Choose Acceptance

Denying pain, hurt or disappointment brings suffering. Accepting reality is a necessary step toward change, if change is possible. To choose acceptance is to acknowledge that some things cannot be changed and to learn to be at peace about that.

A Missed Opportunity

On most Wednesdays around 11:00 AM, you can find my wife, Rebecca, and me doing our weekly grocery shopping at our local store. (Taking advantage of the senior discount, of course.) However, recently we had an unusual experience.

When we arrived at our usual entrance to the store’s parking area, we found that it was blocked by a police car. We drove towards the next entrance but we observed that all the entrances to the parking area were blocked by police.

We followed a couple of cars toward the back of the store and discovered that a back entrance was open and unguarded. So all three cars went in that way.

However, we were soon flagged down by a police officer who informed us quite emphatically that they were clearing the parking lot and we had to leave . . . Now! After wandering around a bit, we finally found a way out of the lot.

As it happens, there is another grocery store right across the street from the store we frequent. As a matter of fact, I had been considering the idea of shopping at that store just to learn about their selections and prices. So here was my chance. We pulled into the parking area of the other store.

Now, you might think I was happy to have this opportunity to shop at a different store, one that I had actually been thinking about exploring. You’d be wrong.

I was not a happy shopper. I was upset that I couldn’t go to my comfortable, familiar grocery store. Therefore, I was flustered by the layout and the displays in this other store. Why couldn’t they have just let me in to “my” store? They shouldn’t have blocked us out! We shouldn’t have to be trying to shop in this unfamiliar store! If fact, I was “should”-ing all over that store.

It was only later, on my way home, when it occurred to me that I had missed a perfect opportunity to put some of my own teaching into practice. My goal is to say “Good!” to anything and everything that happens. A mantra I often repeat to myself is: “I embrace every obstacle as the teacher it is. I embrace every adversity as the teacher it is.”

But did any of that help while I was grumpily shopping at the other store? No, it did not. Because I had forgotten the important first step . . . to accept reality for what it is. [1] I forgot to choose acceptance. Instead, I chose resistance.

Pain Or Suffering

The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism is this: The origin of suffering is attachment. This takes the form of attachment to both the desire to have (craving) and the desire not to have (aversion). [Zenlightenment]

As the saying goes, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” In my silly example, it was my desire to shop at my familiar store that caused my suffering as I shopped at the different store. If I hadn’t been so attached to the comfort and familiarity of “my” store, I could have been more open to the other store, even appreciating the opportunity to try something new. But I refused to accept the situation for what it was.

It’s hard for us to accept the things we don’t want to be true. (“How dare they keep me from shopping in my store!”) But in the long run, it’s harder not to accept. Not accepting brings suffering. [Hall – Radical Acceptance]

Effecting Change

“The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” ~ Nathaniel Branden

When we encounter a problem — be it a blocked parking lot, a leaky toilet, a debilitating illness or a major life decision — most of us expect to resolve it by making a change. Acceptance is not our goal . . . effecting the change is. And more precisely, successfully making the change. In fact, we consider acceptance to be failure — failure to properly deal with the problem. [Newberg]

But acceptance as we are using it does not mean failure. It doesn’t mean that we don’t make the change or address the problem, although once we’ve accepted the situation we may realize there is nothing to change. Acceptance gives us the clarity to understand the situation for what it is, an important first step for successfully changing — either the situation or ourselves.

Radical Acceptance

One option you and I have for addressing any problem is “radical acceptance”. [2] Radical acceptance means accepting life as it is. Not what you wish it were. Not what you want it to be. And not what you think it should be.

Acceptance does not mean passive resignation to life. In fact, it may take a tremendous amount of effort and motivation to “accept the things we cannot change” and to “change the things we can”. Acceptance is the first step to making a change when change is possible. And acceptance is the first step in finding peace of mind when change is not possible.

Choosing Acceptance

In some cases, you may not be willing to invest the time, effort, and / or money to make something be the way you want it to be. In those times, Peter McWilliams advises, “you might as well accept it. Acceptance takes less than a second, consumes almost no energy, and costs absolutely nothing.” [McWilliams]

In other cases, no amount of time, effort and / or money will do it. Acceptance is the only way to deal with those things. (Well, not the only way. You can beat your head against the wall. But you know what happens in those cases. You get a bloodied head and the wall remains unchanged.)

