Right now there’s something going on in my life that’s very difficult. I definitely wish it wasn’t part of my life, and yet it’s clear my wishing has done nothing to change it.
As is always the case: Fight with reality, reality wins.
And so it occurred to me (brilliantly) that this might be an auspicious time to practice acceptance.
When investigating an idea or practice, I like to start with what the thing is not. In this case, what are the myths and misconceptions about acceptance that get in the way of our being able to do it?
Myth No. 1: We’re OK with what’s happening. We can agree with it.
The biggest misunderstanding about acceptance is that it means that we’re OK with the thing we’re accepting, that we’ve somehow gotten on board with this situation that we don’t want.
Reality: Acceptance does not require that we’re OK with what we’re accepting.
Acceptance doesn’t imply that we now want what we don’t want. It doesn’t include feeling good or peaceful about what we’re accepting. It doesn’t mean we now agree with it.
Myth No. 2: Acceptance means we stop trying to change it.
We believe that acceptance is synonymous with agreeing to be passively surrendering all efforts to make things different. Acceptance is saying we agree that this situation will go on forever. It’s deciding to pull the covers over our head.
Reality: Acceptance doesn’t mean suspending efforts to change what is.
Acceptance doesn’t imply that we’re giving up on reality becoming different. Acceptance is all about now and has nothing to do with the future. Furthermore, acceptance isn’t an act of passivity, but rather an act of wisdom. It means agreeing to start our efforts from where we actually are and considering what actually is.
Myth No. 3: Acceptance is failure.
In our culture, acceptance is for the meek, for losers. It’s what we do when we’ve failed at doing everything else. We see acceptance as a choice-less choice, a disempowering and depressing end to a battle lost.
Reality: Acceptance is not an act of failure.
Acceptance can, with the right understanding, be experienced as an act of courage. It’s for those who have the strength to face the truth and stop denying it. It can be the first step in a process of genuine success and movement.
So if it isn’t these myths, then what is this thing we call acceptance?
It might help to use a different word. Rather than asking, “Can I accept this?” I prefer, “Can I relax with this?” Or, “Can I be with this as it is?” Or, “Can I agree that this is the way it is right now?” These pointers feel more workable given what we associate with acceptance. Because the fact is, something inside us will never fully accept or get OK with what we don’t want, and that part of us needs to be included in this process, too.
To relax with what is means that we also relax with the part of ourselves that’s screaming “no” to the situation.
It means that we make space for the unacceptance in us. We accept the situation and also the fierce rejection of it at the same time. We don’t ask ourselves to get rid of the resistance; that resistance is our friend. It’s there to protect us from what we don’t want. So we accept and allow the negative situation and also the hating of it.
Secondly, acceptance is about acknowledging that this particular situation is indeed happening. It isn’t saying that we like it, agree with it, or will stop trying to change it, it simply means that we’re accepting that it is what is. The primary element of acceptance is opening to reality as it is, not how we feel about it. Acceptance means we’re willing to tolerate an unpleasant situation.
In my case, with the situation I have going on, I’m practicing relaxing with the reality that I don’t have an answer to this difficult situation. I accept this situation, even though I want it to be different and I don’t know right now how to make that happen.
What’s comical is that our refusal to accept a situation usually involves a fight against reality. We refuse to allow what’s already been allowed. Seen in this light, our refusal to accept reality has a tinge of insanity to it.
When we practice acceptance, we’re just saying, “Yes, this is happening.” That’s it. And paradoxically, that frees us up to start changing the situation or changing ourselves in relation to it.
As a good friend said, the situation will change or you will change, but change will happen.
We waste so much energy fighting reality that we don’t apply our energy and intention to what we can do about it. We’re stuck in an argument with the universe. Acceptance allows us at least to begin doing whatever we can do from where we are.
Acceptance is a profound and powerful step in our growth and development. It requires courage to be honest about where we are. Acceptance requires determination to feel what’s true. This can be excruciating, but it’s far more useful than avoiding such feelings by denying reality.
When we practice acceptance, which includes our initial “no,” we give ourselves permission to join our life, to experience the present moment as it is. We allow ourselves to stop fighting with reality, which is exhausting and useless.
Acceptance is counterintuitive and yet supremely wise. When we’re willing to say, “Yes, this is the way it is whether I want it or not,” something primal in us relaxes. We can exhale; the hoax we’ve been conducting is up at last.
The funny thing is, we nearly always know what’s true and only trick ourselves with our non-acceptance. To accept offers us permission to finally be authentic with ourselves, to be in our own company.
When we can say I accept that this is the way it is—even if I hate it and don’t know what to do about it—then I can at least be in the truth, which ultimately, is the most empowering, brave, and self-loving place from which to create our life.
Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, public speaker, workshop leader, and author of “The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World.” For more information, visit NancyColier.com