Accept It or Change it: Eliminate Suffering In Your Life

If the world were full of angels, or robots, or digital avatars things would have the possibility to be perfect. But the world for good or for ill (and often both) are filled with humans. Humans have the potential for other worldly creativity, love, passion, dedication, sacrifice, and possibility. But they have the equal potential for stagnation, hate, boredom, laziness, selfishness, and scarcity.

You can look at your own life and you can see both. Elements, moments, events, etc that show your divinity, your endless possibility . . . AND failures, bad habits, shameful episodes that show your frailty, fallibility, and even your dark evil parts.

Because of this we often encounter other people and people-created institutions that annoy or frustrate us. The DMV, tax bureaus, bosses, retail stores and clerks, and all sorts of other things. We often wish these things worked differently and so we commit a two way sin
We refuse to accept things the way they are
We have no clear commitment to change these things.

This is where suffering comes in. If we can accept things, even if they are bad, we can be at peace with them. Even if this takes time and work, acceptance is a powerful human trait.

And of course, there are some things we don’t want to and probably shouldn’t accept. If we’re unwilling to accept something our only other choice is to commit to changing it. If we don’t, we’re essentially committing to suffering.

Because A – Things don’t usually change on our time table and B – when we refuse to accept things that we aren’t working on we tend to get very whiny and victimy about those things.

Committing to changing something is daunting because a true commitment to change requires we meet the thing we want to change fully where it is and become responsible for it being or occurring differently to us regardless of other people, situations, circumstances, history, or habits.

And this is hard because we like to blame other people for showing up as humans (even as we ask forgiveness for how we show up that way) is one of our favorite things to do.

But all progress is dependent on people doing just that. Seeing what they can’t accept and working to change it despite the obstacles that arise.

So we’re back to our BIG choice again, do you accept it or do you commit to change it?

Because even if it doesn’t change, working to change it can give you meaning, drive, hope and possibility. And even though acceptance might be hard, accepting something that is can liberate you from the suffering attached to it.

So you’ve got to pick. Change it or accept it. And no matter which you choose, you will be literally creating your world from choice rather than from the resignation that suffering so often causes.


Your Life Is Art

No one signs their name anymore. Not really. We make a half-assed squiggle with our finger on a digital screen. We scribble our name on documents, the letter collapsing and falling over.

I’m the worst at this. Except when I went to vote by mail. Then my signature was pristine, perfect, and crisp. I wrote it with care because it mattered. Because I knew someone was watching.

You might think that how you sign your name doesn’t matter. After all, the card company isn’t going to check it. The barista or waiter isn’t either. Even when I write “check ID” on the back of my cards almost no one asks.

And as a stand-alone occurrence, it probably doesn’t matter. After all I’m not singing the declaration of independence or the constitution.

Recently I started to notice this trend in myself, towards convenience, speed, and efficiency. It started to bother me. Because my life, your life is not a thing to be dispensed with, to be scribbled off.

Your life is art. Or it can be.

Last month I had a virtual date. At first, I thought I’d order us dinner. Maybe get some flowers delivered to her house. But then I realized that I could make art with it. So I made a website. Nothing too complex, it only took me an hour or so.

The website guided us through the date. I gave us a structure. The date itself became a form of art. I shared it with a couple of other people who were helping me out and they were both moved by it.

Over New Year’s weekend I went hiking. And the conversation I shared on that hike was art. It was about couples who go hiking. We spent a few moments together laughing and taking in the scenery. We weren’t concerned with the mileage or exactly how fast we wanted to go. The hike itself became art.

When I cook, I feel into the food. I cut the onions, making sure the carrots look uniform. I try to add different colors of sweet potatoes. I think about a garnish. So that when the dish is done, there’s texture, shades, and so much more. The food itself is art.

This is what it means to make art with life. Sometimes it’s dramatic, a bold gesture, a full on production. And sometimes it’s incredibly subtle, like how you sign your name on a digital pad.

Making art with your life is possible, here’s how.

1) Notice what you don’t notice:

There are places where all of us take things for granted. The way our love kisses us in the morning. The way you make your coffee. The way you brush your teeth. These places are rich repositories and opportunities to create art with your life.

