Last updated: June 2017
I am not a conformist. I will fight the power, fight the status quo, fight the fight and yes, fight the natural order of things. This is a problem. To fight the natural order of things, the way things actually exist in the present moment, creates all types of problems dealing with adversity in our lives. When you spend a lot of time in ‘Recovery’ oriented spaces, such as support groups, hospitals, homeless shelters…you hear an awful lot of concepts and information aimed towards helping someone feel better about their seemingly overwhelming circumstances. While I have learned a lot listening to different psychologists, doctors, therapists and spiritual teachers, the one concept that has helped me the most with adversity in my life is called Radical Acceptance. It’s a lot like what it sounds like. The idea is often much misunderstood, however, so please indulge me while I try to convey my understanding and explanation of Radical Acceptance and how it can be useful for dealing with the pain in your lives.
Accepting your plight
The first time most people hear about this thing called Radical Acceptance, the first inclination is to believe that it means that we should just accept everything as it is and be absolutely ok with it. This is partially correct. We are to accept, totally, radically with our mind, body and spirit, who we are and what our lives are like right now. So that’s the radical part. Think back to a difficult time in your life where you suffered and suffered and eventually just accepted the thing that was causing the suffering. There was probably some relief after this occurred. So Radical Acceptance does not mean that you are expected to be some kind of detached being who feels nothing and cares not a bit about their future or wellbeing. It is simply about being honest with yourself about the current state of affairs, regardless of how awful they might seem. This is without assigning the usual mental contraptions to the suffering. We run into problems when we start asking questions like ‘why is this happening to me?’ or ‘how am I supposed to live like this?’. This type of thinking suggests that you really haven’t accepted your plight. It is about really letting go and realizing that by simply accepting things as they are, your suffering will be relieved. To a point. Every life has pain. Pain does not need to turn to prolonged agony and suffering. We bring this upon ourselves with all of the resistance, negative thoughts and self-defeating patterns of behavior.
Working on the problem
The other two key components to Radical Acceptance are accepting that everything that brings pain to our lives has a cause and that life is truly worth living even if it involves periods of pain. Trying to solve the problem of what is causing us trouble is a positive way to approach illness. I think that's what so many of us here on this site are trying to do every day. Solve the problem. Work with the diet, work with the doctor, work with gym, our relationships…on and on. We are working on the problem and just by the very nature of the work, I think that this work indicates that we believe that life is worth living, even with an awful illness or some other source of pain in our lives. If the idea of Radical Acceptance seems of interest to you, there are many sources that you can learn a lot more about how to integrate this type of thinking in your life. I can honestly say that it helps me, each and every day.
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