acceptance

Acceptance (Part 2)


Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness.

Eckhart Tolle

 

I introduced the basic approach to acceptance (and a short example of how to do it) in my previous post. I want to stress here that this practice isn’t easy. You’re attempting to retrain your mind out of default patterns of thinking, which it’s been carrying out automatically for years. Think of it as well-trodden roads or pathways in the mind. Acceptance practice is actually creating new roads, new mental pathways, and it takes a little time to adjust.

This practice can be applied in every day modern life to enhance peacefulness and calm, and cultivate emotional intelligence and maturity. And it’s also part of a rigorous spiritual discipline designed to bring your entire ego into conscious awareness. (In the latter case, it’s seen more as a temporary tool that gets you to a particular level of spiritual development rather than as a permanent mode of being.). It’s only a question of how far you take it.

And so one of the major critiques of acceptance (as it’s come into the West via the mindfulness movement) is that it will turn all of us into sheep. I heard this critique a lot in the corporate arena when mindfulness programs were suggested as part of employee enrichment. The crux of the argument is that if you teach people about acceptance, you are encouraging passivity and conformity, thereby potentially condoning and perpetuating abusive dynamics.

We are a culture of doers, fighters, changers, and carried out to its logical end, this practice would mean that you just accept everything, allow everything, never complain, never set limits, never hold people accountable, and never take any corrective action. If you just accept everything, you would basically become totally apathetic to the world around you. You would allow all kinds of bad things to happen, and you wouldn’t do anything about them. Something that doesn’t really jive with our “I’m gonna change the world. I’m gonna make a difference” mentality.

This is a valid concern. I worried about this too in the beginning.

It would seem this way – if you just allow everything, then you’d never do anything about anything. You’d lose all motivation to change anything or work towards anything. If you just allowed everything to be what it is, worked internally to come to peace and contentment, then nothing would ever get done. You would be complacent and unmoved. You would allow evil and injustice to reign. You would end up homeless, penniless, on the street with a shopping cart. Your life, and the world at large, would go quickly down the drain…

But, in practice, the result is actually quite shockingly different. (The critique comes from the outside, from people who aren’t regular practitioners, and so they don’t understand the nuance of what actually happens internally over time.)

I’ve taken this practice to the extreme over the last few years as part of my spiritual discipline. And what happens over time is that you come to a place of emotional equanimity about everything. You don’t have many emotional responses to things the way you did before. You are, in essence, undoing the source of your emotional triggers. And what you reach is a sort of peaceful, consistent state of contentment, without needing to apply any further effort. (You’re not repressing or denying any emotional responses – you actually cease having them.). What grows within you at the same time though is courage, emotional fortitude, and a sense of your own integrity and self-respect. The practice challenges and dissolves the egoic overlays, while strengthening the authentic self within. What results is a calmer emotional body, resting on strength of character. 

Emotional reactivity, whether it’s expressed or suppressed, wastes both physical and spiritual energy. It’s the reason that all spiritual traditions ask you to work on maintaining emotional equilibrium and stability.

While different traditions go about this in different ways, in my view, you can’t maintain emotional stability by force or control. You can’t dominate yourself into calm. You have to go to the roots of where the reaction comes from – the subconscious belief system – and do the work there. In effect, undoing the source of the trigger, addressing/healing that particular piece of your psyche, means that the next time you are confronted with that particular stimulus, you won’t have a reaction. (Or if it’s a large wound, then the reactions will lessen and lessen over time as you continue doing the healing work.). 

You’ll observe what’s happening, but you won’t feel an emotional response in the body. (This is huge when it first happens for people – they can’t believe the difference!). And as you have less and less reactions, you are actually conserving physical and spiritual energy. You are becoming stronger and more fortified.

Someone might say something disrespectful, and you may not like it or appreciate being spoken to that way, but your emotional body doesn’t respond. There is no racing heart, no fight or flight, no boiling blood, just a calm clarity that allows you to say “hey, I don’t like being spoken to that way, please stop it.” Which is an interpersonal skill most people are too uncomfortable to cultivate these days. 

