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Acceptance Skills

The Acceptance Exercise:

When I have a painful feeling come up, I don't avoid it. I feel it. I feel into it and track it down to it's root. To do that, perhaps I ask myself where in my body do I feel this emotion. Stomach, head, chest? Or perhaps I ask myself: when's the last time I felt like this? When's the time before that? When's the first time I felt like this?

When I get to the root, I often find a painful truth. Then I practice the Acceptance Exercise.

1) I say to myself, "I accept _____." (Fill in the blank.)
2) I listen for the spontaneous reaction that comes up from within.
3) I agree with the reaction.
4) I repeat the three step cycle.

As you go around this wash and rinse cycle, your reaction will change. It will probably begin with reactions like, "That's not fair," or "I don't want that," or "Bullshit." Over time your reaction will soften until eventually it's more like, "Oh well," or "That's the way it is," or just, "Yeah." At that point you've reached acceptance.

The wonderful thing about acceptance is that it frees you to have a new perspective, and it frees up your creativity. Very powerful.

Warning: Please don't practice the acceptance exercise with negative thinking. Please don't try to accept statements like, "I am worthless," or "I don't deserve love," etc. It's counter-intuitive but true that negative thinking is never true. Please only practice acceptance with statements that are painful but true, like "My mother didn't love me," or "Failure doesn't mean I'm a bad person," etc.

The eventual goal is to accept all of life, as it is.

Acceptance is the opposite of endurance, or "putting up with" pain. It's the amiable recognition that one is a small part of the great pattern of life, and everyone suffers. There's no reason to take suffering personally. There doesn't have to be anyone to blame. Acceptance isn't easy, and it isn't passive.

Acceptance skills include tolerance, non-judgementalness, non-authoritarianism, forgiveness, treating all people as equal in value, letting go, feeling feelings, maintaining hope, nondefensiveness, opening to pain, non-blaming.

The point of acceptance is having inner peace. It's possible to go through life cheerfully. Old pain doesn't have to linger forever. One doesn't need to be angry at life. And even fear can be dealt with by acceptance. Death, for example, is inevitable. It's part of life. And fear of death is the strongest fear most people have. And even death can be accepted.

When I lived in downtown Portland, I had a friend who lived in his van out in the parking lot of my building. He'd been a policeman in Seattle, and one day when he was on patrol he got a call to go to a fire. It was his own house, and he got there in time to carry the bodies of his wife and children out of the smoking ruins. He was so overwhelmed that he broke down and began a downward spiral. 15 years later he was a homeless guy in my parking lot. Everyone has a limit, and if they're overwhelmed beyond that limit, they break down.

But even breakdown isn't permanent. It took me ten years to recover from my son's death, but I did. There isn't anything in life that can't be accepted. Recovery can take a long time, though. Since I believe in reincarnation, I think it can take more than one lifetime. Some traumas could take many lifetimes to recover from. But I believe people are immortal and indominatable, and eventually they recover and grow through

From being a counselor, I've come to understand that the most difficult skill of all is acceptance of what is. "What we cannot change, we must accept." When I'm attacked, it's very important that I first accept the fact that I'm under attack. When I'm helpless, the first thing to do is reach a state of accepting that I'm helpless. That way I have peace of mind, inside, where it's most important. How to have peace of mind when I'm at war? Ah, very difficult. "Drinking a bowl of green tea, I stopped the war." Paul Reps

And then comes the strange paradox of acceptance. Once I have reached acceptance, and am clear and at peace, I am now in a state where I can be effective in doing whatever can be done about the situation. If I'm truly helpless, then there's nothing to do, and I can relax. If there's anything that can be done, I'm now in a state where I can see clearly what it is, and can take action harmoniously. Acceptance isn't passive. Accepting that we're all helpless in many ways doesn't mean I then do nothing, that I'm fatalistic. It means I try what can be done, and if I fail I don't take it personally. I accept the failure.

In Zorba the Greek there's a point where Zorba's grand project fails in a spectacular way. He burst out laughing and throws a grand party that night on the beach, celebrating his magnificent failure.

If I'm going to fail, it's better to have failed from having tried than from having done nothing.

What does this all have to do with you? All your life you've had to fight. And what you've been learning is to struggle rather than fight, right? To be at peace in the struggle rather that to be distressed and upset? Oh boy, that's the great accomplishment of life, isn't it? The greatest lesson of all is to live in acceptance and inner peace no matter what the circumstances... In any circumstances that's the underlying lesson, the struggle at the heart of things...

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