“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them─ that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” –Lao Tzu
Acceptance is primarily acknowledgment of reality as it is occurring or as it has occurred. Acceptance does NOT imply agreement with what is occurring or with what has already occurred.
When we are not in Acceptance, we are in Resistance, which is an attempt to control the moment. Resistance can be a state in which we are, in essence, utilizing our Energy to try to “will” a situation away or to change it in some fashion (as if gritting our teeth, clenching our fists and manifesting bodily stress will make our problems disappear!).
Resistance, the opposite of Acceptance, is a type of stagnation— a tug-of-war between how things are and how we want them to be. We cannot “win” until we Accept how things are. This is the first step in enacting Change through action in any situation, even if it is just a Change in perception. By contrast, solely wishing and wanting something to be different is wasted Energy and creates unnecessary stress.
Most— if not all—suffering is a manifestation of resistance. When we move towards Acceptance, we have far less suffering in our lives.
If there was ever anything close to a “Jedi mind trick” that I have learned in my life, it has been to Accept each and every moment exactly as it is, while knowing that this Acceptance does not imply agreement with whatever situation I am encountering. In fact, Accepting each and every moment with Love is an even greater and more challenging trick that Obi-Wan Kenobi may have practiced when utilizing “The Force.”
Let’s imagine that you are on the receiving end of some other person’s poor driving skills and you get cut off. You are forced to slam on your brakes in order to avoid a collision. The situation happened, and now it is over. You can Accept that the incident has occurred. At the same time, you can decide to disapprove of the other driver’s actions— the driver who has already raced away by now.
You can further Accept that your heart is racing and that you may have feelings of anger, fear and disrespect; perhaps you feel angry that your needs in that situation don’t seem to matter to the other driver.
You can Accept all of your emotions related to the incident and its aftermath. From this state of non-resistance, you can then choose your next action.
As it turns out, you have several options. You can chase that driver down and flip him off. You can flip off the next driver who displays the slightest lack of driving courtesy. You can remain in a state of agitation or even fear throughout the day. You can simply be mad at someone else later that day for some totally unrelated reason. You can spend an indefinite amount of time simply wishing that the event had not occurred.
Or you can choose to take a deep Breath. You can acknowledge the feelings that arise and then go about your day. You can actually send that driver a blessing for whatever might most benefit them. You can Accept that the event occurred and that most of the options of action available to you won’t really serve any purpose. You can Accept that sometimes when one drives in traffic, one is subject to the poor driving habits of others. You can endeavor to drive with care for others yourself (and not be like that driver who cut you off).
There are many everyday situations (such as losing our keys, a computer crashing or being late to an appointment) to which our skills of Acceptance can be applied. When we practice Acceptance with these small things, we can alleviate much needless stress in our lives as a whole.
With Acceptance, we are not likely to cry over spilt milk.
Acceptance helps us to let go of what we wanted the moment to “be.” Acceptance creates a clear space for any further action if necessary. From this point, we are careful to avoid complacency or resignation as we we survey as to what action may be appropriate.
There is No Such Thing as a Problem
“There is no such thing as a problem, just situations to be dealt with.” –Eckhart Tolle
To me, this quote is somewhat of a Mantra of Acceptance. I realize that the concept may imply that a stoic response is the only right one to be had when one encounters issues in life. I prefer to think instead that it recommends a response that is not based in resistance but in Acceptance.
When we are in resistance and not Accepting the reality at hand, our fight-or-flight system is engaged and all the accompanying side-effects of stress, anxiety, fear and lack of access to Rational and Intuitive facilities kick in.
When we are in Acceptance, on the other hand, we have greater access to all of our positive facilities, including Reason and Intuition. We realize that we cannot control the outcomes of all situations so we operate in an environment of Acceptance of the Change.
Emotions can still come up when we Accept. When they do, we can Accept them as well. We can acknowledge them in our own minds in the moment. We can say, “I am feeling angry right now,” or “I am feeling sad right now.” This is a powerful way of processing emotions and helping them move along (the root word of emotion is “motion”).
It Is What It Is
“It is what it is” has also become a cliché Mantra of Acceptance of sorts. I prefer the Eckhart Tolle quote mentioned above to this one personally. My experience has been that “It is what it is” is used as a form of engaging Acceptance, but with a sense of resignation or defeat─ Nothing can be done about it, anyway, so what is the point of even trying?
I like to emphasize that Acceptance does not imply resignation. Instead, I prefer to promote the idea that Acceptance is simply an appropriate starting point from which to enact Change in order to improve or remedy a situation, if desired. Such actions will then come from a strong place of uncluttered non-resistance with full access to all of one’s faculties (and far less stress).
