I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with the word, “should.” As for me, should and I walk hand in hand. Seemingly every corner I turn, there she is, rearing her innocent seeming head.
The word “should,” seems like a helpful word. It keeps us on track. It tells us what the next best move is. It tells us what we ought to expect from others. It notifies us of our errors so we don’t make them again.
It’s so ingrained in our vocabulary and in our psychological make up that it can be hard to even notice when it’s there. It’s like your toe. You don’t know it’s there until you try to walk on it and suddenly everything feels different.
It’s a good word. It keeps us on the straight and narrow. It helps us live up to our own and others’ expectations of us.
Or is it?
Recently I have been reading a book about acceptance. In my mind, it was always a dirty word. Right up there with lazy and complacent. Nope. You would never find me practicing acceptance, and you can sure bet that I would have been proud of that. Until I started reading this book.
Because does acceptance really stop us from moving forward? Do shoulds really stop of from erring?
For me, should has a few manifestations.
Things shouldn’t be this way. That leads me to psychologically fight against whatever truth is out there. It convinces me to fight in my mind against what is rather than find a solution.
She shouldn’t have done that. This one just leads me to anger. I’m not an angry person by nature, but even I get caught up in this at times. If I’m fighting against what he or she should have done, then I can never get on my way to accepting what they did and learn to forgive.
I should do xyz today. This one sounds innocuous enough. It just gives me a game plan for the day. But when the word “should,” is there, my motivation slips away. The pressure mounds. I feel a moral imperative to accomplish something. The weight of that suffocates me.
You should have done xyz. Folks, this is it for me. This is the “should” that lives in the back of my brain, whispering to me incessantly. This is the “should” that I hold most dearly to because it convinces me that if I let her go, then I will have failed to pay the consequences for my sin and I will be let off the hook too easily. This is the one that convinces me that grand punishments must accompany any error. This is the one that leaves me so stuck in the failures (perceived or real) of my past that I cannot move forward and find a solution to the present. This is the one that owns me. This is my shovel. It digs my hole and then it pours the dirt on top of my head, leaving me to suffocate in a world of what should have been.
I’ve known this off an on briefly for a period of years, but these shoulds really get stuck in our psyche. They can seem impossible to get out from under. And that’s where this acceptance book comes in. The books talks about simply accepting what is. Wholeheartedly embrace it. This is what is. No amount of psychological trickery is going to change that.
The past happened.
An hour ago happened.
He did that.
She will do that.
I want to do this.
I feel like that.
No one in the history of the world has been able to change this one simple fact — what was cannot be changed.
And I’ve noticed a change in myself. Whenever I accept things as they are, I actually feel as if I might float up to the clouds. My mind is free; my chest feels light; tears come to my eyes.
Because it hasn’t been until recently that I realized just how anxious I really still am. I’ve gotten control over the obsessive thoughts. They come back every now and again, but we are no longer best buds. And so I thought I was anxiety free. But then I started to notice the other anxiety. The constant tension. The constant gritting of my teeth. The tight shoulders. The brief, shallow breathing. And I realized that I still do carry a fairly significant amount of anxiety within me. It just doesn’t feel like it because years of extreme tension threw my internal barometer all off track.
But when I remind myself to simply accept, all of that fades away. It is very brief. After all I am just learning. But still, it is significant.
If I accept whatever it is that comes into my pretty little brain, I feel free for this first time in my remembrance. I feel okay to be myself in all of my different moods and whimsies and manifestations.
If I’m angry. If I’m tense. If I’m fearful. If I’m sad. If I’m irritated. If I’m jealous. If I’m apprehensive. If I’m grieving. All of those feelings that I feared and that I believed were unacceptable…
I learned that if I accepted they were there, then I could be free from them and I could be free to be me.
And when we are free to accept, we are finally free to change.
And that’s the paradox. It’s not until we accept that something is that we can finally change it.
So I go into my kitchen and I see dirty dishes. Instantly my mind goes to, “You are such a lazy home maker. You should be ashamed of your house. You should have done those dishes an hour ago. This is a disgrace. You are a failure. You are failing your husband, your children, yourself.” And on and on. Really, that is fairly mild. Usually in my mind I go to places where I believe I should be locked up and my kids taken away from me all because of a sink full of dishes. But I’ll shield you from the really dysfunctional parts of my brain.
And so when I think all of those thoughts, and the shoulds are digging me my hole, I can’t do the dishes. I can’t fix anything. Because I’m so busy trying to get out from under the weight of my thinking that my body is paralyzed. The present isn’t my own. The future isn’t my own. I am chained and tethered to the past alone.
But if instead I say, “I want the dishes done.” All of a sudden there is no guilt. There is no shame. I can say, “The dishes are dirty. I don’t like this.” That’s okay. It’s fine. That’s how it is.
The trick is in the okay.
And as I write this, I realize that I might be writing to tons of you out there who have no idea what I’m talking about. Maybe to you dishes are dishes and laundry is laundry and uncut lawn is an uncut lawn. But maybe there’s one or two out there who do know what I mean. And that’s why I write.
Sometimes it feels silly to sit here and share my struggles with all of you, stranger and acquaintance and friend. Why would someone possibly share all of their thoughts and send them out in the world to receive judgment?
And my answer is because before me other people did. And I read those stories. And I heard myself in those stories. And they made me feel less alone in a world that can seem very, very lonely at times.
So I’ll sit here and share my dirty laundry (literal and figurative) because somewhere out there, some one has the same struggle. I have to believe that. And I do believe that. Because you have told me.
God bless you all.
And please. Please put away your shovels.