The Art of Acceptance

Greetings all and happy fall, unofficially.  I’m still celebrating the end of summer myself, but with the appearance of the full harvest moon, one can’t help but start to prepare for autumn.

With the changing seasons afoot, I’ve decided it’s the perfect time to talk about a powerful little word called acceptance.  We have to accept all kinds of things every day as part of life.  We accept going to school and work.  We accept paying bills and taxes.  And late at night in the quiet of our beds we even accept that death will come for us some day.  Actually, that last one is tricky.  Do we really accept it or do we spend our time avoiding it and pretending it isn’t going to happen?

A couple of months ago I started a meditation practice.  More on the specifics of that in a later post!  One of the cornerstones of mindfulness besides staying in the present moment, breathing deeply, and sitting in silence, is the idea of acceptance for all that is.  Now don’t freak out!  Luckily, it doesn’t mean accepting your current situation forever.  But it does mean surrendering to the moment and accepting it just as it is.  For me, that sometimes means accepting that I didn’t sleep well the night before and have a long day ahead of me.

To be honest, I couldn’t wrap my head around this concept at first.  What do you mean accept it?  That sounds like giving up.  That sounds like accepting hurt and pain and doing nothing about it.  On the contrary, it’s the opposite.  When we accept our current situation, we’re guaranteed to feel empowered.  We put ourselves back in the driver seat of our lives.  We allow our feelings of pain to take a passenger seat on the journey, but we do not let them drive.  Essentially, we may experience pain, but we don’t have to suffer.  And that’s a big difference.

“[Acceptance] simply means that you are acknowledging reality,” said psychotherapist Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, RSW in an article on radical acceptance published in Spirituality & Health. “You are acknowledging what happened or what’s currently happening. Because fighting reality only intensifies our emotional reaction,” she said.

And there’s more.  When you take the time to accept something, you gain the power to transform its energy.  Think of yourself as an alchemist, if you will 😉  It may not happen today or tomorrow, but your situation will change, guaranteed.  In fact, I bet if you think back, you can come up with some examples from your life.

I’ve been a runner for most of my life, but recently I had to accept that maybe my running days were over.  I’ve been experiencing heel pain, even when I walk, so running was quickly out of the question.  I started swimming instead, but still missed running.  Then I went to see a foot doctor.  I fully expected the worst and even worried about needing surgery, but as it turned out, I have over-developed calves, from running, and needed to work on specific stretches for my heel as well as exercises to help strengthen my other leg muscles.  Then the real surprise.  I was told I could still run.  After I had already given it up.  Just as I was beginning to enjoy my new activity of swimming.  Say what?  In the aftermath, I’ve decided to go for balance, running less and incorporating other enjoyable forms of exercise.  But the lesson is clear.  Things do change.  Often for the better.  But first you have to accept the way they are.

And I know what you’re thinking.  What about when they don’t change?  I came across a great quote recently by Lucille Ball.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

This resonated with me and I hope it also sparks something in you.

If you’re still grappling with the concept and need something more tangible, try this exercise:

Step 1: Imagine your pain in detail.  Give it a color.  Rank it on a scale from 1-10.  Does it have hard or soft edges?  Where does it reside in the body?  Is it flat or is it 3-D?

Step 2: Focus on your body now.  Start with your toes.  Wiggle them.  Relax your feet.  Move through each part of your body, slowly relaxing it, all the way up to your head.  Release your thoughts and even let your brain relax.  Breathe in and let go.

Step 3: Close your eyes and breathe deeply.  Focus on the present moment.  Imagine your heart is open, filled with empty space.  Imagine only the space.  Then imagine your pain AND the space.  Keep this up.

Step 4: After an increment of time, say 10 min. or more, wiggle your fingers and toes, and then open your eyes.  Now think about your pain again.  Imagine its color, size, intensity, etc.  Has your pain changed?  Does it feel different?  Even if it feels the same, how has your relationship to the pain changed?

Wait another hour and check in with your pain again.  You might be surprised how different you feel!

If you’re interested in more, check out an audio version of a specific dissolving pain exercise here.

Acceptance isn’t easy.  It takes time.  It’s an evolutionary process.  But when we begin to make space in our lives for acceptance, we open a doorway for all kinds of miracles to shine through.