With Acceptance, we can actually become laser-focused in implementing Change, since Acceptance is a necessary stepping-stone to Change. Other times, we may simply choose to take no further action beyond Acceptance. I find the weather to be great practice for this type of Acceptance. I generally do not complain about the weather and, like most of us I suspect, I don’t attempt to change it. I simply accept it. If I need a sweater, I get one.
“For, after all, the best thing we can do when it is raining is to let it rain.” -Henry W. Longfellow
At the very least, what we want to do is create a delay in reaction between what is and what we want to be. With that delay, we slow down to avoid a knee-jerk reaction, or otherwise being overcome by emotion. From here we can have a foundation for Acceptance and subsequent action if necessary.
“Always wanting what is not is not a way to live.” -Anonymous
here may be situations that we cannot Change, or the sole Change may be an internal shift within from a stance of resistance to a place of Acceptance. This reality is expressed in a stanza of the popular Serenity Prayer:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
Which should be changed,
And the Wisdom to distinguish
The one from the other.
Accepting Big Change
We know that everything changes; nothing ever stays the same. The only constant is impermanence, including the fact that ourselves and our loved ones will all leave this Earth one day.
In order to practice Acceptance in our everyday lives, we have to come to a general Acceptance of the entire environment of Change and the impermanence in which we all exist. We are all subject to health issues and eventually, to death. Relationships in which we are involved will grow, stagnate or come to an end. Fortunes gained are subject to loss. We ourselves are in constant Change at this moment, hopefully towards greater Self-Awareness.
Change happens. This is guaranteed.
If we are in resistance to the reality that we live within a context of constant Change, we shall certainly suffer and tend to block access to all the good that life has available to us, including the facilities that promote spiritual growth.
We will lack Equanimity for one thing. We will be spending our own Energy on resistance and masking its impacts upon us, trying to appear calm while in the throws of stress. We may actually become so used to our state of resistance that we don’t even recognize it. This Energy could be better spent if we learn to engage Acceptance in the face of life’s biggest Changes.
Loved ones will die and relationships will end. Acceptance of this doesn’t mean that we should just brush them off and jump into new experiences willy-nilly. Acceptance means allowing that death has occurred or that a relationship has ended; it also means accepting the feelings that come along with loss. We need to Accept and acknowledge how we feel. Then we need to actually feel it. We may need to Accept and acknowledge that we need help, guidance and Healing work, too.
With specific loss, we may need to engage Acceptance in small steps. For example, when someone dies, we might first have to Accept shock and grief. We may then have to Accept that some type of funeral arrangements must be made. We also might have to Accept that practical financial matters have to be addressed and that the person’s possessions must be arranged for. Each one of these steps can contribute to a greater overall Acceptance of the fact that the person we care about is gone. All the while, we also Accept the wide range of feelings that will come with the loss and the feelings that may come along in the future (especially during events like holidays, anniversaries, birthdays and so forth).
Part of our Acceptance of the situation might even mean saying, “I am having a hard time Accepting what has happened.”
Acceptance of inequity does not mean we agree with it. When we face inequity, especially that having to do with ethnic identity, gender, or sexual orientation, we will likely experience extreme stress because of it. We may try to wish it away. We may be simultaneously resisting its existence while we want to fight for its elimination. Inequity may even encourage us to resist, or not accept, a core aspect of our whole being─ that part which is not accepted by others.
When we engage in Acceptance, acknowledging that the inequity does exist is the first clear step towards Change. In helping others to gain Acceptance of the inequity, we often shine a clear Light upon it as well.
When we think of the actions of passive-resistance engaged in during the American Civil Rights Movement, for example, visual images of the bigotry that was occurring helped others gain Acceptance that it was in fact happening in horrible ways (think of fire hoses being turned on passive resistors). From there, action geared towards Change rolled forward at a faster pace.
Acceptance of others as they are can be difficult. We often want to Change others. Sometimes we criticize them to get them to Change. People we know and care about may be engaging in behaviors that are difficult to be around. We may be in resistance to how these people are behaving, which may make it difficult for us to see their core Divinity.
The fact is, however, that we can give feedback to others in a compassionate manner regarding their behaviors, but whether they choose to receive it in a constructive manner is up to them. When we Accept others as they are, we release the burden of resistance to how they are and the burden of trying to Change them. We relax and we feel free when we do not judge. Non-Judgment works hand in hand with Acceptance.
