Magdalena Bak-Maier, PhD – Acceptance: A Doorway to Creativity and Transformation

Life has a rhythm. Put yourself into the middle of it, whether it’s sitting in a café, standing on a corner of a street or walking along a rural village country lane. Allow yourself to feel the energy that is present all around you. The sun. The air. The sounds that surround you. Smells. Transient plants. Stable, solid trees. Passing cars. Buses. People on foot. The birds… Count the multitude of objects and life forms that are all part of your world: one world. They are all rich with wisdom awaiting their chance to dance with you.

I spent last week with a group of leading scientists in Portugal working on bringing their ideas and visions to life—a world-leading, middle-aged art conservationalist; a public health reform visionary; a top economist wanting to retain skilled talent in Europe; and numerous engineers—all who shared ideas that will change everything from what paper means to us, how data is stored and used, and the different things glass can do. I was amazed, inspired, humbled and excited. One of the key things we learned from our week together, for all of us, was a realization of just how rich the world is with ideas that are waiting to be realized, not to mention those waiting to be born.

Lance Green, "Conversation 3"
Lance Green, “Conversation 3”

As we worked intently on creating plans for the ideas in the room, we focused our attention on logical plans and actions, parking the worry that we may fail on one side. Failure is indeed part of the process of idea generation. Ideas seem to follow similar evolutionary processes of all other life forms: they are created, born and have a certain life span. Some will make a big impact or just a splash, and some will quietly live out their existence. They may be rediscovered, traced back one day as something ‘of interest,’ or forgotten and replaced by the new. Being creative, one has to accept the complete life cycle of an idea if one is to turn an idea into action. In accepting the transient nature of our creations, we produce magic and opportunities for ideas to come to life, whatever their destiny. And as creators, that is our job.

Reflecting on this, the variety of people in the room, as well as my clients and myself, made me realize that facing and dealing with acceptance is key for everyone (albeit in different forms) and that each context is rich with insight and wisdom to help support our progress. Let me explain. In my experience, people can be divided into two broad categories: 1) Those with ideas but no strategies to bring them to life, and 2) Those with practical know how but lack vision. There is, of course, a sweet spot in the middle where visionaries create ideas and make them happen. What each group needs to strengthen in order to succeed is how they handle and use acceptance.

For the first group (those with ideas but are missing effective strategies) it is the acceptance that they lack ‘know-how.’

People in this group often dwell on the pain they experience, which arises from the difference between the way things are and how they would like them to be in their vision. As the skills or know-how to bridge the gap gets smaller, the mind splits into two places: what is in the moment and what is the ‘desired state’. When one is preoccupied with the pain of the gap (which, by the way, can feel as real as physical pain) their focus is diverted from taking the productive action that only the acceptance of their present state allows.

People often mistake acceptance with surrender but these are, of course, very different. To accept what is is simply to acknowledge and make peace with it, thus, creating space in which the person can step into the power of choice and take action to change the present and create a new future.

This can take some time to understand and put into practice but it is a powerful realization. When we accept a gap and some degree of lack in resources or know-how, we automatically move towards being able to problem solve it. When we simply focus on the gap, we are sucked into “gap paralysis.” To an external observer it can appear nonsensical why action to change doesn’t follow but with a bit of insight, the answer is surprisingly simple: Taking action to create a change means accepting the possibility of failure. And yet it is in taking action that we have any chance of making an idea a success.

For the second group (good implementers that struggle with having a vision or that ‘big idea’) the best, immediate solution is to pair up with a visionary that shares their values.

Accept, at least for the time being, that their own lack of vision may just be the fertile soil they need to help their creative process springboard into a giant idea. Again, acceptance of how things are is the key to help move people in this group into action. And it is in action that they can either discover the most fruitful collaboration or begin to step on the path to discover their own creativity for big ideas.

Another group (which in my experience represents a small fraction of the total population) has not got it easy: people in this group have to fight for the life of their creations.

As creatives, they (or their ideas) need visibility, exposure, followers, and supporters. They may have to battle critics and competitors. They may need to face the hard work of continuous learning, innovation and improvement. And finally, they may have to battle their own psyche when they begin to doubt whether their idea is really as exciting as they initially thought, or grieve when they have to it let go, discovering something new to work on. The key to handling all of these challenges is, again, the acceptance of what is: the feelings being experienced—be it joy, fear or worry—and the facts of the situation. By accepting the present situation, the mind has the most space to focus on the best actions one needs to take in order to preserve the present or change it, thus creating the future.

Acceptance is a key phase for all of us to help us flow with life. And all practices that help us to be in the flow with life will help us condition acceptance. Mathematician and philosopher, Norbert Wiener, said, “What most experimenters take for granted before they begin is that their experiments are infinitely more interesting than any results to which their experiments lead.” This quote applies far more universally to all of us. What we assume, think about, and focus on affects what we do and, hence, it is the examination of those very assumptions, thoughts and focuses where key insights arise.

Acceptance helps us pause, and conscious awareness helps us notice.

In this place, magic—whether in the form of a breakthrough, ideas for action, plans, or that perceived sense of what seems like darkness—transforms us most.

If there’s one philosophy and skill we must practice with our clients, whomever they may be, it is acceptance. It seems a total paradox but by accepting what is, we get back into the rhythm of life instead of resisting it. Robert Wiener has this to say about our brains: “The nervous system and the automatic machine are fundamentally alike in that they are devices, which make decisions on the basis of decisions they made in the past.” Acceptance is a key transitional phase between the mind set on autopilot and the mindful, present, living, creative and masterful mind of a conscious pilot within us. In being present to what is, we have the best chance of being the most resourceful, because we are awake. In acceptance we can turn the power of being awake towards the most appropriate actions in harmony with the world around us.

Nature is always in a dance with life. It rests in winter and awakes again to dance with the spring sun. A bud comes to life at the best time for it to flourish and delight, and then dies so a new one can be born in its place. Nature doesn’t know resistance. It flows with a larger rhythm.

My invitation to you is to practice acceptance and celebrate the rhythm within your life. Examine its different scales from the night and day—sunrise to sunset— as well as the smaller details of the people present in your life. Examine the patterns of your thoughts. Get and give energy to what is— by accepting the present, you will find richness and inspiration to create what awaits within you to be born.

Magdalena Bak-Maier, PhD | Get Productive!

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