„It’s just like that, accept it at last!” Who has not heard that before, from parents or annoyed friends? This “advice” is given very quickly, but it is not easy to follow. It’s hard to accept that someone else’s carelessness has knocked down your favourite cup. It is hard to accept that no one of the old friends replies to the party invitation at the new place of residence and then you sit alone in a foreign country. It is very difficult to accept that a friend, a pet, a family member is suddenly gone or has fallen seriously ill.
What prevents us from accepting something is an inner resistance. “How could she / he just do that?!” “Why does this happen to ME?!” We don’t want to acknowledge reality and therefore fight it. This resistance, which often manifests itself in a lack of understanding, annoyance, or blame, is actually just a protective mechanism. The real reason is often the irrational hope that everything will turn out well in the end – if we just close our eyes and do not see the misfortune, maybe it’s not even there, right? Ignoring reality is supposed to protect us from profound emotions, from sadness, disappointment, loneliness. In order not to feel this pain, we unconsciously flee quickly into outward emotions: anger, blame, ranting. This way of dealing with reality is very tedious and can become a pattern that pulls us down and lets us fight everything all the time. We suffer from the reality of life, and yet we have to live in this world.
There is another way of dealing with situations or people who do not act the way we would like or expect: acceptance. Acceptance is at the heart of the mindful attitude. It demands that we actively turn to a situation and realize that it is exactly what it is right now. Acceptance does not require that we especially like what we see or experience. It only requires the willingness to accept reality. As long as we are unable to do so, we will constantly try to change things the way they suit us better. This distance between wishful thinking and reality creates suffering and stress. Actually, it’s not life that’s bothering us – misfortune or difficulties are just part of life – but our unwillingness to come to terms with reality as it is. Acceptance has nothing to do with resignation or being passive at all. It is a deeply active attitude to life that enables us to perceive reality and the way we handle it. It is a feeling of openness, of non-striving, of appreciation instead of rejection. It does not stop us from wanting to change a situation or to improve the world if that seems important or possible to us. But by training acceptance, we create a space in which we can make our own decisions in clear awareness of reality.
Acceptance in everyday life
By accepting, I can acknowledge that the cup is now broken, and then allow the sadness or disappointment of carelessness to be there. I can accept the reality that my friends – for whatever reason – are not ready or able to drive the slightly further way to visit me. I can allow the sadness, the pain, the disappointment to be there and feel them in the body. I can also accept that illness and death are part of life, and that it can also fall on me and my friends and neighbours. I can choose to feel the pain and the fear, letting them be there and leaving again, just as everything comes and goes.
The more we allow ourselves to accept reality, and thus all the feelings that are caused by events and people, the more can we learn – step by step, without going beyond our limits – that we can be sad, anxious and lonely, without the world breaking apart. We are allowed to cry, to mourn, to feel the knot in our hearts. We can allow the whole range of human emotions and experience them in the body. All this trusting that everything will pass again (and will come and then go again); trusting that we can be with everything. This gives rise to resilience, confidence and inner stability.
“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining, is to let it rain.”
Henry Wadswort Longfellow