With Acceptance, we also don’t have to hang around others if their behaviors are upsetting to us. Upon fully Accepting who they are, we can choose to simply not be around those behaviors at all, or in some measure. In so doing, we are also Accepting that those behaviors do not resonate with us, without expecting this simple fact to halt the behaviors once and for all. We take responsibility for our own wellbeing, and are less resentful of others for challenging it.
If we continually have trouble Accepting others as they are, we may have to look at ourselves: What is it about me that is having trouble Accepting others as they are? Does this non-Acceptance serve some purpose for me? Do I have some specific wound which prevents Acceptance or that is consistently triggered by others? Is my inability to Accept others as they are making me feel better about myself somehow (i.e. serving my ego)?
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” –Carl Jung
We may need to Accept that we are judgmental and work from there to understand why and how we might better serve the spiritual element of Non-Judgment, which can help us in Accepting others as they are. We may need to visit the element of Respect which will help us to see the Divinity within all despite behaviors which may seem to conflict with it. We may engage Empathy as well and ask: How might this person be suffering? Please let me understand so that I can be more Accepting.
Ultimately, the onus is on us to work through why we can’t Accept; we must do our work towards gaining Acceptance towards others and we need to apply all of the spiritual elements available to us in order to find this Acceptance. In the long run, we will find that the more we are Accepting of others, the more others will be Accepting of us.
I have an old friend to whom I have lent money to on several occasions. Every time I have done this, the situation has turned out unfavorably for me. In the past, these events caused me great stress and had also almost cost me the friendship. In hindsight, I saw that I was not Accepting the reality of my friend’s approach to debt. I wanted him to be different. I also saw that betrayal of a debt triggered an old wound of mine─ that “my needs didn’t matter.”
I did the extra work to review that friendship because a part of me still valued it. Now I Accept that person as he is and having a different approach to personal finances than I do. I don’t try to change him; I don’t loan money to him, either. As a result of this Change within me, our friendship is better than ever and I have a greater understanding of the areas within me that require Healing.
Accepting Our Past
The past is over with, yet many of us live in constant conflict with it. In so doing, we are simply expending wasted Energy. We want something in our past to be different from the way it actually was. This can be a very valid feeling. Yet it is also a futile endeavor because when we feel this way we are not in Acceptance that the past simply cannot be changed. Once we Accept that fact, we can work on Accepting what happened “back then.” We can also Accept what wounds we may carry from it, with the intention of Healing. With Healing, we Change how we look at the past (thus Changing how it affects us now).
If we suffered major trauma, we may need professional help in Accepting events that happened in the past and our resulting wounds.
In What Way Are We in Resistance?
When we feel like we are suffering, or when we are not happy in general, it is often a time to ask: What am I resisting? What am I not Accepting? We often don’t like the answers we might get with sincere self-inquiry.
We might come up with responses such as:
“I hate my job.”
“I am not doing what I want to do with my life.”
“I am in a relationship that feels dead.”
“The person I love is gone.”
“I am afraid of being alone.”
“I am lonely.”
“I have an addiction.”
“I experienced horrible trauma.”
“My caretakers were never there for me.”
“I always put others’ needs before my own.”
“I feel insecure about my physical appearance.”
“I keep making big mistakes.”
“Anxiety is running my life.”
“I need help.”
Taking a serious look at statements such as these takes tremendous Courage and strength. We have a tendency to be in denial about our Truths and how living them may Change the status quo of our lives. We also sometimes have trouble Accepting that our past has affected us in deeper ways than we originally thought.
There is a childlike tendency to think of things in “black and white:” If I accept some aspect of my life as unacceptable or bad, then I must be unacceptable or bad in my entirety. We stay in denial and resistance or we keep everything hovering in limbo, afraid to act. We keep up a good front until we break down under the pressure of trying to hold it all together.
A worse scenario is getting comfortable with denial or some sense of futility: Life sucks, I screwed up, I am a loser and that is just the way it is. This is resignation. Resignation fails to accept our abilities to Change, Heal and transform.
If we reach that point, we may need help to see that we always have agency beyond resignation. When we refuse to view ourselves in simplistic, black-and-white terms and choose Acceptance, this can be the first step in exercising the agency for Change. We can Accept ourselves and our life situation as it is. We can also Accept our capacity to Change specific areas or our outlook without these items being mutually exclusive.
With further inquiry, we can review our options. We can choose to: 1) remain in resistance or 2) shift towards Acceptance and then discern whether any Change can be implemented.
We can learn to integrate Accepting who we are and what has occurred with our own capacity and desire to improve our situation.
Remaining in resistance is really not a viable option in the long run in terms of quality of life and overall spiritual development.
