Acceptance as a pathway to peace

Acceptance as a pathway to peace

A couple weeks back I wrote briefly about the topic of acceptance, which has since started to sink in a little more as I continue to read Tara Brach's book Radical Acceptance and Discovering Your Soul Signature, by Panache Desai, which also circles around the issue of acceptance at length.

I have learned that acceptance requires awareness (what I referred to as "recognition") in two compact forms: Clear seeing and compassion. Unfortunately, most of us get tripped up in the clear seeing part — we don't even make it to compassion or empathy, because we're so engrossed in our problems (and so accustomed to our emotional human nature) that our vision is significantly clouded, far from objective or in depth, and we don't even give ourselves time to pause and process before marching forward with our opinions, demands and threats.

Consider the situation of a failed relationship or a strained friendship. You may not even want to think about it, let alone spend enough time thinking about it that you can develop a clear picture of what's going on. Jealousy? Betrayal? Lack of love? As counterintuitive as it may sound, it is much easier to sit back, complain about an issue or problem and not identify your true feelings than it is to sit with it, be honest and become more aware of your emotions as they arise. We have been taught and conditioned to believe, for example, that we should push down our feelings and bite our tongues. We "stuff" things down when we eat emotionally, and we "stifle" our anger so as not to lash out at friends and family. Realizing that I had already been practicing awareness around my emotions lately was a pat on the back — Wow, I'm feeling really angry right now. Geez, this situation is making me really jealous of her. I'm so sad. This is affecting in me such a deep, deep wound. I often picture the person lying on the therapist's couch, cartoon-style: And how does that make you feel? We treat that question like a joke, laughing at the poor soul on the couch and the drama du jour, but that is part of the illusion that wearing your heart on your sleeve is bad — that we should be able to control our emotions, which had previously been my goal.

It's natural to want to stop yourself before reaching your breaking point (eg, yelling, huffing off and storming out). But Panache raised a great point: If we didn't feel, we wouldn't be human. I'm not saying I'll never raise my voice again, but in the past couple of weeks I've started to understand what it means for a feeling or emotion to pass through you — you notice it, observe it, watch it wax and wane, and then sometimes it lingers, and sometimes it's gone. The more I read the explanations, the more I am learning how to greet acceptance as a pathway to peace. Acceptance does not equate to judgment or tolerance; it is equal parts clear seeing and compassion — and that is all.

We think it's a fine line between accepting and suppressing, but in fact it's the opposite. Tara brings up the idea of saying "yes" to whatever is passing through you, be it anger, fear, resentment or joy, not fighting against and resisting what is with a resolute "no." I think an easy way to delineate is to FEEL the emotion but to PAUSE (another amazing technique she outlines) before acting on it. She shares a perfect example of the anger, fear, even rage that she felt when her son, as an eighth grader, was spending more time playing video games with friends than he was on his homework. Every time he ignored Tara or disobeyed her orders, it stirred up more tension and stress, even causing a physical clenching or tightening in the body (eg, hands, chest, throat) when they interacted. This went on for quite some time, until Tara remembered to PAUSE before going into her son's room to talk. That conversation, instead of ending in resentment and conflict, went smoothly and ended in warm feelings of love and respect toward each other. Not a small miracle.

Acceptance feels to me like the missing piece I've been searching for, in the middle of a four-year-old's temper tantrum, to calm everyone's nerves, to act out of truth, love and a desire for peace more than anything else. The next time you're caught up in a fight with your spouse, a heated discussion with your boss or a power struggle with a small child, try the following:

  1. Pause. It will feel strange (you may even have to excuse yourself and leave the room, seething all the while), but you need to step on the brakes for anything even resembling a chance at acceptance and freedom. Take a few deep breaths, sleep on it, sit quietly. PAUSE.
  2. Name what you're feeling. Is it really anger? Or is there something behind that, such as fear? Name it and claim it as yours (see Step 3, below). Don't do this with the other person involved, but use whatever words come to mind to know what's really going on.
  3. FEEL IT! You know you cannot "feel" an emotion in your head, right? You may "think" you're feeling hurt, angry or lonely, but what does that FEEL like in your body? Scan common hot spots like your hands, your head, your heart, your jaw, your chest, your stomach...feel in your body where there is tightness, pain, clenching, etc, and as you are still in "pause" mode, notice as the feeling starts to slowly dissipate and pass.
  4. Say yes to it. Don't try to get rid of it as soon as possible; don't push it down, stuff it down, brush it off or ignore it. Welcome it. This is how we know we're human: We are thinking, feeling beings. Say yes to it, but not in a righteous, "Yeah I'm right to be pissed" kind of way. Just open the door, and prepare a seat at the table.

Going through those four steps, in the heat of the moment, may only take seconds or minutes — pause, name it, feel it and say yes to it — this does not have to be a staring contest with your husband or result in even more whiny cries of "Mommy why aren't you talking to me???". It's just enough to dislodge you from throwing the book or carrying a kicking/screaming child out of the grocery store. And you know what? It feels like home. It is easing the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle into place. Will it come apart from time to time? Of course. But there's no mistaking now how to right it once again.

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Filed under: Chasing peace

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