Acceptance and Change

August 24th, 2011

I’m a simple man with a mind like a steel sieve. Thoughts and ideas enter and leave my mind faster than the speed of light. So I look for memorable ways of connecting ideas. I found one while I was driving recently. The rest of the family were all asleep in the car and my mind turned to change management. Just at that moment, I glanced down and saw my AAA card. It reminded me of the AAA approach to change– Awareness, Acceptance and Action.

Awareness is step 1 in becoming a conscious change agent and it’s more than half the battle. It begins to answer the “Why?” question. Acceptance is the second step and in many ways acceptance rides on awareness’s wave. Pioneering Psychoanalyst Carl Jung said, “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate. It oppresses.” These are challenging words. Acceptance sounds like the opposite of change. Its not. The opposite of change is resistance, the unwillingness to dance in reality as it is evolving. Resistance is itself the opposite of acceptance. So you can see that change and acceptance are two sides of the one coin. There are two ways to create change; one is active and the other is receptive, but neither is passive.  Its like working with Change Tracker on a Word document. You can choose each time if you want to leave a suggested correction as is or change it. Both are choices and both are actions. You have your own inner Change Tracker (aka inner wisdom)  to make the same discernment.

Here is my take on what Jung meant by this statement about acceptance.

At the point of becoming aware that something is not right, either within or outside of you, there is a strong human tendency to do the octopus dance. What I mean by that is that arms shoot in every direction looking for people to blame. It’s the easiest thing to do, but doesn’t lead to healthy change. “It’s the Republicans fault. It’s the Democrats fault. It’s Bush’s fault. It’s Obama’s fault. It’s my parents’ fault. It’s God’s fault. It’s Wall Street’s fault. It’s my genes’ fault. Etc”

Rumi wrote, “People of the world don’t look at themselves, and so they blame one another.” As long as we are looking around for someone to blame, we aren’t taking responsibility for our own lives. This can be dangerous.

A Buddhist story describes a man who has been shot with an arrow. In pain, and risking death, he refuses to have the arrow removed until he knows who shot the arrow, what material the arrow head is made from, what direction the arrow was shot and how deeply it is lodged. He refuses to have the arrow removed until he has all his answers. The tragedy is that he will die before he has what he is looking for. This seems to get to the heart of Jung’s statement about acceptance. You have to accept what is, without blame and judgment, before you can heal yourself or any system.

Please note- acceptance does NOT mean being passive or submissive. It’s the choice to approach a situation pro actively and peacefully rather than judgmentally, and without fear and loathing. The American cartoonist James Thurber said, “Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” Anger is often a form of denial, masking the sense of disappointment that life hasn’t played out the way we hoped. Fear is a form of projection, imagining the worst of every change. Awareness is the antidote to both fear and anger. Awareness breeds acceptance of life exactly as it is, and acceptance breeds real life compassion and change.

This applies to many personal and social situations. Acceptance comes before change. If your marriage has ended or you have lost your job, you can spend your energy cursing the ground your ex walks on, or you can accept the situation as it is, and get on with creating an exciting and healthy future for yourself. In this case, acceptance is the beginning of self compassion. You don’t have to condone or endure other peoples’ abuse. Just accept that everyone is on their own journey, dealing with their own karma, and choose to move on with as little toxic resentment as possible.

Carl Rogers was another prominent psychologist who took the ideas of Jung to a new level of personal responsibility. He believed that his clients had within them all the answers to their own problems. The role of the therapist was to create space for the client to find their truth. The essence of personal problems for Rogers was the inability of people to accept themselves. Therefore they were unable to accept the world around them and unable to effect meaningful change. As he said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Acceptance is the second step in a healthy change process. You and this moment, with all of its crazy and confusing challenges, are a perfect match, engaged in a passionate love affair. You are the right person in the right place at the right time. Give thanks for who and where you are. It is PERFECT for NOW and becoming even  perfecter every moment. You see, you can even make up words to describe the exhilarating process of becoming.

From a place of radical acceptance, you can respond, and participate in exciting change. With radical acceptance, you can effect radical change. Garrison Keillor has a nice way of saying this, “I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.” Once you face life as it is honestly, you can set about denying current reality the power to hold you captive.

Awareness and acceptance form the bridge to personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is the basis for action and sustainable change. This leads to the third A, the next in the series, and the culmination of all the personal reflection- ACTION. The bottom line is that it’s all about potential, both personal and global potential.

Author John Miller wrote,

There’s not a chance we’ll reach our full potential until we stop blaming each other and start practicing personal accountability.

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  1. […] The next A in the AAA series on Change Management is Acceptance. […]

  2. Lola Santaella says:

    Excellent article on acceptance…

  3. I found this to be true during my journey to overcome the effects of childhood abuse.  At first it was important to identify the abuse as abuse, and then to place blame where it belonged.  I had to acknowledge that there was an ‘arrow’ and that I didn’t put it there.  Then came the arduous task of accepting me as I was (broken and flawed) and then saying, “The rest is up to me.”  What happened to me wasn’t my fault.  The effect it had on me emotionally and mentally was not my fault.  If I didn’t do anything to change and overcome my past, then that was my fault.  I’ve found that in changing my focus from blame to personal accountability I found peace.
    Great article!