Obstacles to Acceptance
Denial and resignation, as discussed, represent two opposing forces to the spiritual element of Acceptance. Doubt and comparison can also be added to that list. With doubt, Acceptance is blocked and a person is stuck in a victim mentality. “Why me?” is the constant question of a victim. Granted, there may be a factor of unfairness to one’s lot in life, but that does not change the reality of the situation to which Acceptance can still be applied.
Comparison can also bring up issues of inequity in life circumstance, especially when others are viewed as “better off than me.” Comparison also makes one’s own situation harder to accept:
“My friend is (or others are) happy and I am not.”
“My friend is successful and I am not.”
“My friend is in a loving relationship and I am not.”
“My friend never has bad luck and that is all I have.”
Statements such as these may be forms of denial. With them, we deny our own role in the situation, the sometimes seemingly random nature of Change or the impacts of the unconscious behaviors of others on us. Comparison takes our focus away from Accepting our life circumstances and our own agency to Change. It keeps us suffering and away from action that leads to transformation.
Self-Acceptance is the cornerstone of Acceptance that we all must deal with before we can expand that capability elsewhere. Self-Acceptance is a form of Self-Love; it is a form of Self-Respect. It fundamentally recognizes the Divinity which resides within us─ all of us are worthy of Acceptance. After all, how can we all not ultimately be Acceptable, when we all have Divinity at our core?
Yet many struggle with this concept. They may be stuck in a place of not Accepting who they are or they may even be in a place of self-loathing. Some may be letting one aspect of their story or one part of who they are define them in some manner that negates Self-Acceptance overall.
In order to Accept ourselves, we must first recognize our own Divinity and then take steps to heal the wounds which conflict with acknowledging it. We must address any wound that somehow has led to feelings of unworthiness. We must then integrate the ability to Accept ourselves as we are with our capacity for Change.
When we engage in this process, only then can we separate specific behaviors within us that we wish to change from who we are at our core. We can Accept what we might think to be our “shadow side” as only part of who we are. That side does not define us. For example, a person who receives a traditional medical diagnosis of Bi-Polar Disorder in some form can say: “I am crazy!” or he/she can say, “I accept that part of me which is Bi-Polar and I acknowledge that it is just one part of the larger totality that is me. ‘Bi Polar’ does not define who I am because I am so much more than that.”
Once gained, the power of Self-Acceptance is incredible. Self-Acceptance radiates to Self-Love, which leads to Self-Respect, which leads all the way up to Infinitude─ our unbounded capacity to live our Truth in a phenomenal fashion.
The bottom line is that we are perfectly worthy of Love exactly as we are and even as we work towards desired Change.
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need other’s approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” Lao Tzu
Chasing or Gaining Acceptance
It is nice to be accepted by others. We are social animals and it feels good to belong. Finding our tribe is awesome and may be part of finding our own Truth. It feels safe to belong to a group of people. It may be a part of our survival-oriented DNA as well. Yet, when it comes down to it in these modern times (and also from a spiritual perspective), we really have no need for Acceptance by others once we have done the work in Accepting ourselves.
I will even go so far as to say that the need to chase Acceptance or feel Accepted by others is inversely related to the level of Acceptance we have of ourselves. When we lack Self-Acceptance, the ego kicks in to soothe and protect the emotional psyche. It will seek short-term relief by striving to show our value to others. We will wear masks. We will overachieve. We may take on people-pleasing traits in order to fit in. We may engage in efforts to control our image so as to be consistently acceptable. We will not be serving our Truth as our energies are directed towards being “acceptable” to others.
Awareness is the only way to prevent the constant need to please others. We have to question the motivations of our people-pleasing behaviors when they do not jibe with our Truth. We have to look at how much we seek external validation and how much we work to control our image so as to be accepted. We have to work towards greater Self-Acceptance. We must know our own inherent value without relying solely on external validation. We can learn to assess and assert our needs. We also have to be wary of the forces of social convention which often encourage us to chase acceptance within the parameters that it prescribes.
Gaining Acceptance is totally different than chasing Acceptance. With a greater degree of Self-Acceptance, others still may not accept who you are. It’s then easy for us to sometimes say, “That’s their problem.” In the end, you may still conclude that this is the case. In the meantime, however, you might benefit from sharing more about who you are with others, especially those parts of yourself that take time to learn and understand. Sharing like this generates Empathy and connection. People will be less likely to “trip out” on your behaviors or interpret them in a negative way with just a little bit of sharing of who you really are.
