What is acceptance? It is the opposite of denial, of non-acceptance. It allows us to accept reality, our own and others’ emotions as they are rather than being frustrated that the world around us doesn’t always meet our expectations.
Our expectations may relate to the way we feel people should behave or how we ourselves should be. We may expect everyone to treat us well. We may expect our government to be humane and just. We may expect ourselves to always be healthy, attractive and completely perfect.
But our expectations often aren’t realistic.
Not everyone displays genuine admiration towards us, no matter how how good we are. Government workers have the same flaws as us and don’t always act fairly. We’re not perfect and our health and beauty aren’t going to last forever.
These are facts of life from which there is no escape.
Reality acts according to its own laws; it doesn’t try to meet our expectations.
Of course, we can influence our health by exercising and giving up bad habits. But we can’t change the fact that our physical condition deteriorates with age, no matter how much we look after ourselves.
We can either accept these facts, or not; the latter of these choices only gives rise to pointless suffering, so clearly the former is better.
To some it may seem that what I’m saying is dreadfully banal. But, as I’ve mentioned more than once, many of the most valuable truths are very obvious! While delusion is often characterised by complexity, the truth is simple.
Despite its simplicity, most people don’t accept it. Remember how many times you’ve felt angry with things you can’t change? Bad drivers on the road, for example, or the arbitrary actions of your workplace management?
Yes, people can be bad and unjust and act in their own interests while disregarding the interests of others. But did you really not know this? Is it such a surprise? Of course not – everyone knows this! You just forget it each time you shout or get upset when someone is rude to you or treats you unfairly.
At these times your emotions are a reflection of your non-acceptance. It’s as if you’re shouting, ‘I refuse to accept this is the way things are; I don’t want to and I won’t put up with it, even though there’s nothing I can do about it!’ With this outburst, you become like a child having a tantrum at the bedside table because you’ve stubbed your toe on it.
The greater our expectations and the stronger their disconnection with reality, the deeper our suffering and resentment.
We hold more power over our inner world than over external reality, so when we’re unable to change the world around us, we can always adjust our perception of this world, our expectations of it.
How does acceptance differ from resignation or non-acceptance?
Imagine yourself in a boat on a squally sea. Somewhere far away the welcoming shore awaits, but at the moment all that surrounds you is the boundless, restless water.
You could start shouting, ‘Why is this happening to me? How have I ended up in this boat? I don’t deserve this!’ You could fight against the waves and curse the sea. Such actions are non-acceptance: you’re refusing to accept the situation you’re in.
After the cursing and pointless grumbling, you could throw up your hands and calmly accept your fate. Wait until you die of hunger or the gulls eat you. This is resignation.
But there’s another possibility in this situation: you get yourself together and start to row in the direction you believe the shore to lie. You’re racing through the waves, and you don’t know exactly where the shore is. You’re not snug at home or comfortable in an aeroplane; you’re in a little boat, alone in the ocean. You accept this. You proceed from where you are now, not from what should have been or from what you deserve.
For some reason, you’ve ended up in this particular situation. Why this exact fate has befallen you isn’t important. There’s no point thinking about it, crying or shouting at the injustice of it. You’re in the boat and there’s nowhere to escape to. It therefore makes more sense, from the point of view of survival, to start rowing.
This is acceptance. You accept what you can’t change – here, the fact that you’re sitting in a boat. But you also start to look for a way out of the situation. Circumstances aren’t beating you down, and you start moving in the direction of land.
Acceptance doesn’t exclude actions intended to change a situation. In other words, it doesn’t mean making no effort to influence circumstance. Acceptance implies wordless agreement with the way things are now, accompanied by a willingness to meet anything which may arise and to act if necessary.
People will sometimes behave unfairly towards you. They act upon emotions, even if their behaviour is irrational and they regret it afterwards. People consider themselves to be right, even if you can see that they’re completely wrong. People can treat you badly, criticise you without apparent reason. People may blame you for something you didn’t do.
These are facts of life which must be accepted in order to free yourself from feeling pointlessly annoyed by the actions of others.
Stop viewing conflict and highly charged situations from the position of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, or ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’. Let me explain this idea.
Once at work, a woman from personnel was very rude to me in front of our colleagues. She did this simply because she was in a bad mood. I kept silent, but it wasn’t a calm silence; it was more a feeling of confusion. I found the event deeply unpleasant.
This woman was in the late stages of pregnancy; when she finished up at work, I didn’t see her again.
