Acceptance. Is that some kind of pill to swallow? Something to make you shut up, give up, or stay out of the way? Or a means of genuine peace?
Popular current philosophy, as well as major religions and traditions share acceptance as a central concept. For example, Ekhart Tolle believes we must “accept the present moment unconditionally,”1 Christianity speaks of accepting God’s will and Buddhist practice leads to self-acceptance as one is.
Acceptance has incredible power and meaning for me. It is taking things for what they are, as they are. It’s accepting the reality of facts, situations, emotions, personalities. It is what is – right now. It is what has been. And I often see acceptance having a gratitude chaser.
Three examples from my life are acceptance in terms of the current health environment, relationships, and it is the foundation of my personal quest for peace and purpose.
Current health environment: It is what it is.
Covid-19. It’s here. It’s now. We are fortunate on Vancouver Island that our numbers are low, in part because of a culture that tilts toward community-mindedness over individualism, with a significant number of people following the advice of experts. Nonetheless, Covid-19 is part of our current reality.
Personally, it means maintaining a safe bubble of just 3 people right now: my husband Bob, his elderly father and myself. Any other social interaction is at a social distance. It means no longer being able to hug my adult children and other close family and friends. Not being able to interact intimately with my grandchildren: kissing, hugging, running around, catching and tickling them; snuggling up for story time and laying back while the youngest naps on my chest.
Acceptance brings with it the contextual reality that I am privileged in so many ways, such as having loving relationships with family and friends, including a husband who is my lover and best friend; living in a relatively safe country, on a beautiful island; being educated and of European decent in a society that unfortunately still places privilege on that; being healthy, having a home… So, for me, acceptance also leads to gratitude.
Relationships: They are who they are now.
Acceptance involving people I love involves respecting their autonomy.
The most difficult example is where I love someone who struggles with addiction. When I first found out about it, I went into interventionist hyperdrive. I was scared out of my wits and desperate to extract this person from what I saw as the opposite of everything I hoped for them. Over time, I learned to accept that person having their own life path, complete with their own decisions, struggles and successes. That doesn’t mean being less ‘there’ for that person. I trust they know I am here to help, but not to try to live their life for them.
Gratitude here comes with realizing an even deeper respect for that person. And it has helped me accept the autonomy of other people I love as well. We each have our journey. In some cases, it means enjoying people I care about even more; in others, it is accepting that a close relationship has harmful effects and taking steps to take care of myself.
Individually. I am what I am now.
Acceptance and peace are linked for me personally. My past includes challenges and events that give rise to what at times feels like a swamp of memories and emotions. As you can imagine, that’s the opposite of peace! I’ve found it difficult accepting the past for what it is, the past. Instead, for years it was like something hanging around my neck, ready to tighten and squeeze the spiritual life out of me when something triggered an emotional memory.
Acceptance of what has happened in the past as facts helps. Almost more helpful is acceptance of the emotions as they arise when triggered. I’ve learned to acknowledge them, accept them, and let them go. Even as I write this, my heart pounds sharing such an intimate detail. So, acceptance for me isn’t some kind of airy-fairy notion that gives me blind peace. It is a grounded, “I am here. This is now.” It is accepting that some things in life suck, and that life is at the same time beautiful.
And then here’s the gratitude chaser. I find increasing levels of peace in accepting myself and the facts of my life. I feel. I love. I have an enormous list of things for which I am grateful, such as just being alive, here, now. Having the opportunity to live and learn, to love, to experience nature, people, life. To have rich relationships with amazing people.
Acceptance has become a central practice in my life; one that brings peace. It’s the will to accept what is, as it is, whether painful or pleasurable, temporary or permanent. It isn’t giving up. It’s acknowledgement of what is or has been. It isn’t about giving up control. It takes control to focus and accept. And it leads to a better understanding of where action is appropriate.
Acceptance for me has a gratitude chaser. Mostly it is through its freeing effects. Through acceptance, I can let things go. Because acceptance includes all facts, sensations and emotions, I am more aware of the varied richness in life, such health and love. Practicing acceptance opens me up to so much of what is, and much of that leads to gratitude.
1 Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Novato, California: New World Library, 1999. Print.