Acceptance doesn’t turn you into a sheep; quite the opposite. It actually helps strengthen you sense of self, while your emotional body remains at rest most of the time. You will still like and dislike things. You will set boundaries with people (lots of them, more so than ever perhaps). You will still go to work, and pay your bills, and shop for groceries, you’ll just do all of it calmly and peacefully, without the emotional roller-coasters all the time.

The difference here is that when you do set limits or hold people accountable for stuff, you don’t do it in a frenzy of emotional reactivity. As Rudolf Steiner explains you do it with the same emotional tone as if you were advocating for someone else who has been hurt or offended, rationally and dispassionately.

You discuss your feelings with complete calm and clarity. It’s not a passionate dramatic fight, where you say all kinds of things that you later regret. You aren’t abusive or hurtful to the other person. You don’t escalate the conflict. You don’t lash out. There is no angry retort or sense of vengeance – you don’t want to “get him back” for what he said. Because you aren’t really affected by what this person has said.

You know that whatever they’re doing is their own stuff. You don’t take it personally – meaning you don’t interpret the words or actions of others as a reflection of your self-worth. You accept that this is what is being said to you in this moment, over which you have no control (try as you might, you really can’t control other people), and you have a peaceful, firm, yet compassionate response to the offending person. You can choose to respond, how to respond, or not to respond at all. This is emotional intelligence at work, in practice. 

With emotional equanimity comes actual freedom of choice, and self-control.

But what about the passionate action for change? What about making the world a better place? What about standing up to injustice?

Well, what I’ve been shown over the last few months is that those things don’t go away. You don’t become apathetic to the world. This kind of emotional equanimity allows you to move through life, and do lots and lots of things, without being depleted by the toxic nature of other people or the situations around you. It allows you to retain an internal stillness, that keeps you from wasting physical and spiritual energy in emotional reactivity. It allows you to take lots and lots of inspired action (for good), time and time again, without fear of risk or failure. It allows you to make peace, the right way. And it allows you to stand up to people (who are behaving badly) without fear. It gives you to courage to do whatever is in your integrity to do.

(Another important inquiry to do first though, is to look at what within you is motivating you to change the world. An honest look inward will surprise you. You will find that a lot of that is your own unhealed material projected outward. My facebook friend Lila Haris explains this beautifully here).

This doesn’t mean you never get angry or upset. There are certainly situations where you have an appropriate response, but it’s a lot less often, a lot less dramatic, and it lasts for a much shorter time. You may feel sad, or hurt, or upset if a situation calls for it, but with acceptance you’ve cut short a lot of the unnecessary suffering. And you’re one step closer to forgiveness. If you choose to use anger – it isn’t abusive. It’s not meant to hurt the other person. And you are not swept up in the emotions; you use it carefully, with control, like you would a fine instrument. The anger doesn’t control you, you control it.

It is true that anger and passion have fueled lots of beneficial social movements. It is undeniable that lots of rights and liberties have been fought for, and secured, through the emotional force of people who have been wronged. And their anger, and pain, and rage is then catalyzed into social action. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need all of that unruly passion to make a difference. (I would argue that that’s a dangerous way to go about seeking social justice – in actually, it means keeping people in anger, fear, and rage, in order to accomplish the goal, which feels very manipulative in my heart.).

Emotional energy that is rooted in ego – the one that burns hot and seeks vengeance, or seeks to stop injustice immediately and at all costs, isn’t just irrational; it’s also unjust, imprudent, and untrustworthy. It can lose control quickly, and cause even greater harm and injustice in its response. It is hypocritically, the very same evil it purports to combat. Once it’s triggered, it is impossible to satisfy that drive, and it leads to extremely unjust results. (This is why angry violent mobs are dangerous and scary – their egoic emotions are riled up and there is no satisfaction or de-escalation possible).

