Bring your life into balance

Empathy works. It always does.

Conversations about change: unconditional acceptance (2/6)

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I once was a heavy smoker. I would have one cigarette in my hand, while the other was burning in the ash tray. I smoked everywhere, every time. I smoked holding a baby on my lap (gosh, I do feel shame around that), as soon as church was over, in my parents’ yard. My biggest question in life was “When can I smoke next?”

Balanced choicesI tried to quit. I tried several times. I once stopped for three years. Then I was tempted again. I smoked one cigarette. Only one. The next day another. And before I knew it, two packages a day. Again.

I got very discouraged. I wanted to stop. I knew how bad cigarettes were for my health. I hated the addictive behavior. I didn’t want to harm other people with my smoking. None of these reasons ever helped.

In April 2006 I went to a retreat with the Brahma Kumaris. It was a beautiful residence, in a beautiful surrounding. I am pretty sure heaven looks like this. The distance between the villa and the road was at least 2 miles long. You were not allowed to smoke in the house nor on the premises. How could I participate in the sessions and have a smoke outside the premises?

I gathered my courage to ask their help solving my cigarette-issue. These were people who were committed to healthy nourishment. No coffee, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no drugs, no meat. Only healthy food. They granted me permission to smoke outside. I did. I had no clue where to leave my stump. Everything was so clean, so beautiful, I didn’t want to contaminate it with my stump. Finally I asked a monk. He was sweeping the porch. He looked at me with a big smile: “Oh, just throw it on the ground, I’ll sweep it up.” I did. I felt embarrassed. He swept it up with a peace I have not often seen.

When I came home, I stopped. I never smoked again. I never even wanted.

I often wondered what happened.

I think the biggest contributing factor was the unconditional, loving acceptance of my behavior by the monk. No judgment, criticism, ‘have to’ and ‘should’. Just acceptance that I smoked, and a friendliness that was almost supportive.

I think unconditional acceptance is the best condition for change. We want to empathize with both sides within ourselves, the part that wants to remain the status quo and the part that wants to change. We want to acknowledge that they both represent needs that need nourishment and support. If we keep shouting at ourselves that we should change, we are actually reinforcing the part that doesn’t want to. Because it wants to be heard, it wants to be included in the decision making. If we acknowledge our ambivalence, we can make a balanced decision that is sustainable and wholesome in the long run.

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Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping mission-driven professionals bring their lives into balance. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I'm currently in an ICF-coaching certification program. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

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