Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the concept of acceptance as a practice. People talk about practising forgiveness and practising gratitude, so what about practising acceptance?
“Acceptance in human psychology is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it or protest it”.
Recognising without attempting to change or protest – wow, that can be a tall order in some situations. Especially when something awful has happened or a person has been particularly hurtful. I find what makes those situations all the more intense is not so much what actually happened, but rather my feelings about what happened. Specifically, that situations like that should never occur in the first place. It’s that self-righteous anger, it keeps me stuck in judgement and resentment.
Practising the art of acceptance is something very specific to me. It’s about letting go of the notion that people should be different than how they are in the moment I’m encountering them. It’s about letting go of the idea that horrible experiences shouldn’t happen. It’s about realising that there’s really no point standing in a pile of rubble and shouting about how things should not have fallen down. They have. It’s happened. I don’t have to be happy about it but I can choose to decide what I’m going to do next. Am I going to rebuild? Am I going to walk away? Am I going to sift through the ashes looking for treasure? All of those options are benefiting me more than stamping my feet defiantly that things shouldn’t be as they are.
Acceptance allows me to feel into a space where I can let go of my desire to fight against what has already happened. It’s a sort of softening that takes me away from the rigidness of anger and into a place where I can focus on soothing myself and look for the next steps forward. Those steps may well be dramatic depending on the situation I am called to accept but at least I’d be moving forward and no longer stuck shouting at the rain when it’s already falling.
And what about people? Oh, this is a tough one. The art of acceptance calls on us to let go of the idea that people should be behaving differently than they are. It doesn’t mean I’ll be allowing people to treat me poorly, it means when I do feel mistreated, I’ll be concentrating on how to move forward rather than sitting crossed armed saying “they shouldn’t be behaving like this”. Because people always have their reasons, I might not like them or I might struggle to understand them, but they’re there. Their behaviour towards me in any given moment is not happening in isolation from the rest of their life. They’ve lived a whole life up until that moment where they interacted with me, one action or thought leads to another. So I’ll have to decide, will I try to resolve this conflict? Will I walk away from this person for now? Will I share my hurt feelings? Again, all of these options are much more productive than an attempt to tell this person they shouldn’t be being who they are.
Ultimately, the art of acceptance is calling us back to our sanity. There’s no point declaring angrily that things that have happened should not have happened or that people should not be behaving the way they are. It’s happened and they’re doing it, despite our protest. Yes, negative outcomes are occurring from these things and acceptance it’s not about being okay with shitty situations or people. It’s about letting go of the resistance of how things are and deciding instead to move forward with damage control.
If you’re having trouble forgiving a situation, a person or finding things to be grateful for in your life right now, I encourage to see if you can feel into acceptance instead. This worked for me, especially around gratitude. There was a time when things were just not going my way and it was all feeling a bit unfair. I knew it was beneficial to forgive people and write gratitude lists but I just couldn’t seem to muster the energy to do it. I couldn’t even fake it to make it. I realise now that it was because I hadn’t yet accepted the situations that had happened to me. How could I forgive someone when I still felt like they should never have done what they did? How could I be grateful for my life when I wasn’t able to accept the state of my life as it was? But when I decided to try just accepting things as they were, I found I was able to let go of feeling angry about it. I was finally able to make some steps towards improving things about my life instead of dwelling on past pains. I realised that sitting around feeling pissed off about how things were was doing zip to change anything (although I have to say, I did indulge a little in a pity party for a while there). At the end of the day, pinning for an alternate reality where a situation didn’t happen or a person behaved differently is a bit futile. At least until they invent an alternate reality transporter machine.
I just want to emphasise one more time that I’m not suggesting people find a way to be happy or even okay about horrible situations or people. I’m just saying that I’ve made a lot of progress in my life from deciding to accept situations and people as they are and by focusing on what I want to do about it.
I encourage you to have a look around and see if you’re crying about the rain while standing in the rain, or if you’re stomping around in the rubble of a situation declaring that things should not have fallen down. When we decide we want to move on, that’s when the practice of acceptance comes in. It’s when we decide to choose peace over our need to feel right about feeling wronged. Acceptance is, in my opinion, the spark of momentum that moves our focus forward. It sucks, it’s not okay, it’s happened, what am I going to do next?
And if you just can’t accept things right now, I encourage you to accept that you’re not ready to accept. You may need a bit more time to grieve before you’re ready to move on and that’s perfectly acceptable.
With love and acceptance