The Magic of Acceptance
“Give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other”
– Serenity Prayer
There is much literature and discussion in modern psychotherapy and ‘wellness’ circles about the power of acceptance.
One of the most prolific writers on acceptance in the modern age is Eckhart Tolle. His philosophy centres around choosing to live in and embrace the present moment. Modern fathers of mindfulness such as John Kabat Zin agree. In fact, mindfulness theory goes so far as to suggest that, since projecting ourselves into the past or future are each a product of thinking, the present moment is the only reality that we have.
The present moment is certainly the only place where we can affect change. We do this by consciously setting intentions, choosing our thoughts, processing our emotions, and modifying our behaviours. If we can learn how to choose what to think, how to feel and how to behave, we inevitably shape the outcome of every situation.
This puts us in control of our destiny.
As we have said countless time before, we cannot always change the external environment, or the behaviour of another, but we can choose how we respond to those things and that in itself, affects the outcome.
For example. If I work in and environment where the pay is low, I and my co-workers are downtrodden, and as a result everyone is disgruntled and consequently short with me, I may well perceive that ‘I hate my job and the people that I work with’. By doing this I am making an unconscious choice to hand over the reins of my happiness to my situation and those people. I give them full responsibility for my wellbeing. If the situation improves, I am happier. If it stays the same, I remain miserable. I choose to let the external situation decide my fate. I may be able to change the situation, but I am less likely to be able to challenge it if it has the power to make a dent in my reserves. However, If I choose to be happy under any circumstances, The power lies with me. I may be able to challenge the situation and improve it for myself but if my happiness relies on a positive result then the power still lies with them.
To choose to be happy in any circumstance is a superpower and requires the skill of acceptance.
How then do we cultivate the art of acceptance?
Acceptance is a choice.
When we find ourselves in a less than desirable situation, we can choose to change anything that can be changed for the better and then – we are wise if we accept what remains.
Some of the most profound writings around acceptance and choice of attitude are found in the work of Viktor Frankl. As a survivor of a total of four concentration camps during the Second World War, he witnessed many extremes of human behaviour. Not only did he report unimaginable atrocity, but he also most importantly observed and highlighted the phenomenal way in which the indomitable human spirit can endure such events through its consciously chosen responses.
This teaches us that it can be done.
If we do not accept something – we choose unhappiness in that moment. Remember that that moment is all we have. And if that thing cannot be changed, then we are trapped within our misery – by choice.
If we want to feel contentment in the present moment (which is all we have) then we must decide that everything that exists in the present, that cannot be changed is acceptable to us.
Remember also that whatever we give our attention will become magnified within our lives. This also applies to placing our focus on what we do not accept. Rather than our perceiving it as an inconvenient truth, we see it as an obstacle to happiness which grows ever larger as it is fed by our discontent.
Put simply – If we do not like something that is happening in the now, but we can do nothing to change it – there is absolutely no point in railing against it – any such behaviour is bound only to drain our energy reserves and leave us less able to give our attention to what nourishes us.
Set the intention to foster acceptance.
Make an agreement to step regularly into the shoes of your Observer Self.
This is the part of you that bears witness to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours but does not take part in the process.
Habitually invoking this part of Self allows us to make those above-mentioned cognitive cycles of thoughts, feelings and behaviours conscious and introduce choice.
Often observation alone can be enough to affect change.
Now set a time limit during which you will engage in the exercise – for example one week.
Put yourself on notice to notice when you refuse to engage in acceptance. This might look like complaining, becoming angry, becoming irritated or venting.
Watch the cycles of thought, emotion and behaviour play out and contemplate without judgement, but rather with light curiosity, how this influences the outcome of the situation.
Does anything change for the better?
Is the situation worse?
How are your energy levels affected?
How is your mood?
Now Set the intention to routinely accept that which cannot be changed.
If you are feeling ambitious you can take the exercise even further and during that time parameter, agree to accept everything.
You will need to use your integrity here and perhaps agree with yourself to make certain exceptions – for example if a colleague is mistreating a co-worker, it may be that you are required to challenge it. It is important to remember here, however, that you can challenge something without railing against it. There is a big difference between something being called out as ‘unacceptable’ and you not accepting that it has happened. Calling out an unacceptable behaviour does not require your emotional involvement, whereas refusing to accept that it has happened does.
Examine your findings.
How does the situation differ when you do this?
How is your mood?
How are your energy levels?
Moving into a place of complete acceptance means that we are not required to do anything but breathe and let things be – exactly as they are.
Absolute acceptance begets absolute Peace.
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