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What is Acceptance?

Along with Mindfulness, Acceptance has become a new buzz word and yet, in my experience, many people seem to misunderstand what it means to accept things as they are. I hear people saying, “It is what it is,” and while that sounds very Zen and as though those individuals are at peace with the struggle they face, I often wonder if they are using it more as a way to avoid feelings, just as we may do when we go have a drink after a hard day at  work. To act as if something does not bother us is not the same as accepting that struggle for what it is, at least not in the way that phrase was intended to be used.

Instead, true acceptance is a recognition that whatever is occurring is occurring regardless of whether we want it to or not. This is not an attempt to dismiss our emotions around the challenge at hand or act as though we are not bothered by such a challenge. True acceptance, on the contrary, allows everything to exist as it does, including whatever emotions or resistance or thoughts we may have about the situation. From this standpoint, life happens as it happens and our response to life happening is perfectly understandable given what we know at the time. Acceptance, then, is an exercise in seeing things clearly so that we can begin to practice responding as we choose rather than reacting as we have always done, being a slave to our conditioned and automatic responses.

So often, it seems as though we are living in a culture of instant gratification and avoidance of painful, or potentially painful, experiences. What is missed in this approach to life is that the struggle to find our way through a particular challenge or the pain associated with that struggle can be our greatest teacher if we can just allow ourselves to pay attention to the lesson. The greatest example of this is a child learning to walk. If anyone has ever witnessed this, they can clearly see that there is a great struggle in this endeavor, and yet to avoid that struggle or find a shortcut to circumvent the process, would do a great disservice to that child. We may all be able to see that for that child the struggle is super important and that child is the only one who can overcome his challenge. Furthermore, that child never seems to give up or waiver because they failed the first time, they simply get back up and try again. However, as we get older, we somehow forget what it is like to be that child and lose sight of how important overcoming challenges is to our growth and well-being.

There is no doubt that we all experience challenge and struggle in our lives, and while each of our individual struggles may be unique to our life circumstances, we all share a common bond in the pain that is life. While this may sound bleak, I offer that it is quite the opposite as it is not in the circumstances of life that we discover our potential, it is in how we choose to respond to such circumstances. In this way, acceptance helps us to be present to what life brings to us, free from judgment or fear or rejection so that we can begin to find solutions to our dilemmas and navigate our way through them and soak up any lessons we can learn along the way.