Acceptance is realizing that to do anything other than accept is futile and likely painful.

We have a choice. We can’t choose to have events or people be other than they are. But we can choose to accept them as they are and move on from there.

How To Choose Acceptance

“Acceptance is such an important part of happiness, contentment, health, and growth that some people have called it ‘the first law of personal growth’.” [McWilliams]

When you have an issue to deal with — perhaps you are dealing with something now — try one or more of these strategies.

  1. If you see an obvious path forward, a solution to your problem, take it. Life gives us lots of opportunities to practice acceptance. If you have a problem that you can solve, then that is the first option.

    If you can’t resolve the issue, but you can alter your perception of it, then change your perspective. This mantra might help: “I embrace every obstacle as the teacher it is. I embrace every adversity as the teacher it is.”

    If you can’t solve it or change your perception of an issue, then practice radical acceptance. (Please NOTE: I am neither a medical professional nor a licensed counselor. If you are struggling and simply cannot accept or move past an issue you are dealing with, I urge you to seek the assistance of a qualified professional.)

    Get into a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Focus on your breathing. Breathe normally and “watch” your breath go in and out. Then, notice any thoughts that come up: “This isn’t fair!” “This shouldn’t have happened.” “Why me?” Let the thoughts come in and let them go. Then repeat an accepting statement, such as “It is what it is.” [Hall – Radical Acceptance]
  2. Lower your expectations. If you think you have failed because you weren’t perfect, change your perspective. Andrew Newburg gives an example of the person who wanted to give up a 3-pack-a-day smoking habit. The smoker was not able to give up smoking entirely but did decrease the habit to 1 pack. Instead of feeling like a failure, see this as a significant improvement, which it is. [Newberg]
  3. Do less judging. Instead of attaching labels of “good” or “bad” or “should” or “shouldn’t”, see things as “that’s how they are”. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t change them (although it doesn’t necessarily mean you can). It simply means you accept things as they are, without judging them.

Accept With Equanimity

Pain is inevitable. Trying to avoid pain, or deny pain, or resist pain is futile and possibly delusional. It prolongs suffering and delays healing.

Cicero, whose teachings had a basis in Stoic principles, uses an example of an archer to show the necessity of accepting the things that are beyond our control. Cicero tells us that an archer has a number of things under his control. He decides how much and how intensely to practice and train. And he selects the bow and arrows that best fit him and the target he is aiming for. He has carefully aimed at the target as best he can and he has chosen the precise moment to release the arrow.

If he is a conscientious archer, he has done the best he can up until the moment he releases the arrow. Will the arrow hit the target? That is clearly not up to the archer. The wind could shift and blow the arrow off course. If the target is a deer or other animal, the target could move.

The archer has “deliberately chosen to attempt to hit the mark, and he has done the best he can do within his power to accomplish the goal. But he is ready to accept a possible negative outcome with equanimity, because the outcome was never entirely under his control.” [Pigliucci]

“To accept a possible negative outcome with equanimity.” I would go further and say let us move past positive and negative labels and accept all outcomes with equanimity. Let us live in the best ways we can, understanding that the outcome is never entirely under our control. That is embracing the Excelerated Life™!


Excelerated Acceptance™ – identifying and accepting the things you are struggling with — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™ .


Footnotes:

[1] Many people are struggling with difficult and painful circumstances. It is not my intention to minimize or disparage those situations with this trivial example.

[2] The other options for dealing with a problem are: solve it, change your perception of the situation, or be miserable.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201202/got-problem-the-good-news-is-you-only-have-four-options [See Resources.]

Resources:

Hall, PhD, Karyn. “Got a Problem? The Good News Is You Only Have Four Options.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, February 7, 2012. Web. October 18, 2019.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201202/got-problem-the-good-news-is-you-only-have-four-options

Hall, PhD, Karyn. “Radical Acceptance.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, July 8, 2012. Web. October 16, 2019.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201207/radical-acceptance

McWilliams, Peter. You Can’t Afford The Luxury Of A Negative Thought.

Newberg, MD, Andrew. How God Changes Your Brain.

Pigliucci, Massimo. How To Be A Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy To Live A Modern Life. New York: Basic Books, 2017

“The Four Noble Truths (Explained).” Zenlightenment. www.zenlightment.net,,Web. October 21, 2019.
https://www.zenlightenment.net/buddhist-principles/four-noble-truths.html


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