Updated: Oct 15, 2020
The mindfulness practice of accepting things as they are can create an ease and peace to life. But some things feel almost impossible to accept. What do you do then? Accepting that which you cannot accept is a form of radical acceptance. It is surrender as an act of hope.
Some things are hard to accept
I have been practicing mindfulness and the art of acceptance for several years, however, there are some things that are just really hard for me to accept. For instance, I have an overactive Critic that doesn’t want me to accept things associated with self-improvement. My Critic will come in and beat me up over just about anything. Sometimes my Critic will berate me for having an overactive Critic! So, when I’m trying to practice acceptance and find myself resisting, my Critic will step in and tell me how lousy I am at the art of acceptance. Of course, this does not improve the situation.
Recently, I was reminded of something I read from Eckhart Tolle. In “Stillness Speaks” he writes about acceptance of the unacceptable. It can feel counterintuitive, if not impossible. But I had the chance to try it out.
I was on a walk, feeling particularly vulnerable and upset. My inner Critic was out of control. Looking back, I can't believe how mean I was being to myself. I'd never say such things to someone else, let alone even think those things about someone. Part of what the Critic was saying had to do with the difficulty I was having with showing up in a very honest and vulnerable way. I was facing a lot of inner resistance and fear; then the Critic started trying to convince me that I was so lame because I couldn't make the change. I heard myself saying, "you can't even get vulnerability right..." It may not make sense, but it's the story I was telling myself. And I was feeling awful.
I started thinking about Tolle's suggestion of accepting the unacceptable and although I’m not sure this is what he had in mind, I took the idea in this moment to mean--
if you find you cannot accept your feelings/circumstance at the moment, try accepting that you cannot accept it.
So, there I was, full of physical and emotional turmoil, and I said--"I accept that I am resisting and not accepting change. I accept that I am afraid. I accept that I can't do it at this time..."
An unexpected result
The result was immediate and profound. My body and mind literally quieted. I felt an overwhelming sense of calm. I did not expect this. I'm not sure if it's something I can recreate, and I can't promise you that you'll have the same experience. But I do know that accepting the fact that I couldn’t accept some things about myself at that time was incredibly freeing.
This happened about two weeks ago. Recently, I found myself in another situation. My Critic was busy bullying me over the difficulty I have trusting myself in certain areas of my life. During this pandemic my sense of time has slowed and my desire to put my energy into social media is really low. I keep thinking that I “should” do this or that, when all I want to do is read poetry, write a little, and do some work in my native plant garden. Basically, I’m struggling with trusting my intuition to step back a bit from certain aspects of my business.
Now, I have a pretty strong Driver, and that usually helps me be persistent and hard-working. The Driver has helped me accomplish a lot of things that I’m proud of. However, the Driver has been teaming up with the Critic, and they make a formidable force. I’m beating myself up because I’m not doing all these business things that I think I “should” be doing (basically being critical of trusting myself) while at the same time, beating myself up for having the very doubts that the Critic and Driver are putting in my mind! It’s sheer metacognition madness!! I damn myself if I do and damn myself if I don’t.
Acceptance--surrender as an act of hope
Then it occurred to me: accept your struggles with this. I accept that I don’t trust myself enough in my business. I accept that I’m falling into old patterns of comparing myself to others. I accept that I don’t know how to trust my intuition. I accept the Critic and Driver, even when they cause me to sabotage myself.
And guess what? I was overcome with calmness again. It’s like all the emotional clamoring inside of me settled down. Honestly, I am a bit dumb struck that it happened again. I’m shocked that it works at all. But accepting the things I cannot accept seems to help me. And all it really takes is saying some variation of these words: "I accept that I cannot ________." Accept the place where you are at. This acceptance is a form of surrender. Not surrendering to something because you are hopeless. It’s quite the opposite—surrender yourself because you have hope.
“The ego needs resistance. The ego survives through complaining, it survives through denying, or wanting something else.” --Eckhart Tolle
I'm sharing this with you and inviting you to try an experiment. Next time you are embroiled in conflicting emotions or your Critic or any aspect of yourself is increasingly active, try saying to yourself, "I accept that I cannot ________."
If you are struggling with anxiety and can't seem to find peace, accept that you aren't able to find peace right now.
If you are struggling with motivation, accept that you are finding it hard to feel motivated.
If your Perfectionist is being to bossy and loud, accept your Perfectionist as is.
If you’re unhappy with your life and you can’t just accept life as it is, accept that you’re unhappy.
Ego, acceptance, and letting go of attachment
Much of Tolle’s work is about letting go of attachment. I wrote a bit about attachment and ego here. Letting go of attachment is far from easy. But I think you can begin the process by accepting that you have an attachment to some form (idea, desire, title, etc). I can’t always let go of my attachment right away, but I can accept that I can’t let go.
If you find that accepting that which you cannot accept brings even a modicum of peace to you, I consider that a win. And I'd love to hear how your experiment turns out. Let me know if you try it and what your experience was.