Most people seem to believe that when we accept something, we agree with it, approve of it, or are resigned to its continuing presence in our lives. If we consult a dictionary, the definitions given for acceptance would seem to support this common belief. Dictionary definitions of acceptance include the act of taking or receiving something offered; or favorable reception; approval; favor; or the act of assenting or believing, such as “acceptance of a theory”.
Individuals who practice mindfulness know that there is a much more useful definition of acceptance. To them, acceptance is a simple acknowledgement of what is actually happening in the present moment. It is an objective witnessing to “what is”. Refusing to accept what is happening to us does not change what is occurring but it does cause our mind to be agitated as it fights back against reality. If we want to change what is happening to us, we first have to correctly identify exactly what is happening to us. Acceptance is an essential practice for anyone who wants to experience peace of mind. Acceptance is also a crucial step in producing change. Carl Rogers, a psychologist, taught that in order to change something about ourselves or our circumstances, we first have to accept it.
When it concerns the past, acceptance means objectively acknowledging what occurred and the situation that this leaves us in. Our lover broke up with us and we have to accept the break up before we can find someone better suited for us. We lost our job because we lacked essential skills for carrying out the job effectively. We have to accept that we don’t have the skills before we can either learn the skills or seek a job that doesn’t require the skills.
Many of us suffer or resist what is real because we think that accepting something means that we are forever “stuck” with it and will never be able to change it. This is simply not true! After we accept that something is currently true about ourselves or our life situation, we can then decide how we feel about it and what we are willing to do to change it. We do not have to try to feel OK about it or feel that we are permanently stuck with it. We can react to something happening to us as if we are a victim, such as feelings of sadness, hurt, anger, or anxiety. Alternatively, we can respond to the situation with the positive feelings of someone who knows we are not the victim of circumstances but rather can decide how to respond in a way that produces better outcomes for ourselves.
Acceptance is an active process and must be practiced until we are better at carrying it out effectively. It usually requires some effort on our part, and it can be very frustrating at times. We can create a new path in a grass field by repeatedly walking the same path many times. In the same way, every time we practice acceptance of something, we create and strengthen neural pathways in our brain, making it increasingly easy to practice such acceptance in the future. We will usually go back and forth between feelings of acceptance and feelings of resistance, so we need to be patient with ourselves and persist in our practice of acceptance.
We can accept our body, our feelings, our behavior, or our life situation, and then change these things over time. Accepting something does not mean that it is always going to be that way. Acceptance can be used in all areas of our life, and it can help us to remain calm as we decide and plan how to change the situation. Keep in mind, however, that it will be far easier to change something about ourselves or our situation than it will be to change others. Other people’s changes need to be made by them, not by us, as trying to change others will seldom succeed and will usually lead to a considerable amount of frustration.
There will be another post that will build on our ongoing discussion of how to make effective changes in our lives by looking at the old question of “whether the cup is half full or half empty”. Analyzing this old question may help us to understand more about the nature of truth, how our motivation for change can be increased, and the purpose of our lives.