When Acceptance Is Hard

We will always face situations that we find distressing, aggravating, troubling, infuriating, sorrowful, or heartbreaking. Many of these we have no control over. However, we have a choice to accept or to “fight against reality”. When acceptance is hard, try to remember you have a choice. Choose the path of acceptance.

Title Photo by Nathan Cowley

“The Big Rock: A Parable of Acceptance”

Once upon a time, a young man was given a small piece of property by his father. A main “feature” of the property was a huge rock that rose up higher than the small house that Jack, for this was the young man’s name, had built on his land. Not only was it ‘way bigger than Jack’s house, but it stretched along the entire border of his property.

On the other side of the rock was a little town where Jack secured a job. It was a good job that he enjoyed and which paid well, but every morning Jack had to hike all the way ’round the rock to get to town. And every evening, he had to walk all the way ’round the rock to get back home.

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The soil on Jack’s property was rich and he had a nice garden where he grew many kinds of flowers and vegetables. He gradually expanded his garden until it butted up against the rock and could go no further.

Jack began to resent the rock. “If this rock weren’t here,” he’d think to himself every day on his way to and from work, “I wouldn’t have to walk so far to get back and forth to town. If this rock weren’t here, I would have a good view of the town. If This Rock Weren’t Here, I could expand my garden; maybe grow extra produce to sell in town. IF THIS #&^K@%* ROCK WEREN’T HERE, my whole life would be better!”

Interestingly, the bigger Jack’s resentment of the rock grew, the bigger the rock seemed to grow. Every day, Jack thought about how much he hated that rock. And every day, the rock got a little bigger. Soon, the rock was the size of a mountain and stretched for more than a mile. One day, Jack became so angry that he ran out and kicked the rock as hard as he could. He broke his big toe. The rock grew a little more.

Jack had had enough. He limped into town. It took him a couple of hours now because he had to walk so far around the rock. When he got there, he bought dynamite. He would blow the rock to smithereens!

Jack set off the dynamite but all it did was blow tiny chips of the rock into Jack’s garden. The little chips began to sprout like mushrooms into new rocks.

Jack slumped to the ground and sat on one of the baby rocks. He was worn out, his toe ached, and he’d spent all his money on that useless dynamite. He thought about all the problems the rock had caused him over the years. How he hated this rock! His life was in shambles, all because of a stupid rock!

Jack gave up. In fact, he spoke to the rock. “I give up,” he said. And one of the baby rocks disappeared. “After all, you were here first.” And pop, another baby rock disappeared. “I don’t know why you keep growing, but I know now that I can’t get rid of you.” Pop, pop! More babies disappeared. “I’ll never get rid of you.” Dejected and worn out, Jack stood up, went inside, and dropped into a deep sleep.

In the morning, Jack went outside and was surprised to see that all of the baby rocks had disappeared, except the one he’d been sitting on last evening. Confused, he sat back down on the new rock. It was unexpectedly comfortable and was beneath a tree he liked to sit under. He sat there, drinking his coffee, and reflecting on the situation. For the first time in a long time, he didn’t feel hatred toward the rock. It was just something that was there. And it obviously wasn’t going away.

Jack knew he couldn’t leave. He still liked his little house and his garden, even though very little grew in the shade of the rock. Besides, he’d spent all his money trying to destroy the rock and couldn’t afford to leave anyway. He wasn’t sure what he would do in the future, but for now, he decided he’d just keep working at his job in town, walking back and forth around the rock. And he’d focus on his garden. One thing was for sure. He was over hating the rock. It wasn’t worth it. It took too much out of him and only made the rock get bigger. That day, as he walked to work, it seemed to Jack that the rock was a tiny bit smaller.

Over the next weeks and months, Jack focused on what he could do. He learned about various plants that thrived in the shade and he soon had extra vegetables to sell in the market again. He began to notice how fit he’d become from walking the extra distance to town. And while the rock blocked his view of the little town, he noticed for the first time that there was a lush valley on the other side of his property, filled with beautiful wildflowers. Every morning, Jack went out and sat on the little rock under the tree, enjoyed his coffee, and thought about the good things in his life.

Slowly, slowly, the rock began to shrink, till eventually, it was back to its original size. Jack grew old in the shadow of the rock. He continued to sit on the little rock that had grown from his attempt to destroy the big rock. In that peaceful place, the rock grew smaller as Jack’s heart grew a little bigger day by day. [1]

What Is Acceptance?

“Radical acceptance can be defined as the ability to accept situations that are outside of your control without judging them, which in turn reduces the suffering that is caused by them.” [Hall]

People often consider acceptance as agreeing with things that happen or saying “It’s OK”, or giving up. These feelings are normal but they are not necessarily accurate.

Acceptance means we see the situation, the rock, our lives, our world as it is, not what we wish it were. And while we may not like it, we realize that the first step in changing is to see and accept things as they are.

When acceptance is hard and we resist, the situation can appear worse than it is. The rock bigger than it is. Our lives and our world not as wonderful as we wished.

