by Miki Kashtan
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Accepting What Is: even when change happens (welcome or unwelcome, small or large), things fall apart, people don’t come through, or calamities take place in the world, I want to remain open to life. If I find myself contracting away from life or drawn to ideas about what should happen, I want to seek support to find a sense a peace with unmet needs, and to choose responses and actions from clarity about how I want to interact with and respond to life.
Accepting what is happening, especially in the midst of an emotional storm or intense agitation, is an exceptionally powerful avenue towards peace. At the same time, I am challenged even to know what it means to accept something that I don’t like.
Nowadays, I see acceptance as a state of presence with what is happening rather than an internal fight against it. I don’t like it if there is an earthquake or if someone gets ill. And yet I have extraordinary ease in accepting just about any natural disaster, illness, and death, even if there is intensity and pain associated with the situation. Part of what makes it possible is recognizing that there is nothing I or someone else could do about it. On the other hand, I am often challenged to accept even small matters with minimal or only short-term consequences when they involve human choice. Even when I have compassion for the person making the choice, If I imagine that more care could have prevented an unpleasant outcome, I still am pulled to fight reality internally. When I am able to access deep mourning, that softens me, and then I can shift into more acceptance, with and through the pain.
Accepting what is doesn’t mean we won’t work for change. It’s only the motivation for change and the quality of the energy that we put into it that changes. Instead of anger and opposition, we are motivated by the vision of what’s possible or the commitment to a world that works for all. Instead of urgency and internal demands, we can bring love and true nonviolence into our actions.
Part of what’s so complex about acceptance is that it is an orientation or an attitude, not a specific action that we can take. This makes acceptance more elusive and challenging to embrace. I am at once fascinated and humbled by the immense power of reaching acceptance coupled with the absence of a clear practice to cultivate it.
Practice: At the end of the day, review moments in which things were not to your liking, and explore the following questions: Was is easy or hard for you to accept the situation? What made it so? What, if anything, helped you release the tension and open up more? What kind of response did you have in the situation, and how might more acceptance have changed your response? What can you learn from this situation that might help you accept similar situations in the future?
Miki Kashtan is a co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication (BayNVC). She is inspired by the role of visionary leadership in shaping a livable future, and works toward that vision by sharing the principles and practices of Nonviolent Communication through mediation, meeting facilitation, consulting, and training for organizations and for committed individuals. Miki blogs at the Fearless Heart. Her articles have appeared in Tikkun magazine (e.g.Wanting Fully Without Attachment), Waging Nonviolence (e.g. Pushing the powerful into a moral corner at India’s Barefoot College), Shareable, and elsewhere.