Your relationships are filled with small moments of unconsciousness and routine. So simply start noticing what you don’t notice, what you step over, and what you take for granted.

2) Look at it from a new perspective:

There are things we get through and there are things we create through. We get through waiting for the plane to board. We create through writing a birthday card for someone we love. We get through washing the dishes. We create through cooking a special meal as a treat for ourselves.

Everything that is a ‘get through’ moment can become a ‘create through’ moment.

I learned this really well when I worked in the kitchen at the Zen Monastery I lived at for two years. In kitchen practice everything we did was infused with mindfulness and compassion. We cut carrots with love. We stirred pots with deep presence.

I swear you could taste it in the food. And you could certainly feel it as you cooked.

What we were doing was no different than what is done in commercial kitchens all over the world, but it felt different.

We took a perspective of wonder, curiosity, and attention to what we did.

After you notice what you didn’t notice, try to look at it differently. See if you can see it as an invitation into creation. Ask yourself how could I create through this?

3) Answer the question “How could I create through this?”

The next step is simple. You answer the question, with an I could.

I could write poems at the bus stop.
I could connect with my Uber driver.
I could draw a small masterpiece on the coffee shop Ipad.
I add a garnish to my dinner.
I could really connect with my beloved as we say goodbye.
I could be fascinated by my child’s day even if it’s so simple.

You don’t have to do all of these things. You don’t have to do any of them. This isn’t about finding what you ‘should’ do or the ‘right thing’ to do. That’s not the nature of art.

This isn’t painting by numbers.

You’re just looking at what you COULD do. If making art with your life is new, you can spend some time here. Just dreaming. Thinking of things to try. You can’t stay here, but it’s a good start because you’re opening up new possibilities for yourself.

Slowly carefully lovingly let yourself be open to what’s possible.

4) Try something . . . anything

Once you’ve gotten a few ideas one will call to you. For me, the one that scares me or lights me up and turns me on the most will speak to me. So now it’s time to try it out.

I’ll be honest at first you’re going to be a bit awkward and clunky. You may get some weird looks, but you should try it anyway. You’ll realize you can survive being a bit silly and absurd. And often it will go way better than you can imagine.

Not all art is a success, but that’s not the point of art. The point of art is to create something new, to express something, and to allow that something to blossom and wither in a moment.

So try something. It’s ok if it’s not the boldest thing, it’s ok if it is super bold, but just try.

5) Learn and refine

Now that you’ve created something and put it into the world, refine it. Draw a different kind of sun on the coffee shop Ipad. Add a smile to your present goodbye kiss. Ask your kiddo about their day at dinner instead of when they get home. Try rosemary instead of thyme as the garnish.

Artists don’t just paint one painting and stop. They create and recreate. They try again, they add something else, they take something away.

The reason why learning and refining are so important is that they help you move from a moment of expression to a practice of it. Instead of making art an event—like an anniversary dinner—it becomes part of the ritual of your life.

This is the final step and it is the one you have to keep making again and again.

I realized that you might be wondering why you’d want to do this?

Why not just have a nice dinner with your partner once a year?
Why not just squiggle my name on an Ipad?

For me, the reason is simple. Life is the most rare and precious commodity you have. Especially your life. You’ve only got so many days, so many moments, so many chances.

It’s like you’ve got a box of crayons and they’re wearing down all the time and you never really know when you’ll get to the bottom of them.

So what do you want to do with them? You can squiggle your signature. Die of boredom waiting for the bus. Resent and cling to routine out of a need for control.

Or you can make art with them. Over and over again I’ve chosen art and I’ve seen the people around me who I most admire do the same.

So please choose to make art. It can be simple even mundane art. But even then, it will still be art.

And at the end of your life you’ll be so grateful that you chose to create through it.


The One Email You Should Write Everyday

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The One Email You Should Write Everyday

About a year ago I watched a TED talk that outlined some very simple things you could do to make yourself happier. Some of them I had heard before, like exercising and meditating. But one idea that stuck out was when they encouraged everyone, to do one daily good deed, by sending out a nice email every morning.