For the first few days after this happened, I thought about it constantly but it didn’t bring me any peace. I was extremely offended; it seemed to me I was completely in the right and had been unfairly insulted and blamed in front of other people.
I wouldn’t have felt so affronted if I’d thought that I was to blame in any way for what had happened – the injustice of the situation wouldn’t have upset me so much. But I felt that I was in the right and I was outraged most of all by the fact that I hadn’t asserted this feeling, that I hadn’t rectified the unfairness of what had happened.
I hadn’t been rude back, I hadn’t tried to have this colleague disciplined. Worst of all, this woman considered herself to be in the right, and no one had said otherwise to her!
I found it very hard to come to terms with this situation. But then I realised that there was no point thinking about who was right and who was wrong. What did it matter? What happened had happened, and nothing would change that. My thoughts about my own rectitude were giving rise to a wave of pointless negative emotions which I felt I could only stop by applying my ideas about justice.
However, I’m glad that I didn’t do that. My retaliatory rudeness might have provoked further stress, which wouldn’t be good for a pregnant woman. It’s good that I kept quiet.
But this isn’t the only issue. Why should someone else’s overwrought nerves be my problem? Let it remain their issue. When someone starts to feel strong negative emotions due to other people’s behaviour and allows it to affect his mood, thoughts and actions, he is making others’ problems into his own.
So what if someone was rude to me? It is possible that some ‘complexities’ in this woman’s character may have become more pronounced during her pregnancy. But anyone could have been subject to this, not just me. Why should I take it personally?
Yes, people behave this way; was this really news to me? You can’t castigate each and every individual for his or her behaviour; indeed I myself am not always justly punished for doing something unfair to someone. Such is life; such is human nature.
This insight helped rid me of my inner turmoil. I felt not only happy, but free! If I’d retaliated, it would have meant that I was allowing someone to manipulate me into reacting in the way that they wanted – namely with anger and irritation.
In my view, I behaved correctly in that situation. It would have been wrong to aggravate the conflict and try to punish a women I’d soon never see again.
This doesn’t mean, though, that every situation should be handled in this way. Sometimes you do need to act.
When I started working in an office, I was pretty ‘soft’ in a pejorative sense. I let people treat me any way they wanted, and some people took advantage of this.
One of my colleagues used to shout at me whenever I made a mistake. This was how he expressed his indignation. I soon realised that I had to stop being so spineless and toughen up.
In a private conversation, I made it clear to my colleague that I would prefer it if he didn’t yell at me. From then on, all of his shouting and discourtesy stopped. I wasn’t trying to teach anyone a lesson or establish justice; I just didn’t want to be shouted at anymore, and I achieved that.
People behave emotionally; they can be highly-strung and rude. I can’t always control this. It’s the way things are. But sometimes (not always) I can influence particular disrespect directed at me. If I can make it so that a person isn’t rude to me, I will. If I can’t do anything or don’t see the point (as in the previous example), I’ll leave things as they are.
Acceptance allows you to remain calm, to free yourself of many unnecessary thoughts and emotions, and find a sensible way out of a situation if possible. Feelings of injustice, on the other hand, rattle you, make you respond to discourtesy with more discourtesy, and ultimately increase conflict. From a practical point of view therefore, acceptance is far more worthwhile than non-acceptance.
In any complex conflict situation, when you’re irked by other people, stop thinking about who’s right and who’s guilty. There’s absolutely no point in speculating about it! Don’t think about justice. Direct your thoughts and actions towards getting out of the situation, solving the conflict, and not towards restoring fairness. If there’s no way out, just accept it.
Remember the example of the person in the boat? There’s no point in cursing the ocean for trying to capsize you. It’s just a force of nature. People and their conduct, their distinct points of view, are also forces of nature. You should pull on the oars in order to deal with the forces of nature surrounding you if you can; begrudging them is utterly pointless.
Has some idiot on the road ever cut you up? So what? It isn’t necessary to overtake and beep at them. You can’t teach every idiot a lesson. Some people take pleasure imagining their supposed superiority over other drivers. Maybe this stems from feelings of inadequacy; maybe it’s compensation for childhood hurt. In any case, it’s not your problem. People behave like this and it’s not always possible to change that.
Does your husband vent his frustration at you after work? Don’t respond by getting angry. Your retaliatory
emotional reaction will only lead to your spouse becoming defensive and he won’t admit he’s in the wrong from this position. People sometimes take their annoyances out on those close to them, especially if they’re unable to control their emotions. It happens.
