What acceptance really means
Very early in my yoga practice, I started setting a dual intention. It’s typical for a teacher to ask their students to define an intention at the beginning of the class, and carry it through the practice.
I’d close my eyes, and think:
Acceptance, and persistence.
Persistence, because it represents the “push” mindset, the go-getter, the do-not-give up way of living.
And acceptance, for the “let go”.
Two opposing forces that I’ve come to love pairing, because they represent the “push, push, push & let go” approach to life that has served me so well.
Persistent is easy. You keep going. You try. You insist. You don’t give up.
persistence: firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.
I thought I had a just as clear understanding for what acceptance means.
I thought acceptance was being okay with everything.
Whatever happens, “it’s all good”; and not being shaken by it meant I’d mastered acceptance.
That got me into massive trouble.
Because overtime, I’ve come to believe that the ultimate goal of all this inner work was to never feel anything bad.
The ultimate acceptance master does not care about anything that hurts them, does not feel anything other than peace and joy.
When I’d get angry, sad, overwhelmed, it would mean I wasn’t not accepting.
I’ve serendipitously come across several resources as I was ripe to understand that I had that all wrong.
The wonderful Andy Puddicombe defined the concept in a more practical way in the Headspace course on Acceptance. Instead of looking at it from an abstract perspective, Andy shares that:
Acceptance is letting go of resistance.
In his 10 day course, Andy guides us through meditation sessions centered around the question:
Who, or what, are you resisting in your life right now?
I realized I had been resisting a whole range of emotions (for years).
Anything labeled as “bad”, I tried to flush down with no further notice. I had been resisting feeling like shit. I had been resisting feeling overwhelmed. I was pretending to accept it all, but the reality is that I had been trying to cherry pick my emotions based on how “good” I considered them to be.
But real acceptance is not being on a high all the time.
It’s the absence of resistance to uncertainty, failure, overwhelmingness.
Like a leaf falling down from a tree and being whirl-winded in the air before landing on the floor, and being launched into the sky again by another blow.
When I realized all of this, it hit me like a truck. I’d often thought that I was surprised at how much anxiety I’d been feeling lately, because “I used to never feel anxious”.
The reality was that I was pushing down a lot of negative emotions until they erupted with no notice because of the built up pressure from resisting them, not acknowledging them and unconsciously trying to pretend like everything was always fine.
She talks about how suffering is caused by the resistance to pain:
The core of every emotional issue is the belief that it’s not okay. It’s not the presence of it that’s harmful; it’s the resistance to it that ultimately screws us up.
It’s no wonder I fell in that trap. Everything around us encourages us to seek comfort and avoid discomfort like a plague.
What’s the first thing we do when we’re in physical pain? We reach for pain killers.
Something seems broken, we need to fix it, asap.
I grew up being told that I shouldn’t cry for futile matters, and that everything was fine.
Learning to let go of the resistance helped me completely reframed what acceptance really means.
And this is still an on-going practice.
Actually, this will always be an on-going practice.
The way it has shown up in my life is that I’ve been crying a lot more. I’ve been noticing when I feel restless, or sad, or angry, and sitting with it — oh, interesting, I feel mad.
With no further action needed than acknowledging, observing, and letting it be until the wind blows it away.
This is one of the reasons I’ve decided to fast this year. Practicing to sit with hunger, with being tired, with not feeling at my uttermost energized state
— by not resisting physical emotions, and simply observing how they feel,
has been an incredibly powerful way to flex the acceptance muscle.
What has that led me to?
Feeling clearer on a lot of things in my life.
A handful of negative coping behaviors that seem to have vanished.
An enhanced perception of everything — including the best emotions. Because not resisting negative emotions seems to help me enjoy positive emotions with a lot more detachment and joy.
A sense of flow and ease with myself, and a growing trust that I’m leading the most authentic, full and radiant life I can.