Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Radical Acceptance Meets the Longfellow Bridge

Photo courtesy: Mark Parkinson
The number of trucks meeting their demise under the bridges spanning over Memorial Drive and Storrow Drive are a source of constant amusement. The entrance ramps are well marked. As you see in these images, even the bridges themselves are well marked.

Still, every year there are endless backups caused by trucks getting stuck under the bridges. These stories generally happen over Labor Day weekend. It's one of the largest moving days in the Boston area: it seems that up to the third of the denizens of the metropolitan area take to the road to move someplace new.

The story usually goes something like this: an out of town family is moving their young adult into a college dorm and aren't aware of how high their moving truck/how low the bridge clearance is. Mayhem ensues and I'm likely to find myself in a traffic jam that stretches all the way to the New Hampshire border (no joke, years ago I was in a traffic jam that spanned from Wellesley MA all the way into Nashua NH).

As you can see from the above picture, it happened again. This was the scene from this morning.

A reminder about Radical Acceptance seems to be a useful at this point. In DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) we teach the importance of letting go of fighting reality. We teach the importance of accepting our situations for what they are. The bridges are clearly marked, they have a certain specific height, and vehicles have a certain specific height.

I can hear the conversations in the trucks. "Do you think we can fit? I think we can. Let's try it." The results, as you can see, often involve a terrible accident or the roof of a truck shaved off. 

A too tall truck is never going to fit underneath a too short bridge. It'll get stuck every time. Our nature, of course, is to think that we are different, we are special, or somehow the laws of physics don't apply. 

Radical acceptance demands we accept that trucks are never going to fit. 

What's my point? There is more to radical acceptance. In the rush of pop psychology to co-opt ancient traditions of mindfulness and acceptance, many have  missed the point. I see a many therapists, especially those new to DBT, get this wrong: they focus on just one part of accepting reality. A too tall truck will get stuck under a too short bridge. A Chinese restaurant will never serve you Italian food. Don't bother asking. It's never going to happen. Radical acceptance.

It's an error that popular psychology (and many who purport to provide DBT) is replete with.  Here is how we fail. We forget that it is part of our human nature to be ridiculous. We forget that we will be irrational and demand that a Chinese restaurant serve us Italian food. We become indignant when our moving trucks get the top of them shaved off by a bridge. 

We forget that radical acceptance includes accepting the parts of us that are ridiculous. That is what can set us free. 

We might laugh at images like this truck with a shaved top. I often do. We might think we are better than the thoughtless drivers. I frequently do. We aren't (and I'm not), and until we can accept our own ridiculousness, we'll remain trapped.

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