Acceptance is key … but it’s complicated

A month or so ago a fellow blogger in the UK, Barry Hopewell, posted the final three stanzas of a compelling poem by Steve Taylor called Acceptance. I’ve been thinking about its message ever since. Let me start with those stanzas and see if they resonate with you as well.

Acceptance

Life can be frustrating and full of obstacle
with desires for a different life constantly disturbing your mind

or life can be fulfilling, full of opportunities
with a constant flow of gratitude for the gifts you have.

And the only difference between them is acceptance.

Old age may be a process of decay
that withers your body and mind
and poisons you with bitterness
as you yearn for the freshness of youth

Or old age may be a process of liberation
that enriches you with wisdom
and makes you more present as the future recedes
and lightens your soul as you let go of attachments.

And the only difference between them is acceptance.

Death may be a cold, black emptiness
that mercilessly devours your ego
and makes everything you own seem valueless
and everything you’ve achieved seem meaningless

Or death may be a perfect culmination
a soft twilight at the end of a long summer’s day
when you’re filled with heavy tiredness and ready to sleep
and know that you will wake up again to a bright new dawn.

And the only difference between them is acceptance.

I happen to be one of the lucky ones who views the world through this poem’s perspective of the ‘Acceptance Lens’, although I’ll admit that the past few years and now the past few months have made that path a bit more challenging. But the advice to accept what you cannot change as a step towards leading a happy life is pretty well tested.

This view of acceptance is taken a step further in one of the 12 Ethics of Walking the Red Road Path*, a foundation for leading a good life inspired by the spiritual teachings of many Native American peoples.

Ethic 3. Search for Yourself, by Yourself

Do not allow others to make your path for you. It is your path and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you. Accept yourself and your actions. Own your thoughts. Speak up when wrong, and apologize. Know your path at all times. To do this you must know yourself inside and out, accept your gifts as well as your shortcomings, and grow each day with honesty, integrity, compassion, faith, and brotherhood.

In other words, the power of acceptance as a key to a happy life is about self-acceptance.

The power of acceptance is frequently found in quotes, pithy and otherwise:

It all sounds fine, but that can’t mean that we should accept everything. Perhaps the full message is stated as clearly as anywhere in the Acceptance Prayer. This prayer is an important component of the success of Alcoholics Anonymous:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

The courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference are crucial additions to the power of acceptance in building a happy life.  What are Steve Taylor’s Acceptance poem, the Acceptance Prayer, and the third Ethic of Walking the Red Road not about? They are not about accepting what is not acceptable. We all have our lists of what is acceptable and not acceptable, and these lists will vary. But whatever is on your list – those things you feel passionate about – they fall in the category of ‘Change what you cannot accept’.

You need not accept physical or mental abuse. You need not accept that racism exists so learn to live with it. You need not accept that humans are destroying the planet with their disregard for the environment in order to prop up a status quo economic model. You need not accept human rights abuses at home and around the world.

Some things that are unacceptable to you, you can change by taking charge of your own destiny. Move out. Change jobs. Put your phone down and smell the roses. Add exercise to your routine. Seek help. Reach out to a friend or counsellor. Volunteer. Whatever can make the difference for you.

Other things that you feel passionate about may seem too overwhelming to change, too big for one individual to do anything about.   You can’t do it alone, so why bother; just accept. But denial can’t be the answer. Every voice counts. Every conscience counts. Every vote counts. Be part of the changes that matter to you.

*12 Ethics of Walking the Red Road

  1. Honor the Great Spirit
  2. Honor Mother Nature
  3. Search for yourself, by yourself
  4. Community Code of Conduct
  5. Banish Fear from Your Life
  6. Respect
  7. Speak the Truth
  8. Reject Materialism
  9. Seek Wisdom
  10. Practice Forgiveness
  11. Practice Optimism
  12. Take What You Need, Leave the Rest
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16 Responses to Acceptance is key … but it’s complicated

  1. runawaywidow says:

    What a lovely poem and so true. As a teacher going back to school during this pandemic in a few weeks I along with my colleagues are lost in that first verse. Never forgetting to be grateful for the gifts that we have. So important. I will save this one!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for commenting. I’m glad it resonated with you, too. Getting ready to go back into the classroom in these turbulent times in an excellent example of how having an attitude of acceptance can make all the difference. Not that it’ll be easy! I hope things go smoothly for you.

  2. Why do I always feel as though I’m in the company of friends and like minds when I read your blog, Jane, along with the comments? I guess it’s because I am & I’m reminded of a line I read in the book “Women who run with the Wolves” many years ago: “If you don’t howl loudly enough you’ll never find your pack”. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      What a nice comment, Joyce. I do know what you mean, and that’s one of the things I love about blogging and the blogosphere. It is heartwarming and reassuring to know that there are kindred spirits in many places around the world. Our pack! You can thank Barry for the inspiration for this post. And as Laurie Graves pointed out in her comment, those of us who have learned the kind of acceptance the poem speaks to are able to handle the stresses of these strange times better than those who have not. I hope things remain relatively stable in your neck of the woods.

      • Thanks Jane. Stable, yes. Unadventurous, yes. Pedestrian, yes. Reasonably safe, yes to that too because we’re not taking many/any risks, and as our daughter says, we just have to “suck it up and get on with it” – which is good to remind myself of when I feel a bit low or fed up, because this is where we’re at. You too…hoping you’re OK.

  3. Thanks Jane for expounding on Barry’s post and bringing it back to life. I have read it several times since and I try to subscribe to the AA motto of knowing the difference. I feel certain that acceptance has been a large point of the pleasure I get from life.

  4. LA says:

    Great post! I’m still thinking….

  5. Wise words and to those I would add stoicism and fortitude, which, of course, have as many qualifiers as acceptance. But during this pandemic, I have been struck by the lack of stoicism and fortitude in far too many people:They must go out to eat; they must to to a bar; they must go to big parties. I understand that people are social creatures who crave the free life they had before the pandemic. But at what cost? Anyway, really good post.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I think the idea of acceptance of what you can’t change would include wearing a mask and social distancing! Surely those who find themselves able to accept these temporary norms, for the greater good, are happier than those fighting it. Great, though sad and frustrating, example, Laurie.

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