“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole–like the world, or the person you loved.”
~ Stewart O’Nan
Have you ever said, ‘This is unacceptable!’ or ‘I can’t live this way!’? How did you feel when you said this? I’m fairly certain that you didn’t feel calm, tranquil or serene. You probably felt angry, upset, defeated, depressed or in despair.
What was unacceptable? Was it something you could change? If so, did you make the changes that you could or did you choose to stay with the feelings of powerlessness? Did you identify as a victim or complacently choose the status quo because it’s familiar?
I found myself in just such a place many years ago. The life I was living was unacceptable to me but fear kept me stuck in the status quo. I chose to view myself as the powerless victim for a very long time because it was easier to blame others rather than accept responsibility for myself. It was easier to live in denial rather than taking an honest assessment of myself and doing some much needed inner work.
One day, however, I was given the opportunity to take action. I’d had those opportunities before but had always rebuffed them. This day was different somehow, so I said “Yes.” My journey into change, transformation and acceptance began that day. I looked at those parts of me that contributed to my “unacceptable” situation and slowly began to change the one thing I could – myself.
As I dove into the work of uncovering, discovering and changing, I learned more and more about myself. I learned how I had adapted and survived during my childhood, acquiring mindsets and behaviors that used to protect me but no longer served me well. I also learned that I simply cannot change other people and that I can’t save them from themselves. Trying to do so is like trying to embrace a thorny cactus. The result is pain and heart-break. I must accept the cactus for what it is, appreciating it and enjoying its’ beauty carefully. I don’t waste time trying to “de-thorn” a cactus and I don’t try to force it to live in an unsuitable environment. I let it be what it is – a cactus.
I also had to learn to accept myself. In her book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach, Ph.D., says “Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is.” This doesn’t mean accepting the unacceptable if there is something we can do to affect a change for the better but when change is beyond our capacity, acceptance is the key and it’s also an inside job. It’s an inside job because I have to be willing to accept what I can’t change knowing that this will often mean feeling disappointment, discomfort and even pain. Sitting with it, knowing it will pass, letting go. And, sometimes that means letting go of people, places, things and behaviors that are not good for me no matter how much I relied on them or loved them at one time, and, yes, that’s radical.
When I was going through this metamorphosis, I had no idea that this type of radical acceptance would be the key to my freedom. Liberation feels good. What do you need to accept?
“The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.”
― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha