“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” -- M. Scott Peck “The Road Less Traveled.”
Scott Peck was inspired by the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths ( http://www.pbs.org/edens/thailand/buddhism.htm ) when he wrote those lines to open his famous book.
There is an essential tension hidden in what he’s saying. The tension rides along with the larger challenge of acceptance as both an idea, and an action. This tension is well articulated in the mantra of AA, the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s in the wisdom required to distinguish between acceptance and change that the tension lies. However, that is only a surface understanding. The plain fact of the matter is that when confronted with the difficulty of life, I must accept all of it, whatever is happening now, and certainly whatever has happened in the past, since the past cannot be changed. Why is this? Because I cannot alter my situation until I accept it as it is. I cannot know what change might look like until I have slowed down enough to accept and carefully examine what is now and thus what it is that I propose to change. We must learn how to accept difficult situations in life in a peaceful way in order to assess them, work with what we have available, and endeavor to solve them.
A metaphor: if I am lost in the wilderness, without a compass or map on a cloudy day, well, I could just walk endlessly in circles until I collapse with exhaustion. A more effective approach would be to simply stop where I am, maybe sit in some shade if it’s warm, have a drink of water (I’ve been just smart enough to bring water, even if I forgot my map and compass!), accept that I am lost in the wilderness, and start to carefully examine my situation. Panic will not help me. Anger will not help me. Despair, fear, terror will not help me. Acceptance will help me. Because if I accept my situation deeply enough, I may be able to change it. I may notice things about my situation once I have accepted it and begin to examine it. I may find a trail. I may see the sun faintly through the clouds. I may hear sounds that lead me where I want to go. And on and on.
This is all commonplace yes, but how often I have encountered, say, intimate partners in crisis, couples who are gripped with many strong emotions, resistance perhaps strongest of all. I’m not referring to resistance to therapy, or even resistance to change. No, rather, resistance to what is. Intimate partners who cannot accept who their partner truly is. Who cannot accept that their own actions have led them to this place over long years of not-accepting what is. There can be no change without acceptance first. In the work I do with couples acceptance figures quite strongly, in particular, each partner must learn to accept the truth of the other’s experience. This can be difficult, but it is probably inescapable if the partners desire to achieve a gratifying, growing relationship.
The Buddha, famously, stated the problem with his typical succinctness: when we do not accept, we suffer. Resistance to what is causes continuous suffering, until we finally learn to accept what is, and change what we can, and at that point, we can begin the process of leaving suffering behind.
An intriguing introduction to the act of acceptance in situations can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y3042e1yYs