Acceptance or Change? Now, which should I be working on?

I love to post quotes. They come from wise people. Or funny people. Or people who have decluttered, simplified their lives, become more beautiful, made more money, become happier (or so it seems). The quotes tend to fall into categories and two of these seems to contradict each other. Should we be working on accepting ourselves just as we are, or work on becoming better people?

Should we be working on accepting ourselves? Yes, thats a wonderful idea! Accept and love ourselves just as we are.

But the next catchy quote is about change: Work smarter, not harder. Learn to make more money in 30 days. Change your partner or at least, change your relationship. Change your attitude! Change your diet. Change, change, change.

But accept yourself. Don’t judge.

In my therapy practice, this comes up all the time. I’m here to help people accept themselves AND change some things. The pressure can be big, so as I was walking around the park today, I began to think about what it all means.

So first, acceptance can be a problem.

You are a lovely soul. You were put here on earth, or landed here through the work of your ancestors, to live a life. You get to make lots of choices, hopefully, but probably you do not have a perfect life. Even the people we pick – partners and friends- do not always live up to our expectations and needs. And the people we didn’t pick – family or coworkers- probably don’t either. They all have their own agendas. The plans and dreams and struggles of others don’t always help us and sometimes hurt us quite a lot.

* Feelings. They are not always acceptable. At least not at first look. You may want to shut down all anger, pain, sadness, and shame. You may want to pretend they aren’t there.  Acceptance of all those feelings doesn’t seem like such a good idea. What if acceptance makes the feelings stick around? Better to just try to be happy all the time. Lots of lovely quotes recommend being happy!

Pain. Most of us have some pain in our bodies from time to time, if not ALL the time.  Are we supposed to accept even pain? Do we have to?

* Politics, World hunger, Injustice. I group these together because, well, they are long term problems. They probably do require both acceptance and change. In general, I know that, but in the details, in the stories of everyday, I do not feel acceptance. Frustration, anger, despair? Yes. Acceptance, no.

My first serious yoga teacher would say, Whatever you resist, you get to keep. What you accept, you move beyond. She was talking about the edge, not quite pain, but intensity that shows up when you encounter a problem. The problem may be that you can’t hold that pose any longer. It might be that you resist learning a new skill. Perhaps someone is treating you in a way that hurts you. Maybe you are scared to take the next step in your growth. Resisting comes in many forms. Its may show up as anger, tension in your body, high blood pressure, distraction or even substance abuse. We each have our favorite ways of resisting painful situations.

So if we choose acceptance today, how do we do it? Let’s keep it simple for now. Just try these three things:

First, choose to pay attention. When something feels painful or scary, many times our first reaction is to avoid thinking or feeling about it. We notice, then look away, metaphorically. We flinch and avoid. Instead, let your attention rest at the edge of your discomfort. Breathe and stay with it. Don’t try to change it right now. Allow the discomfort to be there. Just “sit” with it with all the kindness you can muster.

*  Notice if you are judging yourself for having these feelings. It’s very easy to slip into self-blame and shame. If you realize you’re doing that, try to let it go for now. Judging yourself or others is a defense again feeling the discomfort.

Allow yourself to relax other parts of your body and mind.Sometimes a problem in one area causes us to tense up or compensate in another area. It is easy to see this with physical pain. We begin walking funny when our hips hurt, for example. Pretty soon a knee will began hurting. Notice that this can happen with other parts of life: relationship stress becomes work stress and vice-versa. Consciously let go, relax, accept and enjoy good feelings in other areas of your body or your life.

For today, try these acceptance tips or even just one of them. You might be surprise how this small task of acceptance actually leads to change.