So instead of resenting these emotions, this ‘force of nature’, calmly talk to your husband, letting him know that you don’t want to put up with this any more. Don’t lay blame, don’t shout or have an outpouring of emotions. Focus on solving the problem, not restoring justice.
Is your month-old baby screaming? Yes, babies cry and often there’s nothing to be done about it. Children are children; accept this.
Get rid of your expectations that people should treat you in a particular way, that so-and-so should suffer for insulting you or that everyone should acknowledge when you’re right.
Accepting your shortcomings
People aren’t perfect; they make mistakes. As I wrote above, they can be unfair to others and they act upon emotions. But I’ll say again here that you’re no exception to this. None of us is perfect. Everyone has shortcomings.
Also, no one should be perfect. When people think they have to be perfect, they become disillusioned whenever reality demonstrates the discrepancies between their real self and ideal self
Some people find it very difficult to come to terms with their shortcomings; they believe that these failures are part of their nature and they’ll never be able to get rid of them. If someone tells them that they’re stupid or aren’t the greatest expert in their field, they equate it with being told that they’re completely useless.
Many people find this extremely demoralising and start to think of themselves as losers. Others come up with various tricks to delude themselves into believing they’re not as bad as they think.
In actual fact, many human qualities can be developed throughout life. A person isn’t who he’s born, but who he becomes. People with this ‘growth mindset’ (having ambition to develop their qualities) take criticism much better than people with a ‘fixed mindset’ (lacking ambition to develop, believing that they can’t change their personality).
People with a growth mindset don’t hide in a heap of illusions and self-deception about their imperfections. They accept their shortcomings calmly, because they know that it’s possible to become free of these and that personality traits can evolve. For these people, criticism from others, failures in life and personal problems aren’t reason to feel like a loser, an irredeemable deadbeat, useless. They extract valuable information about themselves from criticism and learn lessons from their failures. Criticism doesn’t immobilise them – on the contrary, it gives them the impetus to move forward.
A growth mindset promotes acceptance. Every individual can change and develop. Personality is formed during life and isn’t simply inherent.
Of course, not all qualities can be changed. If nature didn’t bestow upon you the looks of Brad Pitt, you’ll never achieve this without the help of a plastic surgeon. But so what? Superstar looks would only make you happy until you got used to them. Nor would the brain of a genius make you satisfied and may in fact just create new problems.
Happiness doesn’t come from having or trying to obtain things. It comes from accepting what you have with a peaceful heart while also striving for better! Rowing for shore, but at the same time not being tormented by the fact that you ended up in the boat in the first place.
Evolve morally and physically; remember that many traits can be developed, but also that there will always be things that you can’t change. You can allow this to cause you suffering or you can simply accept it.
Whichever you choose, it won’t change reality; but if you accept, you’ll suffer less and be far happier!
Accepting yourself is very closely related to accepting others. If you learn to accept your shortcomings, other people’s weaknesses will stop causing you so much irritation.
Get rid of your expectations that you should be better than everyone else, that you have to live up to others’ expectations, that you always need to prove your superiority or that you’re always going to be the way you are just now.
Accepting your emotions
I keep returning to the analogy of the boat and oars so that readers don’t confuse acceptance with passive resignation. When I say ‘accepting your emotions’ I don’t mean that people should just endure them, having told themselves, ‘I’m always angry, but that’s just how I am and I can’t do anything about it.’
Emotions can undoubtedly be controlled – although, of course, not always.
When I’d only just started meditating, I began to realise that I was not my emotions and that this meant I had it in my power to control them. I understood that being angry and jealous, experiencing social anxiety and having intractable weaknesses were bad because they interfered with my happiness and personal freedom. During meditation practice I made sure to exert influence on my emotions.
Sadly though, I also believed in the absolute power of self-policing. Whenever I wasn’t able to get myself together, I would savagely berate myself for behaving as I used to: feeling irritated, getting angry with people. Although these emotions started to come up less often, I’d still get very upset that I couldn’t control them all the time.
‘Sometimes I still feel angry or edgy, and I can’t do anything about it; it’s awful,’ I thought. But thanks to meditation, I managed to learn to accept myself as I am at any given moment. I didn’t lose heart; I kept believing that I could change my emotions and I stopped believing in my own almightiness. I do plenty in order to experience fewer negative emotions and better manage my own condition – I meditate, practise yoga, have a healthy lifestyle – but I can’t control everything, and that’s fine.
When I lost my temper once at some comment or other on my website, I didn’t manage immediately to curb my indignation. But so what? What happened had happened. I’m working on myself, but can’t completely influence the way things are. Everything is happening the way it should, and I accept that.
