Photo Credit: Israel Gil, Unsplash.com

Written by Luke Iorio
August 23, 2019

I’ll freely admit I had a big challenge with the word and notion of acceptance.

For so long, acceptance meant resignation, mediocrity, giving in, settling for less, and so on.

If I accept this situation, it’ll never change. If I accept the way that person treats me, I’ll be letting them get away with it. If I accept these mistakes, I’m leading myself (or others) to not be better . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.

That was my story.

And now, I can accept (see what I did right there?) that I simply had it wrong.

At the Root of Acceptance

At its roots (and I truly mean as its etymological roots), acceptance is actually about receiving, graciously—as if you’re receiving a gift.

This understanding developed two important associations for me. First, that in receiving, I’m just letting something be what it is at this time. It doesn’t mean I can’t ever do something about it; it simply means I’m accepting it for what it is, without judging it, making it more or less than it is, or wanting it to be anything other than what it is. And that brings me to the second association—it’s a gift, meaning it’s something that presents you with a benefit of some kind and asks nothing in return. 

When I began looking to simply see and experience the situations and relationships in my life as they were, without judging or trying to change them, and I saw those situations and relationship as gifts in some way—whether I could see what the benefit was at the moment or not—I became more patient, less judgmental, less cynical, and (the real surprise to me) less stressed.

These qualities and experiences led me to see more possibilities. It was as if blinders for seeing people and situations were removed and I could see each of them more fully and more wholly.

Part of what was going on, perhaps a big part, was that I was becoming more psychologically flexible—meaning that I didn’t need the present moment to be a certain way, I didn’t need to judge or change it immediately if it wasn’t something I particularly liked or wanted, and instead, I could sit, receive, and truly connect to whatever this moment, this experience, this relationship was that was unfolding right in front of me (and even within me).

I was able to remain flexible with my thoughts, feelings, and actions/reactions which kept me from having a challenging stress response or avoiding or pushing an experience away. This opened me up to a whole new range of possibilities—some that I wouldn’t have seen previously because I’d closed off my mind from even seeing them and some that were revealed simply by sitting, allowing an experience to wash over and through me, and then coming out the other side, realizing my fears or concerns (which would have previously prompted reactions) were unfounded, and instead I have a newfound appreciation and understanding for what I just went through.

This has taken me years of pursuits into mindfulness, meditation, and consciousness studies to arrive at my current understanding and flexibility—which I’m positive is still only scratching the surface of my growth and practice of acceptance. 

Can we ACT our way into happiness?

Part of my continuing journey includes being informed by learning more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (also referred to as ACT). ACT is a mindfulness-informed model for therapy, coaching, and training (among other applications that are continuing to develop), which has been at the center of more than 3,000 studies researching its effectiveness across a range of uses and applications.

In his One Idea Away interview, Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D., the pioneer behind ACT, shares his perspective on acceptance as receiving and then what comes of accepting our more challenging emotions and moments. It was through those moments that he was able to say “never again will I make myself [and my experience] my own enemy. I’m going to stand with me—the deep me, the true me, the whole me . . . and not the mask I put on, the personality, or show I put on.”

So much of my early story of not accepting acceptance (which was really not accepting the way I was experiencing life) was born from a mask. I had a role I wanted to play out, a persona to wear that was tough and would rise to the occasion—even though a very different story was playing out within me.

As Steven and I discuss, when you are able to make that pivot—meaning to never again make yourself or your experience your enemy—you free up tremendous energy that you no longer have to put into worrying about whether you belong, fit in, or whether this will work out okay.  Instead, you pour that energy into being the whole person that you are and connect that with the wholeness of people around you, and you know instantly that you belong—with no masks, preconceptions or need to earn our place. “That’s our birthright and it’s only our chattering monkey mind within that doesn’t get it . . . yet!” Stephen adds.

As for me, I continue this journey of creating a more connected and fulfilling life, encouraged by how the wisdom of traditions from the past few thousand years and the science and research of today are intertwining and illuminating more and more of the path.

Header Photo Credit: Israel Gil, Unsplash.com