The Power of Acceptance

Rachel Landman, LMHC April 9, 2021

We often cling to the hope of rising above the wounds of our human pain, never to have to suffer them again. Active acceptance means to practice letting go of this hope and instead embrace what is—emphasis on the word practice.

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” - Pema Chödrön

Just take it, succumb to your pain, give in, resign, be weak…

Summed up in one word: Acceptance

The dictionary defines acceptance as: "the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered"—the keyword here being action. We often operate on the assumption that acceptance is a passive stance, when in fact, it is an active choice.

When we experience unpleasant feelings, sensations, or thoughts, we find ourselves at a choice point. The active approach often appears to require marshaling our efforts to avert or squash the undesirable feelings, while the passive approach seems to accept them by succumbing to your pain. In this dichotomy, neither choice available offers an attractive option: struggle to get the pain out of the way (avoidance), or sit in/with it and do nothing (passive acceptance). 

We often regard our accepting emotional pain as a passive stance, akin to resignation or even failure. We end up feeling helpless to do anything about the pain, so we passively just put up with it. As a result, we give up and stop engaging in efforts to change. 

One alternative to this is to shift our thinking slightly and consider acceptance as something we can do actively. 

To start, we can create space and allow the challenging, difficult, or unpleasant feelings, sensations, and thoughts to be there, even if we do not like them. Rather than getting into a constant argument with our experiences, we allow them to be with kindness. We can allow experiences to be just as they are —eliminating the demand for them to fit in with our ideas of how they "should be" and ultimately reduce our self-criticism and self-judgment. Noted Buddhist writer, Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it this way, "Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally". 

Engaging in an active and willing gesture of acceptance and openness to all our experiences does not mean we will like all the feelings that arise but it is within our power to begin the work of acknowledging them and calling a cease-fire towards them. Tara Brach says this about the work, "Radical acceptance means feeling sorrow and pain without resisting. It means feeling desire or dislike without judging ourselves or being driven to act on it." 

The fact is that, ultimately, all pleasant and unpleasant feelings pass of their own accord, if we do not step in and try to control them. Curiosity and patience may move us a long way towards discovering something new about how our interior changes and shifts, often compared to the weather's changing patterns within minutes or hours.

By allowing all your experiences to exist non-judgmentally, we become able to let go of the struggle with our experiences and all the efforts we put into avoiding them. Instead, we can use that energy to focus on things that are much more meaningful. 

This task, while easily explained, takes a lifetime of practice and is an imperfect journey. There may be moments of acceptance and openness, followed by moments of judgment and closeness. The practice of active acceptance does not eliminate the difficult feelings. It does not fulfill one's desire that some experience, great realization, enough years of dedicated practice may finally lift us beyond the struggles of the world. 

We often cling to the hope of rising above the wounds of our human pain, never to have to suffer them again. Active acceptance means to practice letting go of this hope and instead embrace what is—emphasis on the word practice.  

Creating a rewarding life calls you to put each moment of every day to good use by choosing how you spend your precious time and energy. If you find yourself stuck, we can help

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