Acceptance is ultimately a choice we make, it can take years or it can happen in a moment; the choice is yours.
At the age of 24, I was living in the UK, trying to ignite my entrepreneurial spirit, and dating a man who was a student of Buddhism. I had great dreams; I wanted to help others to heal themselves in an empowering way, and I wanted to create supportive and holistic living spaces to support well-being and happiness. I had gained qualifications in interior design, colour healing and some basic coaching skills, but the truth is, I didn't believe that I could create my beautiful dreams. I was struggling with myself and with trying to overcome depression. I believed if I could live in a sunnier climate, if I could achieve some sign of growth towards my dreams; which meant to grow from working as a waitress to create income and giving my free time to build my dreams, to actually making money from what I loved and feeling confident in the process, that I would feel better. If I lived an outdoor existence, I would feel better. If I escaped the rate race mentality of the commuter town Iived in, and found a more spiritual path, I would feel better.
'Accept the situation' my boyfriend encouraged. I considered his suggestion, and I believed it meant giving up, and giving in to what was.
'No, I will not give up on my dreams, I have to find a way to make life better, and then I can show others the way' I argued. 'I am determined and I will fight for a better life' I affirmed.
I did not understand why giving in to what was would help me. No, I would fight for my life, for my well-being and for what mattered to me, I was not prepared to settle and I was stubborn in my plight. And so, I remained feeling low, wanting to create change, not knowing how to, wavering between hope and hopeless, afraid my dreams could never come true, afraid I would always feel depressed, afraid life would not get better. Thankfully, change did happen, life brought opportunities and I grabbed them, making brave leaps into a new and sunny world, where I began to see some of my dreams come to life. However, a change in location or situation brought only temporary relief through distraction and newness, it does change my inner world.
I didn't know it then, but I had really misunderstood the meaning of acceptance.
In “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness” Jon Kabat-Zinn’s wrote:
“It takes a huge amount of fortitude and motivation to accept what is- especially when you don’t like it-and then work wisely and effectively as best you possibly can with the circumstances you find yourself in and with the resources at your disposal, both inner and outer, to mitigate, heal, redirect, and change what can be changed”
I began to understand acceptance during a process of therapy where I was encouraged to accept my emotions instead to trying to run away from them, or avoid them. I didn't want to know them, to experience them, to suffer in them, but, as research has shown, when we avoid and suppress emotion, it can make anxiety worse, and I believe, based on experience, suppression and avoidance only prolong the suffering of the soul and of facing the inevitable, our pain and our suffering, that is, if we truly want healing to occur and happiness to blossom.
The first time I allowed the sensations of anxiety go through me, without trying to escape, it was uncomfortable, painful, overwhelming, and then it passed. It would be a few cycles of this process before I realized the suffering passes as long as I allowed it, as long as I did not fuel it with fear, worry and negative thoughts, and as long as I did loose myself and my mind in the twittering of anxious thought. It may sound simple, but this is the work of immense strength and time and patience. I believe only because I understand the intensity of this work; the patience i have needed for myself and been gifted by my therapist, that I understand the space, acceptance, patience and love that we need to give to ourselves and to those who we support in their process.
Learning to accept certain emotions and sensations took some practice, and then I began to see the light; what could be possible if I made the choice to accept, to feel, and be strong with my mind. After some time had passed, I would feel the surge of adrenalin race through my body; the consequence of being anxious and depressed for too long before I sought help, and I would accept it, because it was the reality and fighting against what is, I learnt, was somewhat futile. When I managed to accept more emotions and sensations, I gained more strength to guide my mind to observe the sensations in my body, and place my thoughts in the present, as an observer of my experience, instead of drowning in worry, doubt and fear. As long as I guided my mind on a positive stream of thought, the suffering would pass, and I would free up space in my world to create solutions and better ways of being, because I was no longer fueling the fears, worries and doubts, I was, in that moment, enabled to begin crafting a better path where I would place footsteps to make my inner transformation, and pave my inner road to a better life.
Once I began to grow more confident in my ability to better manage anxiety, and I understood the power of acceptance, I realized the many ways in which acceptance could be brought into our lives to improve well-being, reduce fear, suffering, dis-ease and the struggles with anxiety, worry, doubt and depression. These are not the issues of a person with an anxiety 'disorder' or depression, these are real challenges we all face, and the process to better manage them apply to everyone. Mental health and psychological well-being affect us all, at all ages and stages, and there are psychological and spiritual tools we can access and apply to help each other heal, learn and grow along the inner path to a better life, regardless of whether or not we change the outer story. Indeed, it is inevitable if we change the inner world, the outer world will change. Acceptance is on the greatest facilitators of our transformation into improved well-being and a better life.
I realized acceptance could be applied to the self, emotions, situations, the past, present and future, to people and places, to noise and discomfort, to identity, limitation, body image and self-expression, and to the unknown and the uncontrollable. And I realized that had I accepted my situation at 24, it may not have changed my situation and the same outcome may have occurred, but acceptance would have allowed me to make peace with the moment, to end the repetition of my distress, unhappiness, and suffering, and to support me in a place of greater peace, as I set about making the changes I wanted: I could have enjoyed a more empowered and positive experience in my process of transformation and growth.
Today I have new dreams and goals, and many stories of success. I have pursued more studies and training and gained degrees in psychology and mental health and learnt new skills to support growth and transformation. I have greater confidence in my ability to bring dreams to life, and yet, many of the important things remain out of my control. And so, I have a choice; get angry, be afraid, worry about what may or may not be, or, I can accept what is, open myself to the wonder of what can be, choose to embrace a positive perception and take action in the direction of my dreams, for areas where I can effect change, while I invite life to participate in supporting my wishes in those areas that remain in the hands of fate, or in the subtleties of co-creation. In acceptance, I let go of so much fear and doubt and make way for new faith, strength, and trust in myself and in the great mystery. In acceptance, I remove the walls and dams I have built, and allow the river of life to flow into my world, and for me to flow along the river, allowing the currents to lead where they lead. When I accept, I not only change how i feel, I change my inner world and the world we live in for the better.
Acceptance was not born alone, it was developed with allies including appreciation, gratitude, support, love and faith.
As part of my process I made a commitment to learn to love more. Acceptance is an aspect of love. And so, because I choose to grow from love, I chose acceptance. Because I chose to grow from love, I chose to give focus to appreciation and gratitude, and to place my mind in these heart-centered places when the fears and worries haunted me. Because I chose love, I chose to put my mind on faith and trust instead of fear, because fear made me feel bad, trapped and suffocated and faith and trust lifted and liberated me. I wanted to feel better, the choice to come from love, gave me this strength. As the love grew, so did acceptance, and as love and acceptance developed, and I began to see my faith grow, and my confidence develop.
There is one great power underlying all of this, and that power is choice; my choice to place my mind where I choose, and my choice to come from love.
Healing, therapy and indeed living is an art. I do not believe there is one road, or one way, it is about building up the qualities that empower a person to love and believe in themselves and giving them the tools and strategies to support their own vision and values and challenges. Support has been essential, I could not do this alone, I have support in various forms, and I am grateful for all of them. My process has given me more than my academic studies, it has given me deep understanding, more acceptance, stronger love and more faith, a process that I perceive as on-going; we never stop growing.
Everything is a choice and we are free to make our own. When we make the choice to love and accept, like an art, it needs to be practiced, we need to convince ourselves that this is the way. There will be falls and stumbles, and these are for accepting. If we accept what is, where we are at, what has been, and what could be, if we accept ourselves, we grow our love, our power, our peace, our strength to outshine fear, and our freedom.