What is This Thing Called ‘Acceptance’ and What Makes it a Game-Changer?

In Mindfulness circles this term comes up A LOT in conversation and is often banded a round as a cure-all and ‘the answer’ when things are proving to be difficult. When it has been pointed out to me that it is the key to lessening my suffering, l have often battled with the concept – intellectually, spiritually and emotionally – feeling like l have to understand it in order to practice it; having heated conversations with friends about the ‘true’ nature of acceptance and its characteristics… What l am being shown is that all of those things act as distractions: it can be easier to spend my time and energy occupied with those concerns than to accept where l am!

Much of the time l felt like l was being told that in order to accept something l had to like it; to feel as if, with all the options in the world,, this is the one thing l would have chosen! Now however, l can see this as just another ego trap – another layer of thinking: another thing to ‘beat myself up’ about. It’s not about ‘what ifs’ or ‘what l might have chosen had things been different’ it’s about things ARE, right NOW. It’s not about liking or disliking; instead it is about getting out of the way and allowing life to flow as it is.

That doesn’t mean l am disempowered of course – quite the opposite! It makes me aware of the power l have to say no; to not get involved with things that don’t sit right with me; to remove myself from friendships or situations that l feel no longer serve me well; it enables me to spend my precious energy on things which are important to me, rather than wearing myself out by battling reality. If l can accept the situation as it presents l have a choice as to how to behave/respond. That is far more liberating than spending my time and energy arguing with the universe that things should not be this way!

When people have taken a similar approach with me I have on occasion seen it as lacking in compassion but actually quite this is a misconception. Sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do is remove ourselves from a situation because we can see and accept that the other person is not in a place where they can truly hear what we are saying or feel our intention, or we notice that what it is bringing up in us requires our attention and acceptance so that we don’t then throw these uncomfortable emotions at others.

This is why acceptance or allowing, is such a powerful tool – because we can apply it to others as well as ourselves. If we are able to truly accept other people as they are – to allow them to play out their part as they choose – we remove judgement from the equation! And what a beautiful place that is! After all, people blossom when they are shown true love and acceptance: they feel free and they grow as a result.

At its most fundamental level then, acceptance is simply allowing things to be as they are – not arguing or battling reality; perhaps a view that everything is exactly how it is supposed to be underpins this nicely. As we learn to see circumstances as the universe unfolding our purpose and growth, and learn that we are doing the best we can with what we have, so our capacity for compassion grows as we realise the same is true for everyone.

So how do we practice acceptance? With practice! When we notice ourselves wishing things were different or arguing with reality, we bring ourselves back to the notion of allowing; letting go of the perceived need to understand, to intellectualise the process and we become as present as we are able in that moment. This is not an easy practice and self-compassion is an important element here – forgiving ourselves for what we couldn’t see before we could see it! Sounds ridiculous but it’s a trap l have fallen into often! Sometimes acceptance is too much of an ask because our head is too noisy: in that situation it often helps to get ‘back to basics’ and remind ourselves that we are the watcher of our thoughts: that can aid our detachment so that we remember that we are not our thoughts. Of course this is not a formulaic process and anyone who practices will tell you that the lessons constantly deepen so there is no sense of mastery, but the process does become easier and less time-consuming as our present moment awareness increases.

I now appreciate why ‘acceptance’ is such an important principle (if there is such a thing) of Mindfulness – because it is the key to less suffering and more compassion – both for ourselves and others. That doesn’t make it easy but it certainly makes it a game-changer.