“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” – Angela Y. Davis
Change and Acceptance
In light of the current state of the world, I have been wrestling a lot lately with my role. What is the best way to be a role model? How can I increase awareness in my own tribe, reach out, stand tall in my own truth, and listen to others. This quote from Angela Y. Davis, activist, philosopher, academic, and author has inspired me since the first time I wrote it down in a journal after hearing her speak in Salt Lake City a few years ago. Little did I know how important her words would be to me that year, much less how they have spoken to me again in new ways in 2020.
Re-enter the conundrum of Acceptance. As part of my yoga practice, and having gone through my own difficulties that required the journey of processing grief, I have learned to practice being in the moment and letting go of what no longer serves me. But sometimes acceptance seems too passive a reaction to deal with the pain and suffering going on in the world. I long to do more. How do I begin to understand? React? Help?
Big word. Acceptance. Big and necessary, but also often confusing. Isn’t it like putting our head in the sand if we accept something we are against? Shouldn’t we fight or cry or yell or question? The damn world wants us to “accept” things that we can’t abide, don’t want to hear about, or can’t otherwise acknowledge. This is stuff we have questioned, avoided, or put out of our heads for years! Grievances that have been forced on us by others are particularly troublesome. Yet, how do we know the difference between acceptance that serves us and acceptance that is against our best interest? How do we call out the unacceptable and let go of what we don’t need? What is the difference? When do we accept it is time to move on and when do we stand our ground to facilitate important change?
Maybe we don’t have to choose, we just need to better understand acceptance.
The Problem with Acceptance
Part of the problem with acceptance is that a lot still needs to change. We don’t understand as a collective society how to use it properly. Acceptance doesn’t require universal agreement. It is by definition a subjective idea. In other words, it doesn’t mean we approve of said situation just because we practice acceptance. Nor does it mean we condone something abhorrent because we accept that it happened and choose to move forward toward change. What does it mean to wrangle with acceptance, especially when it flies in the face of a morally negative circumstance?
Move over passive aggressive BS that doesn’t serve us. Hold onto your stubborn self, because this “acceptance shit” just got real. When some of us were busy avoiding or complaining or blaming others, some others were learning how to apply acceptance. They were growing and changing and healing through acceptance. They were still protesting and calling out wrong doers, but they had accepted in their own heart that change was only possible after acceptance. They weren’t passively accepting as victims; they were actively accepting reality and choosing to do something about it going forward.
Grief and Acceptance
Grief has 5-7 stages depending on what kind of grief you are analyzing. According to the theory developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages. Both the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and those researched by psychologists since her theory, have included Acceptance as the final stage. The definitions of acceptance vary. And you are NOT going to like this – but a form of acceptance is inevitable if you want to process your grief and move forward. But what do we do about the things that are still wrong in the world? How do we change things that are unacceptable?
Accepting just to get past something isn’t the goal. Our choice to choose acceptance means we are no longer resisting the reality of our situation. We are now prepared to move forward and make our circumstance different through hope and progress. Real Change happens after we have processed our grief. This is where Angela Y. Davis’ quote lands. Right smack dab in the middle of our battle with Acceptance. What is the difference between giving up and accepting? When and how do we choose to fight? How do we accept without being passive? How do we fight and hold truth to power?
A Life of Acceptance
As humans, we are wired to take life seriously; take it all to heart. We live out loud, bury hard things deep inside our souls and suffer. We go so deep with our anger, denial, shame, guilt or depression that we have trouble retrieving ourselves when the time comes to heal. We are like, “Oh hell, no. I am not going there! I buried that so I WOULDN’T have to answer to it. Get outa here! I am NOT revisiting that chapter of my life.”
The problem with this attitude is that no healing, understanding or change can happen without Acceptance. It is hard to face the past; hard to conquer fear, and even harder to be brave and create real change without acceptance. Most of the time, true acceptance and therefore change can’t happen without being honest, truthful and open to change.
We can wrestle with the idea that Angela Y. Davis put forward as a challenge to all that is wrong, unfair and hurtful in the world. “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” I am changing the things I cannot accept. What does she mean? How can we get through the grief process and then say Yes or No? I believe she is saying that moment is exactly when we have earned the right to challenge for change. When we have seen it all, felt it all, and fought it all, we release, analyze and accept. Then we have the right to label something unacceptable and make change.
Grieving without Acceptance
I tried processing grief once without acceptance. It didn’t go well. You thought forgiveness was hard! Nope. It’s acceptance that will twist your gut and stifle your healing. Because when a life lesson needs learned, we can’t do it without understanding our role in the madness. Not our responsibility, our role. Accepting that we ALWAYS play a role in our own lives, our own understanding, and yes acceptance is paramount in the healing process.
