My son, who is nine, recently asked me to define the word “acceptance”. I told him, “Acceptance is when we welcome people or things just as they are. No matter what.”
“But what if you don’t like the thing? Then you don’t have to accept it, right?” he responded.
I told him, “Well, not exactly” and we proceeded to have a conversation about what acceptance might look like in real life. After talking with my son about the idea of acceptance, I got to thinking about how most adults define and apply acceptance, and I realized that many of us have the same perspective as my nine year old son. Many of us seem to think that if we don’t like something, we do not necessary have to accept it.
Many of us tend to think that acceptance is akin to love, preference, or promotion. But that is not exactly true. When we accept something for what it is, be it a person, an idea, or an experience, we are simply accepting and acknowledging it just as it is. We are not saying that we like it, that we love it, that it is good or bad. Rather, we are maintaining an open mind and saying to ourselves “it is what it is, and it is part of life”. Or better yet, “Que sera, sera.”
In the book Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach likens acceptance to the practice of saying yes. To say “yes” to the people and experiences we encounter in life is nothing more than accepting and acknowledging the presence of what is happening. To say “yes” is to say that something exists, that it is real, that you have a reaction to it. To say “yes” may be to say “welcome” with open arms, or it may be said begrudgingly or insincerely. We each say “yes” in different ways, at different times, depending upon what we are trying to accept.
And that is okay. Because what matters is not what exactly is happening, but rather how we are relating to the experience, the people involved, and the meaning that is derived from that relationship.
Consider how it might feel to say yes to the imperfect, messy lives that we live. To accept and acknowledge our inner experiences, our appearance, our relationships, and the people, ideas, and events that we encounter. Think about how liberating that feels, compared to resisting or denying their presence in our lives. Reflect on the inner peace that accompanies the expansiveness of “yes” compared to the limitations and dreariness of “no”.
Think for a moment what you might need to accept today and engage in the practice of saying "yes". Do your best to accept what life has to offer you, and do what you can to make the most of it. Perhaps you cannot welcome all things with into your life with the same ease and contentment as others, but do try to open yourself to what life has to have offer you, finding the best in it, and subsequently, the peace that comes with acceptance and saying “yes”.-El