Radical acceptance simply means acknowledging that what is here is here. There is no judgement, resolution or analysis involved. When we can be with the reality of our lives, our suffering decreases. Radical acceptance helps us see life as it is without getting quite so caught in the thoughts that often add layers of pain to our experiences.
For most of us, it is natural to resist a moment of discomfort. We might have thoughts like:
- this can't be true
- this is unfair
- this shouldn't be so
- why is this happening?
All of these thoughts take us out of the direct experience of the moment and add layers of judgement to an experience. Often we caught in these thoughts, further muddling the possibility for clarity, compassion and equanimity in a difficult situation.
For instance, if I'm having a strong emotion about a health issue and I compound that by
thinking, "I shouldn't feel this way" - my suffering will increase. If I can acknowledge that I'm having the strong emotion, inquire where I feel it in my body and generate some self-compassion, I am much more likely to recover from it quickly and not allow it to consume me.
Radical acceptance doesn't mean that we passively sit by and allow life to just do what it's going to do. The radical part of this practice is that it takes an active, mindful, courageous mindset to see a situation as it is. With this clarity it is often much easier to make conscious decisions for how to respond or instigate change.
Mindfulness expert and author, Tara Brach often uses the phrase "and this too" to help us open and include an experience in our awareness. This concrete practice of radical acceptance doesn't mean that we like what is happening, it simply means we can see what is happening. However we decide to respond is up to us.
One student rephrased "radical acceptance" to "being with life" to better encapsulate the acknowledgement, engagement and mindfulness she can practice even when life is tough. Sometimes the word "acceptance" itself can act as a block to mindfulness because we might associate approving with accepting. I like to think of radical acceptance as a sincere act of allowing my awareness to illuminate what is happening - like a flashlight. It allows me to see - and then I can act.
How have moments of radical acceptance impacted your life?