Radical, (incredible?) acceptance

Ah, acceptance. A concept to which I return, over and over, just as reliably (and maybe as often) as Old Faithful.  And, what’s funny to me about it is that each time I find myself in a non-accepting place, and I remember to practice acceptance, it always surprises me! Every. Time. I get quasi-hysterical, up in arms, shaking my fists at the sky, and then it dawns on me – acceptance, stupid.

Perhaps the seeming novelty of the concept, when it occurs to me, is part of its power.  The minute I get there, I feel relief. I can literally feel my shoulders relax, my forehead unwrinkle, and, almost always, a smile comes to my face.  Oh, right, I have to accept this, because I cannot change it.  What an excellent idea!  Just last night, I was in such a willful place.  There is a person who was once in my life for whom I can always, with just the thought of her, summon intense rage.  She so utterly infuriates me that even as I write this, sipping green tea and having been in a perfectly good mood, I feel the knots in my stomach. I feel the heat rising in my face. I feel the tightness in my shoulders.  The urge to fight is strong.  Then, a moment of wisdom.  I cannot change her.  I cannot change the past. The only thing over which I have any control at all is my reaction to her.  Acceptance.  And now, relief.

Why do we (Buddha, originally, then Tara Brach and Marsha Linehan) call it radical acceptance?  Well, I guess I can’t speak for Tara or Marsha, and certainly not the Buddha.  I can only speak to the meaning of radical to me.  The things we have to accept radically are the things about which acceptance seems like a radical idea.  Forgive her?! Why?!  After all she did to me? Why should I have to accept? Why can’t she accept me? Why doesn’t she treat me with loving kindness?  Surely she knows how wrong she is.  I need to tell her.  I need to tell her how wrong she is, how she’s hurt me and everyone else; maybe if I say it in just the right way, using just the right words….I don’t accept. I don’t. I won’t.

And now my back hurts.  Just like that.

When it finally occurs to me, I have to laugh.  Here I am, a therapist who spends all day talking about mindfulness, acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness….and then it’s some kind of news flash – acceptance.  I have to accept.  Not for her.  For me.  The acceptance is for me.

I’m compelled to ask you: what are you not accepting in your life right now? What gets your shoulders all in a knot?  Is there room to problem solve?  If yes, by all means, problem solve.  If not, then accept.  Over and over, again and again, accept, accept, accept.

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Therapy, at its finest, provides a place for us to know ourselves without judgment. My practice is centered around the idea that change is inevitable,
and that we can shape our lives in ways that allow us to both accept the roots of our history and prepare for the growth of our future.