This realisation freed me from pointless self-reproach and I stopped berating myself. And this didn’t result in me managing my feelings less well. On the contrary, I began to get better at this because I stopped feeling so demoralised by failures.
Accept your emotions; don’t be upset by failures, but learn from them and strive to become better!
Rid yourself of the expectation that you can always control everything.
Accepting your sadness
People feel sad, suffer depression, fear and loneliness, and often can’t cope with these feelings. They try to resist them, but this just makes these negative emotions grow stronger and more irrepressible.
You have to accept these feelings and not run away from them. What does this mean? All emotions, desires and fears are simply energy. While they exist in this form, they are much easier to control. It is when this energy moves into the sphere of your thoughts that it becomes unmanageable.
So when you worry, the anxiety becomes much stronger when you keep thinking about failing. When you’re afraid, the fear becomes much more intense when you imagine terrible scenarios of mortal danger. Sexual desire increases when you start picturing sex scenes.
Of course, this energy also sets off thoughts, but it is within your power to stop it before it enters your consciousness. Try to look at negative emotions as pure energy, free of any thoughts or interpretations. Observe the very essence of your emotions, seeing beyond your thoughts. Accept this energy, let it inside you; don’t resist or run from negative emotions.
When you become conscious of this energy, it will simply go away, become easier to tolerate, or you may be able to send it along a different course.
This advice is good for people who often experience unpleasant emotions, feel sad or suffer from depression or panic attacks. Let your fears in. If you’re afraid of getting stuck in a lift, stop thinking about it. Observe your fears in their pure, unadulterated form; don’t think about anything and focus all your attention what you’re experiencing at this moment.
You don’t need to be afraid or to resist your fear (you also don’t have to avoid every situation that provoke fear, like moving in elevator: face your fear and accept it); let things take their own course, don’t try to control anything, don’t try to stop being scared, stop wishing that the fear would go away, just observe it, how it comes and goes. They are simply emotions, just temporary feelings. Don’t identify yourself with them. They come, then they go. That’s the way things are.
You’re feeling sad and awful? It’s ok, it’ll pass; you don’t need to make yourself feel even worse with the help of your mind coming up with all kinds of disquieting thoughts. People feel sad sometimes, then it passes. That’s the way things are: nothing stays the same. Accept this.
Get rid of the expectation that you always have to feel good and must be happy every minute of the day.
Life isn’t always fair. Fairness is nothing more than a fiction thought up by people. It is a collection of your expectations which makes you experience suffering when reality doesn’t correspond to it. Fairness only exists in your head, while reality is situated outside it! Accept this reality and stop denying it!
For example, your young neighbour is living the high life purely because he has wealthy and influential parents while he himself has done absolutely nothing to achieve this social status. He may have everything you’ve worked so hard for your whole life but not managed to achieve.
Reality constantly demonstrates its inconsistency with human ideas of justice.
The way your life will be shaped very much depends on you yourself, much more than many of you are used to thinking. But never the less, much also depends on chance, on blind luck, which are completely independent of your influence.
Such is life!
Instead of thinking how unlucky you are that your life isn’t going how you want, or lamenting the fact that you were born into the wrong family, in the wrong country, think about how lucky you are!
Things could be so much worse. I often think about my good fortune not to have been born in the era of Soviet repression. I’m not hungry and I don’t work 14 hours a day in a factory somewhere in North Korea, I’m not being deafened by shell explosions sitting in the trenches on some war front, and I’m not suffering from a terminal illness.
When I hear about these kinds of horrors, I immediately start to think that I could easily have ended up in that situation and how immeasurably lucky I am to have food, water, a roof over my head and my health. I’m not exposed to life-threatening danger every day and I’m very grateful for that.
I’m not arguing that you should endure everything around you, or stop trying to make the world a better place. No, what I want if for you to accept the world as it is, with all of its injustice and sorrow, and stop repudiating the things it shows you.
Strive to make the world better and people happier! But at the same time, accept the world as it is!
Life doesn’t always meet your expectations. This is a fact that you must accept.
Everything flows, everything changes; accept this world as being continuously formed and transformed.
Nothing is forever, everything is constantly evolving, vanishing and reappearing. Accept yourself, accept others, accept your emotions and even accept the fact that you can’t yet accept everything!
Get rid of your expectations that there should be justice everywhere and the world should be perfect.
As Voltaire said, ‘We live in the best of all possible worlds!’
All we have is the world in which we live. This world is the way it is, and it is the only one we’ve been given.