“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” ~ Reinhold Niebuhr
Practicing acceptance is essential if you want to experience a life free from suffering. It changes how you experience life and ironically empowers change. In this article, I will share what is meant by practicing acceptance, why it’s important, and 5 ways you can practice acceptance in your life.
From my readings and personal practice, I’ve come to understand Practicing Acceptance as a willingness to accept myself, others, and life circumstances as they are, to embrace “what is” whether I agree with it or not. For me, practicing acceptance is definitely up there on the maturity curve. It is an act of intentional surrender. In an article on identitymagazine.net (4 Steps to Accept the Unacceptable), Kirra Sherman provided a simple, yet beautifully articulated definition of Acceptance. She said, “Acceptance means to be in embrace of what is without resistance.” I have a sticky note on my desk of a quote by Eckhart Tolle that defines what it means to practice acceptance, and it’s been a gentle reminder to me every time I sit down to write. Tolle says, “Whatever the present moment contains accept it as if you had chosen it.” So what does it mean to practice acceptance? It is to be in embrace of what is without resistance, without fighting or strife, and allowing what is to simply be – it is what it is.
What Practicing Acceptance is Not
Whenever I explain what it means to practice acceptance, invariably someone will say, “Well what about the things that are wrong in society? Am I to accept what is wrong and do nothing about it?” Great question. Practicing acceptance does not mean you are passive and ignore what is going on in life. Acceptance empowers change. Practicing acceptance is also not an act of weakness. It actually takes great strength and courage at times to accept what is. Practicing acceptance does not mean you agree with what is, it means that you acknowledge and accept it as the present reality. Practicing acceptance does not mean that you won’t experience pain in life. None of us escapes the realities of heartache, disappointment, frustration, grief, etc., but practicing acceptance enables you to acknowledge the present condition and your emotions and then choose your response. That’s also another misunderstanding of practicing acceptance. It does not mean that you are to cover up your emotions and pretend they don’t exist or that they have no effect on you and your life. We live in a natural world with human emotions. Practicing acceptance allows you to embrace reality without resistance – embrace your hurts and acknowledge them. Do not to cover up or deny your pain, but also do not wallow in and lament your pain endlessly. In this world pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
Things that Get in the Way of Practicing Acceptance?
Practicing acceptance takes practice. There are at least four things that get in the way. First, a refusal to acknowledge what is – to deny reality. If you are in a traffic jam, your dog pooped on the carpet or your relationship ended, acknowledge it. Second, attachment to people, things or a time other than what is in the present moment. Everything that exists, exists in the present. Third, judgment of what is as either good or bad. Labeling can affect your ability to see a situation clearly and objectively and influence your response. The key is to accept what is just as it is without the labels and without resistance. And fourth, denial of impermanence. Everything is constantly changing, and change is imminent. If you deny that things are always changing, it can cause you to become stuck in what was, instead of what is.
Why Practicing Acceptance is Important
There are benefits to practicing acceptance. By learning to accept what is, you release the illusion of control and that releases unnecessary stress in your life. It can be powerful to come to the understanding that not everything is yours to fix. Remember the Serenity Prayer: some things are in our control, and some things are not. Being wise to know the difference is everything. Practicing acceptance allows you to shift negative energy to positive and more creative energy. You are energy and how you use your energy can either deplete you or rejuvenate you. When you accept what is, you are now in a position to open yourself to new possibilities and opportunities that you might not have seen before. Another benefit that practicing acceptance gives you is inner peace. When you learn to let go of the things you cannot change and that includes people, the struggle subsides. When you let go of limiting beliefs, judgments, emotions, and anything else that no longer serves you, you open the door to a greater sense of peace, and you avoid suffering. Another benefit is personal growth. By practicing acceptance, you will learn to observe things more objectively and find the teachable moment, the Aha! moment in the circumstance. Ask yourself, “What am I to learn from this experience?” “How can I grow from this?” “How can I help others grow?” I’m sure you’ve heard that circumstances tend to repeat themselves in our lives until we learn what we’re meant to learn for our growth. Circumstances provide lessons that deepen our understanding of self, others, the world and our place in it.
The greatest gift you can give yourself is self-acceptance. Accept yourself just as you are. Remove the judgment and labels, and quiet the inner critic. Let go of perceived expectations and embrace yourself without resistance. When you practice acceptance of self, you experience freedom, and that opens up so many possibilities for you to explore how you want to show up in the world – and on your terms. If this is a challenge for you, I recommend Dr. Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance.
5 Steps You Can Take to Practice Acceptance Immediately
You can begin practicing acceptance with these 5 steps:
- Acknowledge and accept what is. Whenever you look at yourself, others, or a situation and feel that something is wrong, pause. Name only what is true and accept it as being the present condition without resistance. Recall Eckhart Tolle’s quote: “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”
- Remove judgment. Refrain from naming the thing you’re resisting as “good” or “bad.”
- Let go of attachments. Separate yourself from the thing, person, or circumstance you’re not accepting so that you can see if for what it really is. And remember, change is imminent.
- Determine your response. Is it something that is within your power to change? If so, do it. If it’s not, then your response is simply to accept what is without resistance.
- Practice mindfulness. Practicing acceptance is so much easier when you commit to being mindful – present and conscious of your body, feelings or emotions, and thoughts, being able to see things as they are, and with clear consciousness.
“True acceptance is one of the most powerful and life changing practices you can choose for your life journey.” ~ Kirra Sherman