The concept of acceptance has been a tough one for me to grasp when it comes to mindfulness – for a long time. The term acceptance is hugely common in guided mediations and among yoga practitioners. Accept reality, accept how you feel, accept how others treat you, etc.
Maybe I am a finished type A, but I am not about raw acceptance, I said. I want things to be better, I said. There’s more to life than just accepting what’s there in front of me. To me human nature is all about agency, about having a direction and doing things that I feel will be good for those around me. Acceptance and growth seemed at odds. It’s some kind of nihilistic concept that Nietzsche’s last man would appreciate. I am much more about Nietzsche’s will to power. Will to power is another misnomer. It sounds like something a megalomaniac would be after. In actual fact, it is the will to overpower yourself and your circumstances in order to do something meaningful. I think we will all agree that’s a pretty important force. In a sense though, we are resisting reality rather than accepting it when we are moving in a chosen direction.
I think I am not the only one misunderstanding the term acceptance. In fact, it nearly put me off the whole mindfulness thing. I don’t want to wallow in the sometimes pathetic present with no prospect of things being better. I had this anxiety that if I accept things, I will lose my drive to grow. From what I gather, that’s a very common thing among people who are driven to achieve. Then I figured it out.
It’s an order problem. You need to accept things before you can figure out what you want to do about it. Frankly, I think acknowledge is a better term. You need to acknowledge reality before you can change it. Mindfulness is all about being closer to reality. It’s about breaking down assumptions and models and coming back to the hard data of what’s around us.
Our desire for things to be a certain way may cloud our perception of how things actually are. The point isn’t tolerating bad things and hoping that the universe will put things right. The point is being fearless to examine reality and not run away from it. To see the wood and the trees. To not take it personally when you realise that things aren’t perfect.
I am not sure that’s how Buddhists approach acceptance. However, it doesn’t really matter. I am not here to practice a religion or do things as instructed by some high priest – no matter how en vogue they may be. I am much more interested in figuring it out for myself – and for the rest of us who are trying to make a change for the better.