The life-changing practice of acceptance


Article first published in Cornwall Today.

I’m writing this in June and it’s 12ºC. Outside, torrents of rain are drenching the laundry and my seedlings have been flattened by the wind.

I can’t be the only one who’s been caught out by the unfeeling weather recently. Perhaps you have also experienced the pleasure of rain-rinsed bedding, or have tied in your sweet-peas or runner beans in defiance of the next onslaught?

Everywhere I go, conversations begin in the same way: “Isn’t it awful?” They’re not really asking. They know I agree. 12º rain and wind in June? Of course it’s awful. Yet for a moment, I’m confused: Isn’t what awful? I’m aware that this is one of those lovely moments of human empathy where we, the random person and I, are in it together and it’s assumed that we agree that whatever it is that is awful, truly is. Has there been an accident? I wonder… My mind races through possibilities… I haven’t seen the news today… 

“You poor thing,” this person helps me out, “you’re soaked!”. Ah ha! The weather. The weather is awful. Or is it? 

“It’s wet.” I say, accurately. I smile. She smiles. We feel better. 

The secret to controlling the weather

I can’t change the weather. I can’t control it. But I can control how I respond to it. So the laundry can stay out there until the sun shines - which it will, sometime. A genuine cloud-fresh rinse to our sheets: how luxurious! I’m sure we’ll sleep all the better. I’ve also rather enjoyed lifting my young plants from the soil and giving them some support. It’s a small thing, but I feel I’ve got to know them better. If they thrive and flowers and food follow later in the year (maybe even by the time you read this) I’ll feel a greater sense of achievement. 

Description in the face of daily adversity is something I’ve practised for years now, so it’s habitual. I can take grey days and dropped mugs and missed buses in my stride. They happen and I describe them. It’s cloudy? Fine. I won’t get sunburnt. We’ll have the BBQ next week. The mug’s broken? Nevermind, maybe I can glue it, or use it as a plant pot. Beyond repair? Well, then it’s served me well. I’ve enjoyed many a comforting hot drink from that mug. 

As for the bus, I set off too late from work to catch it. I’ll remember to leave 5 minutes earlier next time. For now, I’ll catch up with the news or call a friend. I actually end up glad I missed the first bus - I would never have called Pete otherwise and we end up chatting and laughing until long after the bus arrived and delivered me home. 

Cultivating peace of mind through acceptance

The situations I’ve been describing are examples of acceptance in action. Acceptance is often confused with other feelings: resignation, tolerance and understanding, but acceptance is so much more powerful and beneficial to our wellbeing than those weasel emotions. I don’t want to resign myself to a life of grey days, missed buses and broken possessions. That really is awful! And tolerance suggests bitterness, a buried sadness or anger that can be toxic. As for understanding, well, stuff happens. There’s no use holding my hands in the air and crying, “My favourite mug! Why, oh why did this happen to me?”

There are other things that can’t be controlled: people, loss, failure, illness, death, and I’m not suggesting we treat these painful matters lightly.  I am suggesting we describe them and recognise them for what they are, without resignation, tolerance or understanding. In this way, it is possible for us all to choose how we respond to forces that rock us, and allow ourselves to find peaceful acceptance.

As time passes and I pick up more metaphorical flattened seedlings and loads of rain-rinsed sheets, I appreciate just how important acceptance is. Actually, I believe acceptance is the key to human wellbeing and the greatest gift you can give to yourself and others.

You will be familiar by now with Lifetime’s approach. Our events, workshops and counselling sessions all take place within a climate of acceptance in which together we tend to your wellbeing, cultivating growth, change and self-acceptance. If that sounds good to you, get in touch or join our free Facebook community @lifetimetherapy today. 

Malachy Dunne