Notes on Acceptance
“If you understand, things are just as they are. If you don’t understand, things are just as they are.”
– Zen Proverb
Generally speaking, until more recently, Western psychology has focused on cognition and behaviour, whereas Eastern psychology has placed a greater emphasis on working with inner emotional states. Thankfully, more and more, contemporary mental health approaches are putting it all together and recognizing the interdependence of thoughts, behaviours, and emotions without having to claim the importance of one over another. And yet, in our Western world, a cognitive-behavioural emphasis prevails at the forefront through tempting promises of formulaic fixes. Cognitive and behavioural approaches to mental health hold immense value, but on their own, the coolness of their objectivity leave people missing the warmth of feeling seen in the subjectivity of human experience. Beyond influences of Western psychology, because our natural human inclination is to want to understand ourselves, our experiences, and why things are the way they are, an over-commitment to cognitive processing or over-analyzing our behaviour can be particularly alluring and lead us astray from connecting with our inner emotional states. Without meeting our emotions, our analytical minds only take us so far, our insight is limited, and although we might find momentary relief in some degree of rational understanding, we continue to carry the weight of what we feel. As the proverb goes, “If you understand, things are just as they are. If you don’t understand, things are just as they are”.
Embracing emotional feedback for the sake of our wellbeing is directly connected to the notion of acceptance because emotions are here and now, rather than in an imagined future or within an unmet resolution to an ongoing challenge. But acceptance can be mistaken as an elusive place of arrival that sounds appealing and idealistic, leaving us wondering if only we were the Buddha, we might get a taste of it. So, what is acceptance, really? Acceptance is a practice rather than a place of arrival, and a continuum rather than a dichotomy. Acceptance along a continuum is a fluctuating experience of resistance to our inner states on one end all the way over to meeting our experience whole-heartedly on the other. In reality, we find ourselves along the continuum, on one end and the other, and there and back again (and again and again). The good news is that we do not need to be the Buddha for acceptance to be accessible to us. Acceptance is not synonymous with ever-lasting happiness, contentment, or clarity, nor is it a kind of transcendence of the human experience. Rather, acceptance is a greater embodiment of the human experience- of precisely what we are feeling without an underlying agenda for our emotional experience to be different than what it is, nor for it to have to remain the same. Acceptance is a practice of being willing to experience the discomforts of being human as much as we are willing to experience the joys of being human. It is not an empty reassurance with ourselves or from our loved ones that pulls us further away from the truth of our inner states, nor is it a relentless positivity that tends to be overly endorsed these days at the expense of the honesty of our emotional feedback. Living with the wisdom that acceptance is a practice rather than a place of arrival, we can relax a little more- even if just a little- knowing that we’re doing our best. We start to see that acceptance is being with how things are, whether or not we like how things are. Acceptance is a freeing of ourselves through an inward permission to feel what is really right here in our hearts with the wisdom that whatever is, is as it is, and whether we understand that or not, things are as they are.