Why Acceptance Is Needed

No one wants to have to endure pain, or to fail, or to experience sadness or loss, but that’s part of living. It’s exhausting to fight against reality and it doesn’t work. As Byron Katie has wisely stated, “When I argue with reality, I lose. But only 100% of the time.”

The Buddha told us that when we meet with misfortune, two arrows come at us. The first arrow hurts. The second arrow hurts us even more. But here’s the thing. As the Buddha explained: “In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”

Not accepting adds suffering (the 2nd arrow) to the pain and delays healing. When acceptance is hard and we resist, we are apt to shoot that second arrow at ourselves, adding more pain.

acceptance is hard

Practicing Acceptance

Acceptance is an active process. It isn’t passive – that’s not accepting, it’s capitulating. Like any other skill, Excelerated Acceptance™ requires practice. And like most skills we learn, it isn’t easy but it is possible and while it may never get easy, practice can show us through experience that we are capable of accepting the things that happen.

The Stoic practice of taking a broader perspective can help. In A Handbook for New Stoics, we read that negative emotions “grab hold of your attention and ability to reason, practically forcing you to focus on the perceived problem. With this narrow view, the problem will seem much larger than it actually is.” [Pigliucci] Got any rocks overshadowing your house and garden? Practice on the daily small stuff; don’t wait until a situation when acceptance is hard. Like most things, it gets a bit easier with practice.

To practice taking the long view, try these steps from the Handbook:

  1. Set a timer for 5 to 8 minutes. Close your eyes, get quiet, and take a few deep breaths.
  2. Remember a mildly upsetting event that has occurred recently, perhaps today; or a recurring event that frequently troubles you.
  3. Note how distressed you feel, on a scale of 1 to 10.
  4. Shift your view to a higher vantage point. Consider your problem in relation to the vastness of time, or the vastness of space, or in relation to other, bigger issues.
  5. When the timer goes off, take three more slow, deep breaths, then open your eyes. If it helps, jot down any thoughts that come to you.

When acceptance is hard, don’t focus on what should or shouldn’t be or what’s fair or unfair. This is counter to acceptance and counterproductive. Instead, try to step back and take the long view: Will this matter in a hundred years? In ten years? In a year? Next month? Next week?

When You Can’t Accept

(Please NOTE: I am neither a medical professional nor a licensed counselor. If you are struggling and simply cannot accept or move past a situation you are dealing with, I urge you to seek the assistance of a qualified professional.)

When it seems that acceptance is too hard, remind yourself that you can’t change what has already happened and that denial only prolongs the agony. If you think you simply can’t accept the situation or event, use your imagination – if you could accept, what would that look like; how would you feel?

Remember, you’re not necessarily accepting something forever. Situations change, people change, you change. But although things may change, acceptance involves giving up the desire that things will be different.

Do What You Can Do

Suffering is the pain you can control. [Hall] It’s the second arrow that we often shoot at ourselves. So do what you can do.

If it is something you can control, change it, fix it, solve it.
If it is something outside of your immediate control, change your perspective. See it as a challenge instead of a problem. Let the obstacle that blocks your way become the way.

Don’t try to hide or ignore your feelings. Feel what you feel and accept your feelings. Try this technique. [Hall]

  • Relax, take a few deep breaths.
  • Observe the thoughts that bubble up – “It isn’t fair.” “It isn’t right.” “I hate it.” Let each one go.
  • Practice an acceptance statement – “It is what it is.” “I can’t change what has happened but here’s what I can do.”

Or use the Stoic practice of detachment:

Understand that some things are under our control, some we can partially control, and a good many are outside of our immediate ability to control.

Begin to focus on what you can control (primarily your thoughts and emotions) and don’t resist what you can’t control and cannot change.

As you become adept at accepting a particular situation, you can then explore the lessons that you might glean from the experience.

You Have a Choice

We will always face situations that we find distressing, aggravating, troubling, infuriating, sorrowful, or heartbreaking. Many of these we have no control over. However, we have a choice. We can “fight against reality” or we can accept what is.  One way leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness, even depression. But one eventually brings peace and the ability to change what we can change and to do what has to be done.

When acceptance is hard, try to remember you have a choice. Choose the path of acceptance. This is the path to your Excelerated Life™!

What are you struggling to accept right now or what have you struggled with in the past?
What is one step you have learned that could lead you toward acceptance?
Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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

Read more about the Excelerated Life.


[1] Adapted from “The Big Rock: A Parable of Acceptance” by Sara Faivre. See Resources.


Faivre, Sara. “The Big Rock: A Parable of Acceptance.” sarafaivre.com. sarafaivre.com,. Web. April 22, 2023.

Hall, PhD, Karyn. “Radical Acceptance.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, July 8, 2012. Web. April 22, 2023.

Pigliucci, Massimo and Gregory Lopez. A Handbook For New Stoics: How To Thrive In A World Out Of Your Control. New York: The Experiment, LLC, 2019.

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