And as any activist knows, justice and sustainable change both take a lot of time and come slowly. They require calm, deliberate, patient and steadfast effort over time. Emotional energy is the wrong fuel to use for that effort. It burns out quickly, and when the results aren’t immediately forthcoming, despair sets in and demotivates the entire operation. Instead, using the practice of acceptance, coming to terms emotionally with what is, coming to peace in the emotional body, and then working long-term towards the goals is the much saner, healthier, and more effective approach. 

All of our greatest leaders taught us that, and you can see it now, in action, with the wise leadership at Standing Rock. To sustain the fight against injustice you need emotional resilience. You need calm cool resolve that doesn’t deplete you, physically or spiritually. Far from turning you into a sheep or a doormat, acceptance gives you the emotional resilience of a marathoner, rather than a sprinter, to fight the good fight (whatever that means for you).

Acceptance doesn’t lead to apathy, as the criticism suggests. You are still motivated to do things (often very motivated), but you do them with a different kind of energy – an energy that doesn’t burn out, and doesn’t burn you out. You stand up for what’s right, and you take action against injustice, but you do it with internal peace. A peace that doesn’t deplete you, so you have more energy to continue standing up and to continue taking action.

 

Acceptance

One of the basic universal teachings in almost all spiritual and esoteric traditions is learning the practice of acceptance. Acceptance is the allowing (and even celebrating) a person or situation precisely as it is, without trying to change them/it in any way. It’s quite a challenging practice when you actually begin applying it to people and situations that you find unacceptable.

But that’s precisely the point. It’s easy to accept good things. It’s not so easy to accept the stuff we don’t like.

Through the practice of acceptance, you are able to see all the places that you are not in acceptance. You try to be in acceptance, and you begin to notice that in lots and lots of situations, you’re not. You just can’t. (This is where the gold is!) In the contrast, in those places you cannot accept, you are able to see just how much you try to control or affect your surroundings and why. (Hint: it’s always fear).

It goes something like this. Imagine that you’ve run into someone you know, and don’t like. You notice yourself tense up within. You notice how you’re anticipating something unpleasant and bracing yourself for what’s about to happen. There’s dislike, but underneath the dislike is a vague sort of anxiety. And so this is the perfect opportunity to engage this practice. You acknowledge your feelings and then you go inward:

  • I don’t like this xyz quality about this person. (Do one quality at a time).
  • How come?
  • Why does it bother me so much?
  • Is this a quality that I have?
  • Can I think of at least one scenario where I’ve displayed this quality? At least once? (I promise you, it’s in there. If you’re honest, you’ll find it.)
  • Is this a quality that I’d never allow myself to have? Why not?
  • What is my relationship to this quality? Why?
  • Where did I develop this relationship to this quality?
  • Who else do I know that has this quality?

And you can go further and further inward with this line of inquiry… If you stay with this long enough, and are both curious enough and honest enough, you will unearth some really interesting things. What you find will lead to many many ah-ha moments.

The internal intention is to allow your existing beliefs and feelings space to grow and change in the discovery process. If we stubbornly stick to our existing beliefs, and make arguments that support our position in response to these questions, nothing will happen. We have to actually soften up a little bit and allow this discovery to show of different kinds of truths, different perspectives, and different parts of ourselves which we may not previously have seen. 

So in general, when you find yourself not in acceptance, you ask:

  • What is it, in this person, in this situation, in this moment that isn’t acceptable and why. And you go as far inward as you wish.

And then, after you’ve had about ten ah-ha moments with this, the next steps are learning how to allow the person, the situation, the moment to be exactly what it is, and to find why it’s good that it is so.

  • Why is this objectively bad thing, actually a good thing? Don’t silver line it, it’s not about finding a speck of good in something bad. It’s actually turning the whole thing into a good.

The mind really really hates this part of the practice. Every time I ask people to do this second part they tell me immediately that there is absolutely positively nothing good about this person/situation/moment.

I hear you (all of you!) but that’s the point.

