Can one be self-accepting and motivated at the same time?
Q: I hear a lot about acceptance and self-acceptance, but how can acceptance actually help? It seems to me the more I have to strive to change things in my life, the more gets done and the better life goes, things go, while if I simply accept things as they are, then less gets accomplished.
A: A Thai master named Achaan Cha said:
“Try to do everything with a mind that lets go.
If you let go a little you will have a little peace.
If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.
If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom.
Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.”
It may seem counterintuitive, but acceptance has its own transformative magic, and can actually change things. For example: Have you ever noticed how hard it is to change your mate, while a little more acceptance goes a long way towards transforming your relationship?
Cultivating self-acceptance, and tolerance towards others and their differences, have helped me become far more understanding, patient, empathic, balanced, and open-minded. And Lord knows, we could use more of that in this strife-torn world.
The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna said: “Contentment is the greatest form of wealth.” Contentment and acceptance should never be confused with complacence or indifference. Cultivating contentment means learning to appreciate what is given rather than focusing on what may be missing. Radical acceptance implies unconditional friendliness, the kind of openness and love that allows us to meet life as it is; it never throws anyone out of our hearts, even if we don’t like what they may think, say, or do.
Of course we all want to be better people, and make this a better world. I do believe that we can and must do so. Acceptance does not mean condoning the evils, injustices and inequalities in life. However, it does mean seeing more clearly what is, just as it is, and how and why things work the way they do, before we try to enter into the fray. When we calmly observe and investigate the causes of things, and understand that nothing happens by accident the truth reveals itself, whether we like it or not. Cultivating patience and acceptance provides more mental clarity to examine input before unthinkingly responding in the classic unconscious stimulus-reaction conditioned pattern habitual to most of us most of the time.
Practice taking a sacred pause, which the late Master Buddhadassa called “temporary nirvana.” Breathe once and relax, enjoying a moment of mindfulness and reflection before reacting–this can dramatically increase the chances of making better choices and undertaking wiser actions. We simply have to remember to do so.
Sometimes we may not know what to do. That is a good time to do nothing. Too often compulsive overdoing creates further unnecessary complications. When at a complete loss, some put down their head, fold their hands, and rely on their higher power for clarity, guidance and direction. Myself, I bow down and place my head in the lap of the Buddha, and await inspiration. This actually works.
I like to remind myself to recite in my head Reinhold Niebuhr’s wise prayer: “May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Unconditional acceptance is not static but ecstatic, vibrant, dynamically engaged in and connected with reality. It helps us to meet life all along the length of her gorgeous body, not just shake hands.
Unconditional acceptance is the kind of love Jesus speaks of when he taught to love thy neighbor; that Buddha meant when he said that the enemy, adversary or competitor can be one’s greatest teacher.