Roller coaster rides can be scary…at least, they are for me.
I have only ridden them a handful of times. I recalled those times as I began this week’s reflection – particularly, how one can navigate the path of least resistance towards acceptance.
As soon as we step into that coaster train and the engine starts, we begin a mental, physical, and emotional journey similar to the experiences of learning to accept a new beginning or an end.
I listed four stages that describe what we go through during a roller coaster ride. One of the stages is acceptance. The metaphor resonated with me and so, I went with it.
Below is an illustration of the four stages which will hopefully create a clearer picture of our discussion.
STAGE 1: RESISTANCE
Acceptance, at its core, is an uneasy and detour-ridden path that eventually takes us to a place of fullness, freedom, and peace. It is often painful and grinding because it was never meant to be easy (like most things in life).
The agonizingly slow ride up the first drop is usually the part where we question why we even agreed to ride the coaster in the first place. It’s that split-second when we want to say “I want off this ride!”
That is when the ego is most pronounced.
As we discussed in last week’s blog, the ego is a sophisticated part of the self that holds all our presumed identities as well as our negative experiences. It instinctively wants to defend its current state of safety and familiarity. As a result, any perceived counteraction to the ego is met with resistance.
For example, when a person is told that their health is deteriorating and they can no longer be as active as they usually are, that will seem like an attack on the ego. Identifying closely with one’s vitality and mortality creates resistance when a person is taken away from these temporary identifiers.
To reduce resistance and move closer to acceptance, we can bring ourselves to awareness and connect with the present – the “I am.” It’s not “I am young and healthy” but simply, “I am.” When we expand the self and recognise that we are more than the ephemeral perception of the self, we become more open to new experiences, both positive and negative.
In the context of a roller coaster ride, the ego is at play when we find ourselves clinging to the feeling of security on the ground. For us, at that moment, anywhere other than the roller coaster feel safe. That’s where the resistance emanates.
Yet, we stay buckled in and the coaster begins its ascend.
STAGE 2: FEAR
The gusts of wind seem stronger.
The horizon looks much wider.
We look down, our leg muscles stiffen yet our knees feel like gelatin.
We draw a deep breath.
Those few seconds before the first drop put us in such a vulnerable state. It’s a sinking, paralyzing mix of disbelief, frailty, and uncertainty in anticipation of what’s to come.
The possibility of pain, as well as the unknown that comes with the idea of death, makes us fearful when we face it. Whether it’s our own or a loved one’s death, it’s normal to feel this way and not immediately come to accept its inevitability. It can be especially difficult to wait for death because the time between being alive and passing on is space for our thoughts and emotions we may not want to deal with.
Thoughts of whether we’ve done all that we set out to do or having regrets about things we wish we had not done make it deeply tough to let go.
It’s the same with the end of a relationship. We fear loneliness and rejection. We become afraid of feeling less and not being enough for the next person. There’s also a degree of fear in losing the things we appreciate and. familiar to us. Things such as our routines and the ease of making decisions that come with being in a long term relationship. We dread the future of seeing the other person with someone else. Like death, it’s anticipated pain and the unknown that we fear.
The beauty of seeing the end of something is that we are given an opportunity to see it in its bare form. We get answers to important questions like, “Was I truly happy?”, “Have I lived authentically?”, “What’s keeping me from letting go?”, and “Do I have control over this?”
Acceptance is a choice and it is often a hard one to make. However, coming to terms with changes is a way to turn momentary happiness to an enduring one.  Letting go of a loved one is a chance to make wiser decisions that bring us to a life without regret or fear.
So let go and surrender to the drop.
STAGE 3: ACCEPTANCE
They said that raising our arms and shouting at the void makes the drop feel like complete surrender. Perhaps it does.
Surrendering to gravity is freeing. The G-force that accompanies the fall can feel odd and a bit uncomfortable, yet it feels like every fear and resistance that were felt a few seconds ago has been drawn out entirely.
“Surrender and accept that whatever is happening in the moment, the Universe is working on your behalf.” – Mastin Kipp
Trust that the universe can endure the heaviness of our sorrow and fragility. Believe that we are loved and there is a space that will respond to us with compassion and wisdom. Know that we will be grounded soon enough.
There is no judgement, expectations, and doubt when we arrive at acceptance. It is being with what is. However, it is not passive surrender but rather an intentional one. We accept it because we know what can and cannot be changed.
Changes WILL happen. Everything WILL pass.
In the same line, having awareness of what we value most will help us determine when it’s worthwhile to persevere or if it’s wiser to let go.
Meditation induces these very same sensations. Staying with the breath, inhaling love and exhaling our worries is a form of accepting the present – that yes, we have struggles and yet, we also have positive elements around and within.
Raising our arms, letting go, feeling all the sensations, and realizing that we are still here, is the gift of acceptance. And just like that, the drop ends and we can let out a euphoric laugh.
STAGE 4: PEACE
All of these stages take time, of course. Unlike a 3-minute roller coaster ride, life-changing realizations can often take years to learn (or unlearn). It’s a constant push and pull – a non-linear journey.
There will be times when it seems like we’re back to square one; back to resistance and fear. There will be highs and lows. It’s a series of loops but we know that there will also be a time of peace after acceptance.
This part of the reflection takes me back to a powerful scene in the movie “Wild”, based on a biographical book from the author, Cheryl Strayed.
The dialogue is about her realizations after arriving at the end of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which took her over four years to complete. She decided to hike through the PCT when she lost her mother. Here is the two-minute scene.
The line, “After I lost myself in my grief, I found my own way out of the woods… that I didn’t even know where I was going ‘till I got there” is a beautiful testimony to our capacity for strength and acceptance. The last day of her hike was acknowledged with gratitude for everything the trail had taught her. It’s at that moment that she accepted she would move on with life without the physical presence of her mother yet she has, in many ways, also taken her mother with her.
Peace that comes with complete acceptance is knowing that something or someone is no longer there and it’s okay. It’s simply what is.
Loss is there and that is okay.
Failure is there and that is okay.
Fear is there and that is okay.
Peace is there when we accept that this is okay.
To end this week’s reflection, I’d like to invite you to be with the breath for three minutes and set an intention to accept what is in the moment.
This video can serve as your guide.
May we all find peace at the end of every roller coaster ride.