each moment, then that is all that is required. As our awareness expands beyond our own once-small bubble, it is hard to accept that there is so much pain, injustice and anger in the world, but if we are to address it and heal, we first must accept that it is here and a part of our human reality.

What if we took the time to feel our respective and collective emotional pain in this moment? Could we acknowledge and allow it because it is our heart and mind speaking to us? For myself, if I listen past my thoughts about the pain, I can get in touch with the part of me that has been grievously wounded and needs my attention. That attention could soothe the hurt or guide me in taking action to relieve it. Both are mindful and compassionate acts.

Once We Learn to Accept, We Can Begin to Act

Action is the alter ego of acceptance. Once we are aware of what is at hand, we can choose our response by harnessing our own human inheritance’s profound power and potential. As the Serenity Prayer says, I aim to “accept the things I cannot change,” and find “the courage to change the things I can.” Perhaps we might follow the poet Rilke’s radical and wise advice to “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”

After accepting what we can, what is left to change? Maybe it is as simple and courageous as choosing to be kind to ourselves in this moment of suffering rather than trying to “get over it”.

Or maybe there is something heroic and necessary in simply standing and finding our feet, steadying our hearts and minds, and beginning to put one foot in front of the other on a renewed life journey of forgiveness and release of the ill-fated wish for our life to be different than it is.

Writing this was my first step on that journey. What will be yours?


Look on the Bright Side…? 

Optimism can seem like a dead end or even a harmful delusion. But it’s not about slapping a filter over bleak reality; it’s about allowing yourself to see life’s full range of colors. Read More 

  • Elaine Smookler
  • June 1, 2018