It’s sort of a funny thing as I write this piece about acceptance that I am having a hard time really accepting things right now. Even writing this has been a struggle… I just want to crawl in a hole.
But let’s at least discuss the concept of Acceptance. Unfortunately, the “buzz word” culture has spread far and wide, and somehow “mindfulness” and “acceptance” (along with a host of other things), have been included in those unvenerated halls.
These ideas though have been around for far longer than “buzz word” became a buzz word. Acceptance (and Mindfulness) are primarily Buddhist in origin, with the teachings in mindfulness leading the way.
In a practice of Mindfulness, such as meditation, one trains the mind and self to be aware, present, and accepting. We identify there is something happening, it is happening now in this moment, and it is exactly what it is – we don’t judge it or try to change it.
This sounds all well and good, of course. But that “acceptance” part of the whole deal is far harder than it seems. Real and true acceptance is actually quite a difficult and radical move.
Trust me, if a mindfulness practice was so fun and easy, everyone would be doing it. But it’s really not. It is very, very hard to sit down and observe our minds without judgment, without getting hooked by our own suffering in some way.
Staying on the meditation cushion can be agony, even if only for minutes! But, then again, that’s why it’s called a “practice”. We go and sit on the meditation cushion over and over and maybe we even begin to extend the time we meditate.
Sometimes the concept of acceptance is so unacceptable, we might just outright reject reality as it is without thought. Why would anyone reject reality itself, you ask?
Avoidance of Pain. Avoidance of Shame. Fear.
We don’t want to feel these things, so, therefore, “Why is it happening this way!” or “I don’t want it to happen like this!” or even “It isn’t happening!” We put a lot of energy into this avoidance. We put a lot of energy into fighting accepting reality.
Because Acceptance is asking of us to: take reality, take yourself, take everything as it is and without judgment. It is happening this way, it doesn’t matter if you don’t want it to happen that way, and you better believe that it is actually happening.
But let’s be clear, this sort of acceptance doesn’t mean you just apathetically and resignedly have to agree with what’s happening. It doesn’t mean you just pretend to like everything that is going on, or even that everything is happy-go-lucky. It doesn’t mean that you go into one extreme over the other, say a positive gritting of the teeth versus a slump into the negative.
Acceptance just truly means you take what is happening in the moment, as it is and without judgment.
Remember, building the “acceptance skill” is a process and like with any skill, we must train. In this case, mindfulness is the training process and therefore, must be practiced. You don’t just magically, suddenly accept things. If that were the case, we’d see way more of that kind of thinking just running about in day to day life. We’d be living it.
I point you back to my opening statement of me having trouble engaging with this concept of acceptance. My current issue is with our actual circumstances. The wonderful viral “du jour” has turned into an actual virus sending us all indoors, crashing down economies around our heads while we try to help lighten the load on our health care systems.
I don’t like it. I hate it. Why did this have to happen now. Why is it happening this way. Does it have to happen this way. I wish it weren’t happening.
I’ve caused a lot of suffering for myself with this almost willful act of rejection of acceptance. The emotional judgment is just as much as a hook as the rejection itself. As much as I may not want this to be happening, it is very much happening.
Taking steps towards acceptance
Acceptance doesn’t mean that I resignedly slouch over to my beanbag and eat mounds of chocolate while watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer all day (ahem…) while bemoaning, “Oh, I guess it is happening and oh well…”.
No, it means this, “While I may not like it, this is indeed happening, it is happening this particular way, and is going on this very moment. Okay.” So, here I am accepting the reality of the situation, I am acknowledging my own feelings about it (without pushing them away or trying to falsify them), and surprisingly, my experience may actually change.
My suffering may subside in the moment. I might start asking myself, “If I cannot change the situation, how can I change myself?” Maybe I start looking for ways to lessen my judgment, which in turn also lessens my suffering.
No, I’m not saying you are working towards being glowingly positive (unless that’s an actual real moment), but that things shift as we engage with true acceptance. That’s a positive result if any there were one.
Now, this a one-and-done? No. This is an on-going process. Stuttering at first, often guttering out under pressure. But again, that’s why it is called a “practice”, one that is very much worth our effort, especially in these uncertain times as we may try to look ahead into the unpredictable future or compare to the fixed past, rather than staying only in the present.
It is a brave and radical move to accept this present moment, as it is and without judgement,
and I invite you to engage this practice, even if only one tiny step at a time.