Accept the present—fully and unconditionally


It’s not what happens to you,
but how you react to it that matters


Do we fully accept what is happening to us? No matter how bad or how good. I was just lucky. I was unlucky. Bad things happened to me. Good things always happen to me. Not just talking about perspective or point of view or mindset or being positive or having a good attitude. Talking about fully accepting what comes to you. What leaves you.

But in much of life, negative feelings are part of a full human experience; without them we can miss the unexpected surprises that awaken us. 

Things happen and we react and make knee-jerk judgments, predominately focused on the negative. We assume the worst. We blame others and ourselves. We time travel to the past to get stuck ruminating and regretting or leap to the future to waste time worrying about an imaginary tomorrow. And yet the carousel of life keeps going.  When we  astro project to faraway time zones we miss the present. That’s why we must be vigilant to be conscious of and notice the thoughts that are filling our heads—monitoring how we are reacting to them is so crucial.

Self-awareness equals presence.

It is a struggle for me so I remind myself with a question: “Am I present?”

Research shows we need negative feelings to keep us safe, to help us learn and to build the muscles of resilience. Enduring negative experiences can help us cope with anger, fear, and anxiety—creating emotional resilience.

Furthermore, ample research shows that negative emotions and experiences help us find life’s meaning and purpose.`

Out of the negative can emerge a surprising opportunity that deep heartache, disappointment, and even loss can conjure.

I learned this lesson from others who are more gracious, more humane, more present and more open to others. I learned this from my mother and from my wife Sarah.

But most recently, I learned this from my 22-year-old niece Brisa Hennessy.

Last week Brisa competed for the first time in the world championships of surfing as the #4 surfer on the planet. She went up against Stephanie Gilmore, 34 year old surfing legend who holds 7 world titles! It was an amazing contest. Under-dog Brisa was surfing very well and had amassed a comfortable lead with 90 seconds remaining. Brisa also had “priority” which gives her the option to take the next wave. Without getting into the surfing rules, Brisa and Stephanie start to play cat and mouse where Brisa approaches a wave with her priority, but if she decides to pass, the competitor can take the wave. Brisa  approached a wave with Stephanie in close pursuit and did not take it. The judges ruled that Brisa blocked Stephanie’s ability to take the wave giving Stephanie priority with less than a minute left. Stephanie took the next wave and won the heat. The call was controversial. But it stuck. Stephanie Gilmore went on to win a record setting 8th world title!

For those of us on the beach, it was a heart breaker, and we expressed a range of strong emotions.

When Brisa got back on shore, she was radiant and beaming with her patented smile. She is an old soul of maturity and humility.

I said, “How are you?” as I hugged her with great sympathy. She looked me in the eyes as she always has and smiled and said, “It is what the universe provided today. I am so grateful to be here. Just trying to enjoy this moment. Thank YOU for being here.” Even as her mind was racing and processing she saw ME and thanked me. Not an iota of regret or blame. Not a single question or protest about what happened, what she did, or what the judges did.

At 22, I would have spewed venom at the judges and at myself. Full-on blamethrowers would have ignited a tailspin into anger and despair.

Not Brisa. A model of acceptance and grace. Like her name translates—she was a cool breeze.

I was not just proud of Brisa, I was mentored in that moment. 

Her parents, my sister Katie and her dad Mike have done a magnificent job of providing a loving context to allow Brisa to become herself.

Yes, she is a world class surfer who remains atop the best in the world. But the lesson here is poignant and powerful.

Accept the present—fully and unconditionally. Be present to enjoy the moment and what emerges.
No matter how much we want something to happen. Or how much we wish something had not happened,—The question is always: What is in our control—now?

Including our reaction, our response, our emotions.

Inevitably life will not follow your script.

If everything was predictable and positive, like the film Pleasantville, we would lose our minds to seek change and surprise.

Yet, when our plans, our precious psychotic plans, go awry, we can leave the moment and live in the past and in a future that will never be.

Our plans are nothing compared to what the world so willingly gives us. Margaret Wheatley

As my mom said, “Beware of the tyranny of expectations.” Especially when they are not met…..
The trajectory of what “should be”, what was promised, what I deserve—I worked so hard to get here……

The goal is to get through selfish and me-oriented thoughts. To leave as a colleague advised, the palace of self-regard. The palace of hurt feelings and expectations, the plans that I have made for the world, which are no longer true. To move into the fresh air of empathy and real compassion. Stop feeling bad and inconvenienced or even wronged, and shift to be of service. To myself. To come to the aid to those around us who need our support and love.

The ability to take on things unconditionally, like acceptance or love is a keyway to work towards a point in life where we are at peace with everything, and everybody around us, including ourselves.
These things will teach us and guide us if we surrender to them.

This is one of the greatest secrets to increased well-being.

We need to notice things we weren’t looking for, things we didn’t know would be important, to find joy in discovering new insights.

To recognize that everything is surprising is the first step toward recognizing that everything is a gift. Brother David Steindl-Rast.

Thank you, Brisa, for teaching your uncle what unconditional acceptance and presence looks and feels like.

The surf unpredictably rises and falls as do the surfers.

A surprise gift emerges, disguised as a negative moment, that can teach us who we are and why we are here.

Profile of Brisa Hennessy

A True Champion

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