Instantly, I loved the simplicity of this idea as well as its ritualistic nature. How often do we get so caught up in our own affairs and forget to reach out to the people who make our lives better?

And so, for the past six to nine months I’ve been writing at least one nice email everyday.

Some of the emails have been simple thank you notes to people who were nice to me. Some of them were to old friends to let them know how much they meant. And some of them were to people who I thought needed to hear something nice.

But each email changed the way I saw the recipient, as well as the way I saw myself. Here are some things I discovered about the practice of sending one nice email a day.

Writing Nice Emails Is Easier Than You Think

One thing that amazed me was how easy nice emails are to write. When I started this practice, I was worried that my emails would seem forced. That I would come off sounding inauthentic. And that people wouldn’t take me seriously.

But I found as I started to write my heart would step forward and I would able to write with sincerity.

I realized we don’t have to go far to find admiration for the people in our lives. Instead I found that again and again, I was inspired by all the amazing, kind, beautiful, smart, and talented people I’ve been blessed to know.

People Appreciate Small Gestures More Than You Realize

Often not long after I hit send I’d receive a reply telling me how much my email had meant.

One reply I received was from an old teacher who told me my email had come at a moment when he had been doubting his choice of profession. Another came from an old friend who told me they had been facing some hard times I had known nothing about.

And while I didn’t write the emails so people would thank me, each reply made me so blessed to have been able to offer kind words to others in their time of need.

You Don’t Realize How Much You Mean to Others

While I didn’t send these emails so that other people would appreciate me, I did receive many kind emails in return.

Best of all, their replies reveled qualities in me that others admired, but that I’d never considered a strength.

The emails I got in return helped me to really absorbed the compassion of others. And to see how our lives often touch others in mysterious ways.

And while it’s totally fine when I don’t get a reply. The bounty I did receive far outweighed the cost of a few minutes of typing.

Being Kind is its Own Reward

Despite the personal benefits and kind replies, the best thing I’ve gotten from this practice is a more positive outlook. Everyday I remember to write an email I find that it’s harder to be grumpy or sad. Plus it’s changed the way I look at the people around me.

Part of rediscovering deep admiration for everyone in my life has been to realize that everyone admires, inspires, and cares about each other more than you ever would’ve guessed.

How To Get Started:

The best thing about the nice email practice is how simple it is to get started.

1. Make a Top Ten List

Make a list of the top 10 people you’d like to tell how much you care or how much you appreciate. Pick people who’ll be easy and fun to write to.

Then every morning write a short email or letter to one person on the list. This short list will get you started and it’ll encourage you connect with old friends, acknowledge the people who have helped you, and get grounded in gratitude.

2. Select a Phase or Location of Your Life to Focus On.

After you finish your first list, it can be hard to know where to go next. I’ve found that if I focus my energy on appreciating one group of friends or one time in my life that it’s much easier to keep going.

When I first started writing nice emails, I wrote quite a few to my friends back in Nashville. I hadn’t kept in touch with many of them when I moved and I wanted to reach out and reconnect. Eventually I had written to most of my closet friends from my old how town.

By focusing on my friends in Nashville, not only was it easier for me to pick subjects, it was easier for me to connect with and remember all the things I loved about those friends and those times in my life.

3. Go All Willy Nilly

Eventually a day will come where you aren’t sure whom you should write to. When this happens I usually just go into my contact list or onto my friends page on Facebook and pick someone at random.

While this can be harder, I’ve found that by going on and looking with an open heart, I often find people to express kindness to that I might normally miss.

This method has helped me write emails to long lost college friends and even to fellow employees from jobs I can hardly remember. But each time I’ve been glad to realize how even these small players of my small life have had an impact on who I am.

Final Thoughts

There are so many things we can and do spend time on. And it can be easy to believe that sending a nice email a day is a silly or pointless exercise.

But what I’ve discovered is that despite all the Upworthy posts and the touching YouTube videos so many of us are starved for real personal appreciation.

And this simple act of sending a nice email not only offers a true blessing to the world, but it is one of the easiest ways to make everyday I little better.

So I invite you to try it. Close this post and open up a composition widow, and send a email to someone you love. Then come back and tell me how it went. I promise it’s an amazing way to begin your day.