Acceptance: Opening to What Is

Photo by Aleksandr Ledogorov

Acceptance is one of the seven interdependent fundamental attitudes of mindfulness that are consciously cultivated during practice, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn. In his book Full Catastrophe Living, he calls these attitudes “the soil in which you will be cultivating your ability to calm your mind and relax your body, to concentrate and to see more clearly.”

Acceptance means opening to, rather than resisting, what is. We often confuse acceptance with resignation; however, resignation suggests hopelessness, a passive “giving up”, or quitting. Acceptance also doesn’t equal liking – we can accept what is without it being our preference. Acceptance is an active and intentional choice of allowing, rather than resisting or struggling against, that which is already here.

For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain. ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Finding acceptance can only happen when we recognize that much less is under our personal control than we believe. How can we be fully in the driver’s seat when everything is interdependent and impermanent? Even the very cells of our bodies are dependent upon and influenced by the workings of other cells and organisms in and around us – and they are transforming every day! Being aware of the ever-changing, complex interplay of experience and existence allows us be more accepting of ourselves and others.

Acceptance is acknowledging what is already here without intention to change; however, it is interesting that acceptance often eventually leads to the most profound and lasting type of change human beings can experience – second order, contextual change. First order change involves strategies that can temporarily decrease discomfort and create stability. Second order change involves a shift in our very perceptions, fundamental beliefs, and approach to living, which can result in a complete resolution of suffering.

When we fail to accept the reality of a situation, we close ourselves to important information that might have allowed us to make wise choices. However, when we open to the way things are, we make ourselves available to new insights. This can expand our options and we often discover that things are actually workable just as they are.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. ― Lao Tzu

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