Dec 14 Jan 15

Dec 14 Jan 15

Cover-DEC_14Cover Artist: Marie Savage

Title: Dreaming

Medium: Acrylics

Contact: Debbie Savage on

Sisterly Love

It is with love, admiration and pride that I share my sister Marie’s art story. Marie has led a very colourful, ‘interesting’ life, full of music, dance, crazy people and wild parties! For many years she has always been arty and mainly did drawings in black and white with very fine pens, and ink. However, about eight years ago she suffered a work accident that left her blind in one eye. It has been a huge journey for her since then, medically, physically and psychologically, with depression and lack of sight taking away her inspiration for art.

One day I said to her, “All is not lost; why not change your medium from fine black and white to paint with colour?” Well, by-and-by, inspired by Picasso, she did, and I am so proud to say that this year was her second year of exhibiting her art in the Mareeba annual art show. This year she received a ‘highly commended’ award for her exhibition!

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What are you tolerating right now?

This is one of the most important questions to ask someone who is seeking change in their life. Asking this question often gets quite quickly to the heart of the problem.

You see, the word tolerance has a lot of positive connotations. People associate it with noble concepts such as multiculturalism, religious freedom, harmony in relationships and even world peace. Indeed, many people list tolerance as one of their highest values. But ask someone what they are tolerating in their life and the answer will likely be a list of things that are actually leading to a great deal of stress and negativity for them.

The trouble with tolerance is that it keeps people stuck in patterns of thinking and behaviour that do not serve them. Tolerance is not a long-term solution to any situation, because it requires people to perpetually ‘put up with’ it outwardly, while continuing inwardly with the patterns of wanting or wishing the situation was different. This, in my view, is a recipe for stagnation, misery and frustration.

Now before you start thinking I’m against peace and harmony, I’m definitely not. But I do believe there is a better option than tolerance. Well, two options actually – either you accept or you reject; the end. There cannot be a middle ground because a middle ground of tolerance creates unnecessary suffering.

The serenity prayer can help here: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

The prayer doesn’t say: God grant me the serenity to put up with things that are annoying me but that I could do something about if I sucked it up and made a different choice.

Or: God grant me the serenity to grin and bear this person on the outside while I wish for them to change, and grow ever more frustrated and miserable on the inside.

Nowhere does this prayer use the word tolerance, but instead a far more powerful word: acceptance. Acceptance embodies all of the noble values many people associate with tolerance, without the negative personal consequences. Acceptance, in fact is very freeing. Acceptance goes hand-in-hand with some other concepts that have been shown to create more happiness and harmony in individual lives and, indeed, the world: understanding, respect, gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, mindfulness. At the heart of all of these is awareness, and acceptance of the reality of a situation, despite it being perhaps not what one might have hoped for.

Consider this: we do not ‘tolerate’ a delicious meal, the companionship of a great friend, the touch of a loved one or the kind words of a stranger. We do not tolerate great health, peaceful solitude, a supportive family or world peace. These are things we strive for, and so we gratefully accept and celebrate them if and when they occur in our lives. In everyday life, the use of the word tolerance is generally reserved for the things we dislike, are trying to avoid or want to change: world hunger, loneliness, the government, or perhaps more commonly, so-called first-world problems like slow wi-fi, the rude person who pushed in the line at the supermarket or that annoying colleague who talks too much. We may be tolerating any of these things, biding our time until they go away on their own, or wishing our present away until a time in the future when they will no longer be a problem. But there is a better way to live.

Each of us has a great deal of personal power that we often ignore, and it comes back to the options in the serenity prayer. It is true in life there are some things we simply cannot change. However, rather than simply tolerating such things, it is far better to accept them and free ourselves of the suffering we create by desiring a different reality. Alternatively, we can choose to reject the things we are tolerating but that are able to be changed, and step up to do something about it. Of course it may not be easy, but that’s why the serenity prayer asks for courage in this step.

The place where we have the most personal power in our life is in our own minds. I often hear people use the word ‘tolerate’ about situations in their lives that they either can’t or won’t change. In these cases I encourage them to consider instead a change in vocabulary. I suggest they try using the word ‘accept’ instead, and see how differently they feel. As my mother always said about chores when I was little, “if you can’t change the job, change the attitude.” Of course I didn’t realise the wisdom of this advice until I grew up!

Practising acceptance instead of tolerance is a subtle but powerful shift in thinking that has been successful for me in many areas of my life. Why not try it for yourself and see what a difference it makes in yours?

Ellen Grace is a music teacher, writer and holistic coach living in Toowoomba, Qld with her partner Stuart and cat Crinkle

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