Acceptance. Seeing phenomenal reality, as it emerges, with great clarity. Acceptance. Letting go of our mental interpretations about emerging phenomena and choosing, intentionally, to experience each moment directly. Acceptance requires self-knowing; we must be able to recognize the workings of the mind, understand which of those workings are based on true experience and which result from whatever residue of clinging remains after the hard work of our sitting meditation. Acceptance. Am I able to perceive the moment as it unfolds, know my own mental baggage, let go of that baggage and respond to the moment with the greatest of skill, based on my insight into what is happening and the degree of compassion that accompanies that insight. Acceptance.
With the practice of acceptance comes great equanimity. The emotional roller coaster ride begins to smooth out and slow down. With acceptance we find ourselves becoming quite steady, at times rather unflappable. Like a great mountain we endure when we practice acceptance. Acceptance becomes the fertile soil that sustains my life.
Acceptance is a state of mind that we can cultivate with our sitting meditation, and it is a trait of mind when it is practiced persistently with intention. In becoming a trait, our acceptance permeates all of our days and all of our affairs. It becomes a vital aspect of our identity, and is experienced by others as empathy and compassion. It is the foundation of love.
I prefer to think of trait acceptance as active acceptance. Too often I have heard acceptance described as a passive state, but it is quite the opposite. To live in acceptance is to embrace life with great vigor, working unceasingly, but always working “with” life rather than “against” life. For example, when in the midst of evil the person practicing acceptance can see clearly what s/he is facing, without denial or defensiveness, maintaining inner calm. In this state of mind the right view about the nature of the evil emerges, and from that right view emerges right actions.
In the example I used in my previous essay a gentleman I called Fred encountered an unpleasant situation with a colleague who has lashed out verbally, seemingly unprovoked. Fred recognized, in meditation, that his colleague’s outburst was evidence of suffering, suffering with deep roots emerging from his colleague’s experiences as a bullied child. Fred let go of his own anger and recognized compassion emerging, and allowed himself to abide in this wave of compassion by practicing metta for his colleague.
The challenge for Fred, as it is for each of us, is what happens next. What happens when Fred sees his colleague again? How does he operationalize his compassion, make compassion an emerging phenomenon in his relationship with his colleague? This is the work of active acceptance, since it is quite possible that Fred’s acts of kindness toward his offended colleague will be rebuffed or, worse, seen as patronizing. Yet it is essential that Fred form the intention in his mind and heart to act with kindness toward his colleague, allowing himself to be vulnerable as if he had, indeed, offended this person.
This work is the work of Forgiveness, a form of lovingkindness that is powerful, perhaps the most powerful force within any relationship. Active acceptance means we turn toward the difficult person or difficult situation with kindness, perhaps being careful to maintain needed boundaries in the case where the person or situation presents a threat to our welfare or another’s, but the firmness of the boundary is surrounded by the softness of our compassion. The act of forgiving, which I see as the active part of acceptance, requires great insight, mindful acceptance, willingness to let go of retribution (to which we may have a right), and, in time, acts of kindness, if appropriate and safe to do.
More on that in my next post.