Week 3: The importance of accepting what is. How acceptance can transform our internal reality.
After the Sunday Yoga class, I was disappointed by my competitiveness. I realized that during the practice I compared my postures (asanas) with the ones of others. Unhelpful thoughts popped up such as ‘the person on the right is more flexible’, ‘the ones on the left are way more advanced with their practice’, and so on… It all came together, hindering me to stay present with my practice. Feeling a bit helpless, I went to my yoga teacher, saying “I have a question about mental challenges during my yoga practice. I am competitive by nature and it gets badly triggered when I do yoga in the studio. What shall I do?” My yoga teacher responded: “Yoga is a mirror. It shows you who you are. This can be confronting. But fighting won’t help you here. It is like hitting a wall. The impact of the wall will hit you back. So instead, try to allow the emotion to be. Observe it, be curious about it, and it will resolve itself.” In other words, she invited me to accept my emotions instead of pushing them away.
Acceptance in psychology is widely defined as someone’s action to accept the reality of a situation, without attempting to change or protest it (see also definition on Wikipedia). In other words, seeing reality as it is. This is not the same as approving. It does include that we are acknowledging what has happened or happens. Life brings up numerous situations in which we would rather prefer another outcome. This often leads to frustration, anger, complain, sometimes even resentment and despair. As such, radical acceptance is an effective technique because fighting something that we cannot change often amplifies our emotional reactions.
During my research, I stumbled upon an insightful illustration from psychologist Dr. Jodi Richardson about two different ways of dealing with rain (see image below). On the left side, you can see a mental fight against the reality that it is raining. This results in an emotionally loaded narrative such as “My day would be better if it wasn’t raining. My day is ruined…” As such, we are fighting the rain, and blaming it for our emotional reaction, for our misery. We seek to find the cause outside of us. To the point that our state of wellbeing depends on whether it rains or not.
On the right side of the image, we see another reaction. It rains, “yup”. There is no judgment involved, no fingerpointing. It is about accepting what is. Being in the here and now, without putting any narrative or story to it. In that scenario we are not a victim of the circumstance (i.e. the rain) – we just accept it as part of life.
How did I experience acceptance during this week?
I am currently looking for apartments in Amsterdam. My search process started very slow, and I did not spend much time seeking ways to find one. In a recent coaching session, something deeper showed up, indicating that I have some old traumas with moving, which blocked and paralyzed me. Instead of blaming me for not having done much for the apartment hunt, I started accepting this reality. But also accepting that it takes time and patience for me to find a place. In this context, the latter is not an excuse for not having found an apartment yet. It is about acknowledging what is happening internally. That’s important before jumping right into action. Looking within is a prerequisite for me to find a healthy way of dealing and integrating this traumatized side of mine… In such a state of acceptance, I can look with regained energy and focus for a place in Amsterdam. It is an agreement with my self, to appreciate and validate my decisions and actions. This feels uplifting and encouraging, liberating you could even say…
Accepting your internal experience – your thoughts and feelings
I think the cornerstone of acceptance lays in accepting your current experience in the present moment. So if I feel deeply sad and hurt, I am not running away from these emotions but rather feel it fully and let it sink in. Even more powerful, I can look at it from an open and curious mind. What is happening in my body right now? Where is that feeling located? In other words, I put attention to it. This can only start with a level of acceptance, without denial, without a new narrative that I would prefer to hear. And as my yoga teacher said, don’t try to hit the wall, observe it with an open mind, and suddenly this unbearable and threatening wall resolves itself.
Ready for the next post?
In the next blog post, I will write about conscious living. Something that accompanied me intensely in 2019 and 2020.
Sources that I used for this text
Dr. Jodi Richardson. What is acceptance? Retrieved 20.09.2020 from https://www.facebook.com/DrJodiRichardson/photos/yup-acceptance-acceptanceandcommitmenttherapy-emotionalintelligence-anxiety-anxi/1316200475228858/.
Margarita Tartakovsky (2018). What it really means to practice radical acceptance. https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-it-really-means-to-practice-radical-acceptance/
Steve Taylor (2013). The power of acceptance. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/201304/the-power-acceptance
Tara Brach (2019). Radical Compassion. https://www.amazon.com/Radical-Compassion-Learning-Yourself-Practice/dp/0525522816
Wikipedia. Acceptance. Retrieved 20.09.2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance