Acceptance: nothing changes, everything changes

One of the biggest problems with acceptance as a practice is that it is often presented as a means of bringing about personal change and improving your life.

The idea is that if you accept yourself for you who are, your life will change for the better.

On one level this is true, if only because acceptance is such an unfamiliar and unusual path for us to take that it is all but guaranteed to bring about a different set of outcomes.

But it is also true that everything in life is always changing anyway. If you begin accepting your experience or your reality, then you will feel less conflicted about the normal ensuing changes to your life. Life will seem to change for the better, because it is always changing and you now feel better about it.

A third aspect of change is that our refusal to accept our experience often hinges on consistent themes. I won’t accept my reality because I am not rich and powerful enough, or because I haven’t met the partner of my dreams, or because I am deeply insecure about my status.

But when we accept our experience, those themes dissipate. We might find, all of a sudden, that our anxiety about future career prospects drains away when we accept other parts of our experience. The disappearance of those compensatory themes will often feel like a change for the better too.

With all these changes going on, it’s entirely likely that other changes in our experience will occur as well. If you aren’t walking around obsessing about power and money, you might notice things you never noticed before. People might treat you differently. You might find different motives and intentions arising in you.

So, yes, accepting your experience does bring about change. But it is best to be clear about the kinds of changes that might occur, because “self-improvement” is a potent theme for many of us, and “accept your experience” can become grist for the mill of “if I do this, I’ll become a better person and my life will change for the better!”

I think we need to balance out the overly positive messages about acceptance and change.

This experience is the only reality there is for you, and your refusal to accept it is at the heart of all the delusions and complexities that arise over the course of a lifetime.

Reality is not what you think it is. Acceptance is first and foremost about reversing the impulse to run away, to create new distractions or compensate for the perceived inadequacies in your experience.

Beware the allure of acceptance as a means of personal change. You cannot practice genuine acceptance if you are using it as a means of changing your experience. That hidden motive will undermine any attempt at accepting your experience, because it constitutes a prior rejection of your experience.

I’ve found that there are times when I cannot seem to accept my experience. In fact it almost feels as though I don’t know what my experience is, so how can I accept it? This “moving target” feeling does not respond to efforts to accept it.

It doesn’t respond, because it is already a response in its own right, to something buried a little deeper. We can’t accept things that are not part of our experience through denial or ignorance. In these situations the best we can do is accept that we are reacting to, or hiding from, something else.

Usually that ‘something else’ will appear if we turn our attention to it, then we can try to accept in turn this previously hidden element of our experience.

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2 thoughts on “Acceptance: nothing changes, everything changes

  1. Hi Zac,

    Have you heard of “acceptance and commitment therapy” (ACT)? It’s a form of “alternative” psychotherapy that has gained some popularity recently. I don’t know much about it but I think it has spiritual elements to it which might tie in with the ideas you’ve expressed about acceptance. I’d be interested to know what you think.

    Matthew

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