All the foundations of mindfulness practice are important and they all inform each other. Acceptance, for me resonates as one of the most important and sometimes the most difficult foundation of mindfulness practice. Acceptance has an easy definition but certainly not an easy one to put in to practice. Its definition is to see things as they actually are in the present moment. Sounds simple enough right? But, how many times are we held hostage by our thinking because we want things to be different than they are?
Even when accepting things for how they are, it may be painful to fully accept. For example if we do not look how we would like or struggling with grief and loss, we have a tough time moving in to acceptance. And, of course we are not always able to do so immediately. It takes more time for some things than others. But, sooner or later we have to come to terms with these things as they are. We often times go through emotions of anger, denial, or suppression before we get to a place where we can accept what is. John Kabat Zinn often referred to this foundation as "coming to terms with things as they are." The coming to terms part being the important piece of acceptance.
If we are faced with the significant life events of loss, grief, dealing with an illness, etc. we can see that coming to terms is a process. This process can be a healing process if we move in a direction of acceptance on one hand and a destructive process, if we continue to resist the fact of what is manifesting in our lives in the current moment on the other.
We can see that in our everyday lives, even the small things that come up can have us wasting a lot of time and energy when we resist things because they are not how we want them to be. Just as in other foundations, I want to caution that this is not inviting us in to passive resignation of the things in life we can change and make better for ourselves and others. Rather, this foundation is reminding us not to try and force things to conform to the way we want them. When we do this we find ourselves often times swimming upstream instead of swimming with the current of how things are. When we push against, we have more difficulty and may actually prevent change from happening. When we accept and flow with, we may find ways to bring about change that align with how things are, thus making it easier to bring about change.
Acceptance ties in with the foundations of non-striving and patience in that we do not have to wait until things are the way we want them to be in order to start engaging in the behavior that invites change. This may seem pretty obvious, but it is rather hard to do. I have plenty of clients that want their depression or anxiety to go away so that they can start living their lives again. But, in the mean time they are are putting their lives on hold. We can still work on change in the midst of adversity. If fact, what keeps us stuck often times is fighting against the change we have to make because we are having an adverse reaction to change.
Now is the only time in which your life takes place and so it is the only time we can do anything to bring about any change. If we accept the invitation to be fully who we are in any given moment, this acceptance is truly an act of self-compassion. When we start out this way we are creating the very conditions of change that are meaningful and lasting. Again, acceptance does not mean we need to like everything, nor does it mean we are satisfied with how things are in our lives at time when change is needed. Also, acceptance is not learning how to just tolerate everything as it is. If we resign ourselves to an attitude of "well, I guess that is just how it is and I cannot do anything about it," then we may miss an opportunity for making a change for ourselves or those around us. This would leave one certainly feeling hopeless. In the mindfulness approach called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), there is a process of allowing a client to lean into a sense of hopelessness. But, this is not a hopelessness that nothing can be done, rather it is a hopelessness that all of the ways we have tried to avoid our feelings, emotions, and situations have not worked...especially the kind of avoidance that waits until everything is how we want it before we act. The invitation at this point is to start getting out there and doing what means something to you no matter what is happening or how you find yourself at the time. We are much more apt to act when we have a clear view of what is happening to us and around us instead of acting through a filter of our fears, judgements and the resistance to change.
Our meditation practice cultivates a sense of acceptance because we practice with each moment as it is in its entirety. We quickly learn through our meditation practice that the fight we regularly put up is an exhausting fight of trying to impose our opinions, ideas, and judgements on to ourselves and on to other people. There is a wonderful sense of freedom that comes from being receptive and open to the fullness of each moment. I personally find this a sure way to have an intimate relationship to my life and all that is going on around me.
Think for a moment. What if, and I mean this truly; what if this moment was the only moment you have to live? If it is the only moment we have to live, then what a tremendous responsibility we have to live it to its fullest. That means that even in the midst of some adversity, this is our life. It cannot be any different than it is right now in this moment. Maybe in the next moment, our life will be different, but that depends in large part on our ability to act now even in the messiness of our current conditions.
Acceptance is the doorway to intimacy with our lives because even if our mind judges things to be bad or life is somehow coming up short of our expectations, we can just be with how things are in this moment...and in this moment every part of life is here and in full attendance. When we are also in attendance with all that is in this moment, we are living fully.