Mental Health Recovery Spirituality

Acceptance: A Practice of the Heart

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Acceptance: this is one of the toughest yet most valuable attributes we can pursue in our lives. Sometimes, we are so attached to a thought or idea or vision that we cannot see beyond the very thing we seek. When this happens, we disallow others to contribute or share their ideas and solutions, leaving us essentially painted into a corner. I often ask, “Is it more important to be right or to be happy?” How many of us inadvertently choose the former, fighting tooth and nail for the chance to be right? How many choose to accept being wrong in an effort to promote happiness? Acceptance of others and their opinions and ideas play a huge part in this process. But in order to get there, we have to first learn to accept ourselves.


Self-acceptance means loving ourselves in spite of difficulties, in spite of imperfections, and really, in spite of the lies we tell ourselves. Acceptance of others means allowing them to be just who they are. Lessons for acceptance can be found in every pitfall, every success, every disappointment, every challenge, and every accomplishment: it is in our responses to those things where our acceptance or lack of acceptance is exposed.  Accepting “things as they are” tends to give us us the most trouble—it’s human nature to want to change things to fit our needs and wants. But as an old work mate once told me, “You can’ t recarpet the world. Sometimes you just need to put on some fuzzy slippers.”


Acceptance is not a finite goal: it is a practice. There’s no magic bullet that makes someone who struggles with acceptance suddenly stop and become “enlightened.” We learn to accept others by accepting ourselves.


I practice a lot of yoga, in fact, I’m entering teacher training next week.  A little over a year ago, I suffered an injury that shifted the way I practice. All of a sudden, I couldn’t do the hard-core power practice I was used to. I had to suddenly be gentle with myself and accept the fact that I needed to shift the way I was doing things. My first response was to just stop practicing. But that made me miserable. Then I had to really delve into what my practice was really about. Was ego there? If so, was it helpful or harmful? I had to ask myself, “Am I less of a yogi because I will never be able to do a handstand?” The truth is, I was gifted with the greatest opportunity to practice acceptance: Acceptance of my body and its injured state, the acceptance of my practice as a yogi, and the acceptance of others who are doing what I once wished I could do.


Every day is an opportunity to be in a state of acceptance, to act out of love and kindness rather than jealousy and hate. I find that being in a place of acceptance also requires that we have the courage to walk with an open heart.


““A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us. ” Pema Chödrön

Mental Health Recovery Spirituality

Acceptance: Recovery and Beyond

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Acceptance is a facet of recovery that challenges many of us. It can be the impetus for pushback and resistance regardless of how much sober/recovery time one has.  Initially, we begin by learning to accept the basics of recovery: our powerlessness, our mental health, and our addictions. As we progress, the areas in which we may need acceptance shift, or broaden, and the work continues. We may ask ourselves why we are not where we think we should be in our lives, and finding acceptance around that can be a thorny process. It means holding space for the fact that our addiction or mental illness more than likely postponed our hopes and expectations of being doctors or lawyers or from saving the world from zombies. Don’t worry; you can still do all of these things, though not on your original schedule. In fact, you may find yourself capable of doing a heck of a lot more!

Another difficulty for a some folks is the time and energy spent trying to please others. People-pleasing behaviors are pretty common when a lack of acceptance is involved. Behaviors like:

  • Shifting one’s reality—environment, opinions, friends, likes, dislikes–in order to please others.
  • Ignoring your own needs (see above)
  • Seeking approval from others in an effort to find happiness
  • Making others more important than yourself
  • Being inauthentic or a chameleon in order to “fit in”

Sure, accepting that we are enough as we are is not easy, especially at first. We ask for “spiritual progress not perfection,” right? However, we may be asking ourselves why we aren’t prettier, thinner, or more handsome, or why we don’t have better clothes or that cool car, or that guy or that girl. These thoughts are harmful, not helpful. As we create this ever-growing list of what we think we should have versus what we do have, we will come to find acceptance moving further and further away. Bottom line is, negative self-talk is terribly detrimental to the recovery process. It prevents us from being in the “here and now.” It prevents us from loving ourselves, which makes it more of a challenge to love others. It disallows us to accept love into our own lives. Our efforts to please others or subscribe to the expectations of others act as a filter that prevents change yet encourages codependence.

Acceptance takes time. It takes effort. It takes willingness. It is understanding that things are as they are: you pay your taxes, you obey the speed limit, you listen to your parents, you don’t drink and use, you practice self-care, you go to meetings and call your sponsor, and you take direction.

Surely, the challenges that lead to or distract from acceptance are many; in truth, writing it is even a bit nebulous because the concept is almost undefinable. Frankly, acceptance is best learned and discovered by simply beginning to take contrary actions that lead to letting go of old behaviors so we can be less reactive and more accepting in the face of adversity and discomfort.  To aptly quote Joseph Rogers, “It’s easier to work with the laws of the universe than to bash our heads against them.”