This practice of acceptance is one of the tools of self-discovery and transformation of consciousness. Using this practice you come to find all the hidden judgments and beliefs that you’re carrying around in your subconscious. You can find a bunch of ego structures and a bunch of shadow elements. It’s really a very powerful tool. But you have to be willing to soften your position, and allow this process, in order to find those hidden things and to create more space within you. 

And as you bring those things up to awareness, you have the power to change how you feel about them, if you wish. If you choose to change and let them go, you become more and more loving and accepting in a way that you never imagined. By accepting things you thought were unacceptable, you become happier, more loving, more kind, and then more able to go about doing whatever needs to be done. (Note – acceptance does not mean passivity, but more on that later). 

The practice of acceptance is also a great tool for retraining the mind to a more allowing and less controlling pattern of thinking.

There is actually very little that is within our functional control in life. Wanting to control everything comes from fear – it’s a lack of trust and faith in the universe, rooted in trauma. It’s often a lot of bad experiences which form a mistrust of life. Then we begin clinging and controlling, trying to manage the unmanageable. 

It is also a misunderstanding of cosmic paradigms to believe that only good things should happen. If you believe this, then you put all your effort and energy into trying to control outcomes, and keeping the bad scary future things at bay. But life doesn’t actually work that way, on our terms, and so the whole endeavor is a waste of energy. If you live life trying to control everything, you suffer. (It’s actually resistance to what’s happening that is causing the most suffering). If instead you can learn to live in a more allowing and accepting state of mind, you suffer a lot less.

I will leave you here with a tiny bit of Jung on this subject.

There are so many brilliant moments in Jung’s work. It’s hard to highlight one without mentioning at least ten others. But I came across this specific quote yesterday, which encapsulates so many important ideas.

We can get in touch with another person only by an attitude of unprejudiced objectivity. This may sound like a scientific precept, and may be confused with a purely intellectual and detached attitude of mind. But what I mean to convey is something quite different. It is a human quality – a kind of deep respect for facts and events and for the person who suffers from them – a respect for the secret of such a human life. The truly religious person has this attitude. He knows that God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass, and seeks in the most curious way to enter a man’s heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the divine will. This is what I mean by “unprejudiced objectivity.” It is a moral achievement on the part of the doctor, who ought not to let himself be repelled by illness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow-sufferer. I do not in the least mean to say that we must never pass judgment in the case of persons whom we desire to help and improve. But if the doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is.

The quote is from a talk he gave, which was later published as Modern Man in Search of a Soul. (Or vice versa, I can’t be sure which came first).

The work of acceptance (first of self, and then of the other) is the only path. It’s not a matter of preference. Acceptance is the very heart of love. It is the highest of mystical truths. It is the pillar upon which peace, freedom, empathy, compassion, dignity, respect, and humility rest.

It is also the only way to heal…

Acceptance and tolerance are not the same thing

People often confuse acceptance with tolerance.

To accept something does not mean to tolerate it. 

Tolerance is “to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.” Tolerance is to endure with forbearance. It carries a negative quality. Tolerance requires patience, causes frustration, and drains our vital energy. Inevitably, tolerating too much of something, ends in some kind of explosion when we “just can’t take it anymore!” 

Acceptance, on the other hand, is a welcoming. It’s a positive emotion. It’s a seeing the goodness, benefit, correctness of a situation or condition. It is taking something we believe to be negative, and fundamentally altering our inner feelings about it. 

The distinction is so important.

Tolerating something is allowing it to be, and trying to ignore it. Acceptance is looking deeply at the truth of a situation, and making positive interpretations of what’s there. Not just a silver lining, but the entire thing.

Acceptance is “yes! Please.”

Tolerance is “ugh. Fine.”

It begins with ourselves, accepting aspects of ourselves we don’t like, and finding why those aspects are actually positive. Then looking at aspects of others, and finding why those aspects (which we seem not to like) are also positive.

This is not an easy practice. Our minds are not trained to do this by default. It takes a significant effort to look inward. To see what is being resisted. And to bring it into acceptance.