Therefore, I believe in order to understand the conflicting ideas behind acceptance, we need to understand the definition of acceptance. The form of acceptance you practice is relative to your own perspective and of course the context surrounding the circumstances of your grief or hurt.
- the act of taking or receiving something offered.
- favorable reception; approval; favor.
- the act of assenting or believing: acceptance of a theory.
- the fact or state of being accepted or acceptable.
Acceptance as it shapes human psychology denotes a person’s willingness to understand the reality of a situation. The reality can be devastating, something we are not willing to live with. Something that needs to be changed. Again remember, acceptance does not have to mean approval. That is only one definition. Recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it or protest its existence isn’t acceptance. Acceptance means to identify the problem or situation, analyze it, and then proactively decide not to give it any more power in your life. Call it out. Uncover it. So it becomes powerless over you. This “process” often doesn’t happen without a lot of pain and suffering.
Usually paired with a heavy dose of reality, acceptance is where the real work lies. It is where the messiness manifests and the blame game ceases to exist. We take responsibility, not for the actions of others that caused us pain, but for our own recovery from it. We power up, not down and we stand in our OWN power and thereby reduce the power of the thing that weakened us.
Acceptance encompasses a place of mirrors and solidarity. A time to look at one’s own self without filters and accept the realization that we own it ALL. No one else is responsible for our feelings or our lives but us. No matter what has happened, how we perceive the disfunction in a relationship or how deeply wrong the hurt perpetuated by another, it remains our responsibility, ours alone to heal and move forward. Whatever the pain or problem, we can choose to put it down or to carry it. The hurt will be there when we return if we choose that circuitous path. We can also choose just to push it away. But it will never go away permanently without acceptance.
This realization was hard for me. Like most humans, I was determined to believe that my situation was different. That some things just can’t be accepted; that denying them must be the only path. Not surprising, in my grief, I was wrong about that. Acceptance as the final stage of the grief process does NOT mean approval. It does not mean condoning the act or circumstance you are accepting. Acceptance is acknowledging and owning the existence of the hurt. Just by naming it, looking it in the eye, and accepting its existence, we begin to buy back what we lost of ourselves. We can own the past, our past and then we gain the right to change our lives, and maybe the lives of others going forward.
Finding Acceptance within Ourselves
Oddly, somewhere in the process of acceptance we find ourselves. I didn’t know or understand this for years. Sitting idly by, thinking there was nothing I could do but be a victim of circumstances can become a way of life. But to accept? That seemed backward and ill advised when our lives go awry. Weak even.
The idea of Acceptance seemed to put more emphasis on the pain and made me feel responsible for it. Why would I choose to delve into a world of uncomfortable feelings and take responsibility for something I didn’t do? Apparently anger and resentment are easier than acceptance. But these are reactionary feelings. We can’t heal or change from this vantage point. We can only continue to suffer.
Open hearted, full throated, no denying it, acceptance is harder, more work. But the load it removes from the heart and soul is a physical manifestation of peace. Peace within and peace without. Peaceful acknowledgement that the world isn’t against us, life is just hard. It is messy and unfair. But we aren’t responsible for that unfairness. We are only responsible for what we choose to DO about our reactions to it. What will we do when we are treated with disrespect and unfairness? Be a victim? Or accept that this is wrong and we can be the advocate for change.
The way of the universe is to remind us that we are all one in our sorrow and pain. But we are also all one in our joy and happiness. We experience things that need understanding in order to recognize where the growth can happen and move forward. There is no escaping it. Humans live in complicated fluctuations that require us to be fluid in our acceptance of it all. Once we understand this notion of acceptance, we can level up to a more conscious understanding of ourselves and others.
I loved the book by Leif Enger, “Peace Like a River” not just for his eloquent style of writing, or for the lovely story, but for the way he leads us in a subtle way toward acceptance via truth.
This idea of the path to truth is the genesis of my meditation mantra, beginning with the words, helping to tell the story of my search for truth and peace in my own life.
“Peace flows like a river, peace crashes on the rocks like waves; peace flows like a river, peace rushes towards me and I accept.” Cindi A. Jobe
To deny acceptance is to deny our existence as Humans. We must embrace our own boundaries and our own set of morals, but we must also examine those boundaries to see if they align with what is good and true in the Universe. If they do not, we must work to change. Acceptance is not meant to be a “giving in” but a “lifting up” of ourselves to more. Once we honor our own boundaries, we realize that acceptance of our past and our role in it, is not acceptance of the wrong done by others, but a natural process of understanding what is necessary to live wholeheartedly in the moment with the assurance that we can only change today.
Life will go on. Tomorrow will come. As we honor a life where acceptance is understood, we no longer need to accept others’ truths but find our own to stand for. A place to nurture change lies in the space we choose to create.