For example, I am an introvert. I like Solitude, reading, meditating and yoga. I like privacy. While I am not anti-social, it is highly likely that if I get invited to a big social event somewhere, I will pass on it. At some point, I learned to accept this trait about myself instead of trying to be more social in an uncomfortable manner. As I have gotten older, I honor this trait more and more. Some friends or family understand this about me. Others don’t. They want me to be different, i.e. more inclined to attend social events. They likely take my behavior as a personal affront when, in fact, I am just being me. I have explained myself to some, saying, “This is how I am”─ and I have been better Accepted because of it. My “pass” on a social event is not taken personally. Others may still not Accept how I am, despite my explanations─ and that may indeed be ultimately their issue.
We can all do better to Accept others through the act of seeking understanding.
“You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Surrender in itself is an application of Acceptance because it is a lowering of resistance and control in the moment. Through Surrender in individual moments, we can gain a greater capacity for Acceptance overall.
Courage and Faith play a role as, through them, we are relinquishing our desire to control all circumstances and outcomes and we are Accepting where we are and where we might be going.
Perseverance can play an ongoing role as we continually Accept Change in our lives, including the always-impending Change of exiting this Bodily realm.
Acceptance is informed by Truth as we endeavor to not resist the facts that lie before us.
Wonder drives learning the desire for greater Truth, which allows for Acceptance.
Reason, Wisdom, Non-Judgment, Simplicity and Intuition will further guide us in Accepting Truth. Non-Judgment and Respect help us to be in Acceptance of others and self, recognizing the Divinity of others and of ourselves.
Empathy helps us to connect to others so that we may understand and Accept them.Freewill helps us flip a switch towards Acceptance. Optimism will flavor Acceptance in order to morph outcomes into something positive.
Healing helps us to Accept our past and how it might be affecting us in the Now. Acceptance often requires help and guidance from Healing practitioners.
Breath and Prayer help to center us in the moment in order to gain Acceptance.
Our Body, Self-Awareness and Mindfulness help us to be aware of when we are in resistance to what is.
Love, when applied to Acceptance, allows for more of it. Acceptance of others as they are is Love. Acceptance of each moment, exactly as it is, is empowering.
- Survey and learn the bodily clues that indicate you are in resistance to what is. These can include tight shoulders and neck, skin problems, digestion issues, high blood pressure or an overall feeling of stress.
- Practice Acceptance in everyday, trivial matters, such as being in traffic or waiting in line in the grocery store. Be aware of how your mood fluctuates during these moments, acknowledge each mood as it descends upon you and remind yourself that, while you cannot personally Change the situation, at least it is temporary.
- Practice not complaining about the weather. Accept the weather as it is, with proper adjustments in wardrobe.
- Survey how you might not be Accepting of others as they are. Make efforts to do so without exposing yourself to harmful behaviors. Reflect upon why they might behave or speak as they do.
- Fill in the blank: I am having the most trouble Accepting __________. At first we simply want to acknowledge what we are not accepting and how reality may differ from what we want it to be be. We want to identify, acknowledge and express our feelings relating to the matter, before identifying a plan to gain Acceptance. We may need professional help.
- Engage in self-inquiry as to what overall issues you are living in resistance to, including any aspects of your own being. Develop a strategy to gain Acceptance in these areas, seeking professional guidance to do so if needed. Your strategy could be as simple as a weekly or monthly self-check in on the issue, or as complicated as researching the issue or attending lectures on it.
- Survey how you might engage in people-pleasing behaviors to gain Acceptance. Do you find yourself agreeing to do favors for people even when you’re really busy, not feeling well physically or can’t afford it financially? Do you find yourself doing more than your fair share of the work on group assignments, in school or at work? Explore getting professional help in asserting your needs and living your Truth.
- Seek professional Healing guidance in learning Acceptance relating to any major trauma in your life.
- Give yourself at least five minutes to respond to situations you have trouble Accepting, such as bad news received via email, voicemail or text. Here, a form of resistance is necessary— resisting the urge to respond immediately. Taking the time to process unpleasant or challenging information allows us to react more peacefully and gracefully when we are ready, and avoid making the situation even worse.
“A Diamond cannot be polished without friction. Gold cannot be purified without fire. Good people go through trials, but don’t suffer. With that experience, their life becomes better, not bitter.” -Ramkrishna Paramahansa
I Love and Accept This Moment Exactly As It Is.
I Am Perfectly Me.
I am Worthy of Love and Belonging, Simply Because.
I Am Learning to Accept Others as They Are.
I Accept My Past as Having Occurred.
The Serenity Prayer (a common version):
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
Which should be changed,
And the Wisdom to distinguish
The one from the other.