The concept of “Extreme Acceptance” is purely a state of mind. It is a sweeping mental attitude that in many ways can act as a universal coping skill. It is not a destination or a goal, but instead, the ongoing process of exercising our mind to be flexible and tolerant of anything life throws at us. The application of “Extreme Acceptance” asks us to dig deep inside of ourselves and accept the seemingly outrageous. It is the “X Games for the Mind” because with any drastic change or abrupt shift in the familiar, there is emotional risk involved. But despite the potential risks and high stakes, Eckhart Tolle reminds us: “Acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in this world.”
So, let’s be clear: Extreme Acceptance is NOT the following:
It is not indifference, apathy or blind resignation. It does not involve skirting personal responsibility and it is certainly not giving up or quitting. In addition, it is not saying that whatever misfortunes we suffered in the past were a good thing. And most importantly, it is not saying that we should arbitrarily forgive wrongdoers and absolve them of culpability.
Extreme Acceptance IS the following:
We accept things as they are without judging them
Whatever comes our way, we refrain from over analyzing and possibly judging. It is what it is. Whatever happens happens. We are patient and allow the natural flow of things to take place. Keeping this perspective means letting go of the innate reflex to interpret all of our experiences with a critical eye. In addition, holding on to resentments and grudges — as a result of our judgments — deprives of us gaining insight and growing from the experience. Sustained resentments about things in the past are lazy forms of grieving. Because as we all know, it takes a great deal of inner strength to let go of anger and feel the pain.
We accept others for who they are and for who they are not
Acceptance of other people being different than us seems to be a very difficult task for many human beings. But under the “Extreme Acceptance” construct, we not only accept our differences but more importantly, we are grateful for the genius of diversity in thought, personal values, sexual orientation, religion, race, etc. Extreme Acceptance does not assume expectations of others but instead attempts to adopt a compassionate acknowledgment of others without imposing our own prejudice.
Therefore, we strive to view others as well as ourselves as unique human projects in constant transition. We strive to accept that all of us are complex, multi-layered individuals that are highly vulnerable and superbly imperfect. “Extreme Acceptance” is about cultivating tolerance and embracing inquiry.
We also learn that we do not have the power to change others. We understand that we can encourage others, influence them, maybe even inspire them, but beyond that, we are powerless. French philosopher, Rene Descartes said: “Conquer yourself, rather than the world.”
We accept that all things must end. Nothing is forever
We adhere to the thought that “life is merely a series of beginnings and endings.” All good things end and thankfully, all bad things end too. Remaining overly attached to people, careers, success and earthly possessions causes us suffering. If we can look at loss or the end of a relationship for example, as simply another ending in our life that is part of being human, we experience less distress over it because we are not so emotionally committed. And as overly simplistic as it may sound, poet and cartoonist Dr. Seuss suggests: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
In addition, the finite nature of life — the knowledge that even our own lives will end someday too — can in fact be a motivating insight that could give our existence a great deal of meaning. The concept of death and dying in this instance can be a friend instead of something to fear.
We don’t ask unanswerable questions
For example, we don’t ask why we were born into our particular family or why we can’t be smarter, richer, more beautiful, more creative, etc. If we try to answer these unanswerable questions, all we come up with are interpretations and theories. Sometimes there are NO definitive answers and anxiously ruminating about the “why” is a waste of time. A more important question might be “why now?” Meaning, let us look at what we are doing today that might be adding to the problem. Again, our here and now thinking is the only reality we can count on. And staying in the inquiry of life is always better than assuming foregone conclusions.
The Importance of Gratitude
“Extreme Acceptance” cannot exist without the concept of gratitude. Gratitude balances out the “outrageousness” of what we are asking to radically accept. For example, to reconcile accepting difficult people and situations without judgment, to reconcile accepting death and that all things will end someday, means taking stock and appreciating basic givens in life that we can acknowledge in the here and now.
The mind is in perpetual auto-pilot and it is our job to learn how to switch over to manual mode and self-manage our thoughts better. This process is not necessarily a destination or a goal either. It is simply a daily application like brushing your teeth or tidying up your house.
Zen master Lin Chi said, “The miracle is not to walk on water but to walk on the earth.” Correspondingly, the wonder of gratitude is to be gutsy enough to peacefully embrace the simple things we have every day here on earth and take notice of its many gifts. In this instance, as we participate in the “X Games for the Mind” and we access “Extreme Acceptance,” we attempt to trust that gratitude can be a radical alternative to prior methods of coping.
The following exercise compels us to avert our focus from negative and irrational thoughts to more sensible and grounded thoughts.
Exercise: Cultivating Gratitude
Write down three things you are grateful for in your life today. Complete this exercise every morning for one month:
Note: You must be very specific about WHY you are grateful for each one you choose. And, although some repetition is OK, try to cultivate new ones each morning when you do the exercise. For example, you might be specific about acknowledging someone important in your life: “I am grateful for my friend “Jane” because she is a good listener; she treats me with love and respect and is there for me whenever I need her.” Or, you might acknowledge yourself: “I am grateful that I have persevered this long, despite the fear and anxiety of a potential double-dip recession.” Remember, if we wake up in the morning and stop to identify positive things in our lives, big or small, our minds will begin the day processing the world differently.