“The price of our vitality is the sum of all of our fears.” ~David Whyte
Acceptance by its very nature is imperfect; it’s messy and often unpleasant, while ultimately leading to a place of growth, a sense of freedom, and a life familiar with ease. I know this because I have had a lot of painful acceptance in my life, and it has been crucial to helping me move beyond the stuckness of fear and suffering.
Years ago, being the natural striving, fun-seeking, achievement-oriented person I was, I ignored the fact that my body felt like a truck had run over it. I pushed, faked, and hid what my body was really feeling… until it all came to a screeching halt.
Diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, and a future of chronic pain or worse, I had to give up the impressive job, the active social life, and the self-image that had all propped me up in the world. And then what was left?
Instinctively, I wanted to go back to the way things were, to repatch it all back together again. Fortunately, I inherently felt the impossibility of all of that, and so the work began.
I started taking a meditation class and then a Buddhist practice, and one day sitting silently, feeling my body breathing, listening inwardly to what was there, the hard, guarding shell around my heart broke. I had to accept there was no going back to normal, there was only being with what is and opening to where that might lead.
Acceptance is not resignation. It is not passively giving up. It takes courage and strength.
I feel it more of a falling inward, dropping into the sensations of what is, recognizing and acknowledging what’s there. A place of empowerment and choice instead of feeling like a victim to chance. It is a beautiful sense of coming home to the body in the present moment, a feeling of wholeness and strength to better face your circumstances, whatever they may be.
That being said, there were a lot of tears and a lot of pain; in other words, it was messy. A series of small steps, it took a while.
I had to accept that I could no longer keep up with my carefree, energetic friends as they traveled around the world and partied around the clock.
I had to accept I would no longer create interesting buildings as an architect or participate in gallery shows as an artist.
Most difficult of all, I had to accept that I could no longer be the fun-loving, happy person my husband needed—at least not right away.
I had to accept my life had suddenly taken a new direction and be receptive to the possible changes that this might bring. Receptivity was the key to opening toward inner growth and inner intimacy, as well as a place of gentleness, all new territory for me!
So what is your experience of acceptance really like? Maybe there is an image or metaphor that best viscerally says “acceptance” to you. To me, it feels like a slow-motion fall into an undercurrent that sweeps me away.
It can feel quite beautifully poetic as a surrender into what is present, which floods me with a feeling of relief. It is more honest, more pure, less tinged with the shoulds of daily life—as in the pressure to be more productive, to be energetically outgoing, to follow through on all of my perceived responsibilities as a daughter, a wife, a friend.
Allowing myself to actually be the way I felt, without the weight of someone else’s expectations, was the beginning of moving toward physical and emotional health.
Rilke writes, “Gravity is like an ocean current that takes hold of even the strangest thing and pulls it toward the earth. We need to patiently trust our heaviness—even a bird must do this before it can fly.”
Trusting that the earth will support all of our weight, all of our heaviness, the physical pain and the mental anguish too, brings us to a place of feeling grounded, a place that’s ready to respond with wisdom and compassion, though this does take practice.
Pulling away from our pain or ignoring a life difficulty is a kind of resistance, a fighting of gravity, and an easy habit that will not heal our difficulties.
This tiring cycle of the push and pull of resistance makes everything difficult and takes a lot of energy, draining you of anything positive. It’s exhaustive like continuously having a really bad day.
Resisting that all aspects of my life had changed made the changes much more emotionally painful. Stuck in this place of denial, I was unable to connect in the ways that nurture deep friendships and that create authentic appreciation for life’s small pleasures.
Recognizing the inner discomfort, it’s worth asking, “What am I resisting?” And even better “Do I want to be in acceptance mode or resistance drain?” And finally, “What is it that I need to accept?”
We all hold onto some kind of emotional pain by pushing it away in an effort not to be hurt, which ultimately and ironically keeps this pain very close. But what would it take to let it go? What is it that wants to be acknowledged and ultimately accepted?
And this pain, whether physical or emotional, leads to tight muscles and tight mental habits, a pattern of tenseness, a pattern of protectiveness that sucks the joy and spontaneity out of your life. Again, not much fun, not much pleasure. Trying harder and harder, like pulling on a necklace or shoestring that is knotted, will only make things worse.
Embracing life, not just the edited parts of it but all of it, is a place of wisdom and grace. I can find this place sometimes in movement or in meditation, and often these are the same, because as quiet as your body/mind can get in meditation, at all times it is gently moving with every breath. This is the movement that grounds your learning into the very tissues and neurons that make you tick.
If you can find your learning in the body, feel it in the body, you will not forget your experience or the glimpses of insight just discovered. The dancer Augusta Moore once told me “The breath is the music in the body.” I love this—the dance of life unfolding with each breath.
So why do we try to hold on so tightly to what was, even though it creates nothing but frustration and pain?
Once we find the means, whatever this might look like, it feels so damn good to drop the efforting, to accept, to fall apart a little, or perhaps a lot, and then move on, move forward with our new reality and all it has to offer. It can feel so good to allow this deep relaxing in the body, find that place of peace and feeling of liberation.
And embracing life is what it is all about. We want to respond whole-heartedly, not with dullness or avoidance or anger. The danger lies in blocking too much of our self, guarding against the pain, the fears, or sense of being trapped in denial.
Staying true to our entire experience allows us to loosen our responses, drop the guard, and be in a place of acceptance. As David Whyte writes, “The price of our vitality is the sum of all of our fears.”
I have heard it said, and reluctantly have felt this truth, that the body cannot lie. So I invite you to find a quiet moment and listen deeply to what it is your body really wants to tell you, the inner wisdom it wants to share in healing; whether it’s an illness that has taken you down or a broken relationship that feels like it has left you stranded, your body/mind knows how to heal, and acceptance is the key to opening that door.
With an open heart and a willing mind, really hear what your strongest ally, your body, wants you to know: that this partnership, between the mind and the body is a strong one, it is a relationship that will guide the winds of change with grace and ease. Acceptance helped me learn to listen within, and then trust what I heard, trust just what my personal world was asking me to respond to, and step peacefully forward into that vibrant flow of life.
About Shunya Anding
Shunya is the founder of HeartWisdom, a mindfulness-based wellness coaching practice. A Buddhist meditation teacher, art supporter, and life-long student of body based movement, she coaches with creativity, compassion, and insight, to help her clients find what they really want in life, while uncovering their own resources along this discovery path. Read along at heartwisdomcoaching.com and start your journey today! You can find Shunya on a sunny hill in San Francisco with her husband and mischievous dog Nico.