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What is acceptance from mindfulness perspective?

Updated: Sep 9

Have you ever thought about acceptance? If not I invite you to pause for a moment. Notice what comes to your mind and what happens to your body when you think about the word “acceptance”?

The general understanding is that acceptance is associated with “surrendering” and it's perceived as “passive.”

I remember mom used to say “You have to accept people as they are” when I was upset with what others did.

We hear “You have to accept and move on from that relationshit.... I mean, relationship”

We wish that things are different than they are rather then accepting.

It’s almost like there’s a power struggle between us and the thing that’s waiting to be accepted.

and it doesn’t sound appealing when we think about this concept, right?

Why is acceptance so hard?

I’ve observed that acceptance is not a something people with loud minds naturally or easily apply to daily life. We tend to spend too much time inside the head, rather than noticing what is actually out there.

Let’s explore together why can't we accept things the way they are easily.

First of all living beings are designed to survive, preferably with minimal effort. That's the general rule of life, and evolution doesn’t seem to care too much about the outcomes of this powerful inclination. And in line with that we human beings are wired to avoid pain and drawn to pleasurable experiences.

To sum up pain kinda rings the bells of danger, and pleasure does the opposite.

Tara Brach suggests "The default focus of desire is pleasure because pleasure is a primal biological signal for that which serves this full aliveness: safety, food, sex, self-worth, connection with others, spiritual realization."

We naturally end up with a tendency to avoid from difficult, challenging and painful experiences and also develop coping strategies.

These strategies tend to involve "resistance / fighting back" or “avoidance”, which can be a powerful skill in times of real danger. (Remember Fight - Flight - Freeze Response)

Even though most of the time the danger is not vital in the modern world, we still operate with the same nervous system. For this reason it doesn’t matter if the painful experience is an injury or not getting what’s expected or being disappointed by someone else.

Why is it hard to accept the truth? Some ideas

  1. Acceptance doesn’t protect us from feeling pain, if there’s a painful experience, it will be exposed

  2. Acceptance shows us there are things beyond our control as a person

  3. Acceptance reminds us of our own vulnerability, there's pain and sadness in the world, and nothing is permanent.

We end up creating a different reality where we believe that we can avoid pain, we can control things and we can stop change.

When we explore it deeply, it makes sense why we want to fight back or look away.

What do you think about that?

How to accept things that you can not change?

First of all, it can be helpful to remember this is bigger than us.

The bigger and the more painful the truth is we can expect the mind would take precautions to protect itself.

Noticing that it's bigger than us and it's universal experience can make it less of a personal matter.

Instead of aiming to fight against or avoid the big monster, can we take smaller steps instead?

As far as I understand, smaller steps help us to practice acceptance under the radar of triggering our nervous system.

For example when it's too difficult to accept, can we allow ourselves to feel how difficult it is to swallow?

Can we notice if we're using the "acceptance" as a cover for our actions that are harming us and others?

Can we invite some curiosity and explore with kindness instead of inner criticism?

I really like the way Rick Hanson describe the process:

"To accept the experience, try to step back and witness it; open to it in your body; if it’s very painful, touch it and let it go. Take your time, and take breaks if you need to. Resource yourself to be open to your experience. For example, calm and soothe yourself; bring to mind the sense of others who love you; have self-compassion."

If we look at it with mindfulness, acceptance is neither an active nor passive concept. It is the exploration of what’s present. Without getting involved in the fiction of the mind.

When there's less pressure, acceptance can even bring a sense of relief. I think that’s partly because the moment something becomes available to the mind's eye it's certain, there’s no uncertainty or questioning anymore. Until the next moment :)

If acceptance doesn't work for you, it’s also possible to use allowing, letting, taking, acknowledging etc.

Feel free to share what other words we can use.

If you’re curios and wish to explore this concept in a mindful, compassionate and even playful way you can join weekly meditation practices where we practice acceptance.

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