Acceptance: Radical Wisdom or a Fool’s Game?
By Scott Kiloby
We hear the word “acceptance” a lot in spiritual teachings and therapeutic settings. But what is it? Is it truly one of the most radical bits of wisdom here on earth or is it a fool’s game? Maybe the answer depends on what is meant by the word.
Let’s start out looking for acceptance with the Unfindable Inquiry. Is the word “acceptance” it? Look or listen to the word as it appears to awareness. No, that’s not the actual acceptance. That’s a word that seems to point to it. What is the word pointing to? Maybe there is a sensation that one feels somewhere in the body space when acceptance seems to be happening. Yet if you take the word “acceptance” off the sensation and notice the sensation without any thoughts on it, it doesn’t present itself as acceptance. It presents itself as that immediate energy, that sensation. If you keep looking for acceptance, you won’t find it as a thing that exists apart from the words, mental pictures and emotions/sensations that arise. So does that mean that we should discard the word since it is not findable? I say no, let’s not discard it. Everything is unfindable so we would be throwing out our whole language if we discarded everything we realized that we couldn’t find.
So what is the word here for? There are teachings that say nothing needs to be accepted because everything is already appearing and therefor already accepted. For example, let’s say you feel a knot in your stomach. It’s already appearing, whether you accept it with your mind or not. Fair enough. Yet not everyone lives from the “place” of realizing that everything is already appearing. If you live from the “place” where everything is truly seen to be already happening, you won’t need the word “acceptance” in your vocabulary. You will notice that life already accepts everything, including the thought “I don’t accept this.”
Most of us experience some sort of patterned resistance to things that are arising in the present moment. And yes, resistance is unfindable too as a separate thing. The knot in the stomach may arise along with a thought or another sensation that seems to resist or want to push the knot away. In those moments, acceptance can come in handy, as long as we don’t make it into a story of someone who needs to accept that knot. This is where it gets tricky for some folks.
If we say “I need to accept this knot,” we are imagining a self, an entity, behind the knot that must accept the knot. But where is that self? If you looked for it with the Unfindable Inquiry, you wouldn’t find that self as a separate thing. You would find an arising of thought here and maybe another sensation there, but no entity would be found.
So let’s throw out the idea of separate things like acceptance, resistance and a self and look at our experience differently. If we take out the idea of separate, discrete things, we have a series of arisings like a pattern. A thought arises, along with a second thought that judges it (i.e., that doesn’t accept the first thought). Or a sensation arises along with another sensation that seems to resist the first one. Or a sensation arises along with a thought that resists the sensation. If we look at our experience in terms of patterns of arisings, one after another, instead of being comprised of separate things, experience can become a lot clearer and you can experience a natural acceptance of all that arises.
Saying that everything is already arising or everything is already accepted puts the cart before the horse if that is not your actual experience. If your experience is that there is some sort of pattern of resistance whenever something painful arises, stop and notice what is actually happening. This is how acceptance starts to become really useful. Notice the thought or the sensation that seems to resist. Do nothing with that thought or sensation. Just notice it. Notice that it is already there. Notice that if you said “I accept this,” that thought is already there also. Notice that if you said “I don’t accept this,” that thought is also already there. A good way to talk about acceptance is to say that, when nothing is done about anything that is arising, everything seems already accepted. Once you say “I accept this” or “I don’t accept this” or “I am resisting” and you BELIEVE that thought, you also believe on some level that there is a self doing the accepting and resisting. That’s the tricky part. That’s when acceptance becomes a fool’s game. That’s when you think YOU have to accept everything.
But once you begin to see that every thought that is either for or against experience is already appearing, acceptance is already happening. There is no need to posit a self that is doing the accepting, for that would just be another thought that is already happening.
In that way, doing nothing but simply being conscious of everything that is arising is already acceptance. And when there is no consciousness of whatever is arising, do nothing with that. That is also already appearing. Just notice that there was no consciousness of it. This recognition does help us release the pattern of resistance that we have developed over a lifetime. This is where the instruction to accept everything is a useful bit of wisdom, when you are no longer positing a self that has to accept everything. You are just noticing a non-doing around everything that is already happening. This is when all those spiritual teachings about acceptance begin to make sense experientially. If you are struggling with TRYING to accept what is arising, you are positing a self (that cannot be found). That self is just a pattern of arisings, one after the other. It is not a discrete, separate entity doing the accepting.
If any of this seems overly intellectual, it just means you are trying to understand it. Stop and go back and read the paragraphs above. And each time I say “stop and notice that the thought is already happening” or “stop and notice that the sensation is already happening,” you will begin to see the wisdom in acceptance. And it is such a beautiful and radical way of being with experience. To do absolutely nothing with what arises is already acceptance. And when it seems you are trying to do something with what arises, do absolutely nothing with that. Acceptance, in this way, has the power to transform all the patterns of resistance that we have been carrying for years.
This is the kind of acceptance that the Living Inquiries are all about. If you are using the Living Inquiries and find that you are trying to allow everything or trying to accept everything, take a look for that self. And then do nothing with what is arising. Be that radical! Discover a kind of acceptance that seems built into your experience naturally.