  4. ian says:

    hi Veronica, thanks for sharing your story. I really appreciate your honesty and courage and love the way you tell your story. It sounds very empowered which empowers me and, I’m sure, others. Thank you

  5. Deeone says:

    I really enjoyed this post Ian. My favorite part, Acceptance comes before change. So very true. Well put. Thanks so much for sharing this. I definitely receive this message for moi!

  6. ian says:

    Moi is welcome. 🙂

  7. Carol Shimp says:

    Change is good. Thanks

  8. Olyvya says:

    Heartfelt gratitude to the Constant Gardener for yet another seed that I’ll nurture while it grows, changes, then blooms.  In my journey, I have often met circumstances in which development and growth seemed arrested – but in retrospect, those seasons were when the growth was below the soil, the root systems branching and strengthening to reach deep levels of nourishment.

  9. ian says:

    Beautifully said Olyvya- thank you

  10. Monica Dart says:

    So far, every day I have opened a link via twitter and it feels as though your message was written specifically for me.  Love your blog and it has really shown me other ‘angles’ of looking at my life. thank you

  11. […] » Blog Archive » Acceptance and Change Posted by MagMan on 07/11/2011 in Papers | Subscribe posted by friends:  (3) @Soulseedsmedia: You have to accept what is, without […]

  12. Pam says:

    “It is what it is…now what can I do to make it better?” is a great way to gain acceptance and to begin to make the changes needed.  If the acceptance isn’t judgemental an answer or “first step” will naturally present itself as long as you are open to receiving the message. By asking what you can do to make it better,  you are remaining positive and looking for a solution for the higher/greater good and that’s a winning combination! 

  13. A wonderful article.  I could relate to every word…:)

  14. GalFromAway says:

    Can you struggle with acceptance but still take steps to make things better? Does that mean you haven’t accepted things?

  15. ian says:

    You can accept the struggle.

  16. GalFromAway says:

    ian, that’s such a simple thing… yet not easy at the same time. But it makes sense. Thanks.

  17. ian says:

    yes, I know. Seeking peace is just like that; both seeking and peaceful, both effortless and full of struggle. Accept ALL of it, just as it is, and you move beyond the seeking to the peace.
    Peace to you.

  18. eric says:

    this is a nice article.  Acceptance of who you are and what you were into is very important.  I agree with Veronica that if we didn’t do something about our painful past, then its our fault.  It took me sometime to accept that there are things that happened in my past that is beyond my control and its emotionally draining.   Changing ones attitude or belief towards something or towards the past is difficult if acceptance is not embraced. I learned that I have to accept what ever that is happening to me and do something about it.  Acceptance, to whatever it is, is the key, if you wanted to have peace

  19. Great article on Acceptance, Awareness and Action!! I like the AAA analog!! Thank you Ian!

  20. Stephen Hosch says:

    Great thoughts, I read it twice.  And very well stated too.  Thank you.

  21. Bobby T says:

    As a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Acceptance of what “is” will always be a huge part of my day to day journey.  When I find myself in conflict with a person, place, or thing, I am not accepting that person, place, or thing just as they are. I had to accept that I had the disease of alcoholism, then I had to take the necessary Actions to find the daily reprieve that I get contingent on the maintenance of a fit spiritual condition. 

  22. Wow, this is perfectly written and the same thought I was writing about in my journal today.  The more we hold on to what we don’t want, the harder it is to find what we do want/need/desire.  I’m going to have to highlight this on my blog, because more people need to understand that by accepting what is, you will find much more.  I love the examples you use because they really help depict the message you are writing about on this page.

  23. Seema Almel says:

    Thank you for this article….it is wisdom for everyday application of Spirituality. 

  24. My grandmother was a great believer in the power of positive thinking.  My cynic philosophy already well established before I had collected by first tooth fairy quarter, drove my grandmother to distraction.  One night before bed she told me a little story a parable to instruct the peculiar bent of my philosophy.
    The story of Negative Nancy and positive Polly.
    Once upon a time there lived two sisters, Negative Nancy and Positive Polly.  Each sister possessing personalities of perfect alignment with their names.
    Christmass was coming and the two sisters were united with a single desire, they wanted a pony.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas they did everything they could to insure that their parents were aware of their desire for a pony.  They begged, whined, sang songs about ponies, left books about ponies on the kitchen table next to the plate of cinnamon toast they had made for their parents.  They did all their chores without complaint and when the two sisters argued they did so very, very quietly.  For a pony they would pretend to get along.
    Christmas finally arrived and before the dawn the two sisters jumped out of bed and ran down to the Christmas tree.
    There was no pony.  Instead they found nothing under the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree but a big pile of pony poo.
    Confronted by this all too fragrant evidence of parental insanity Negative Nancy begins to cry.
    Positive Polly claps her hand and squeals in delight then runs to the pile of pony poo and digs in with both hands.   
    “What the hell are you doing?”   ((Mind you my grandmother most certainly did not say that line when she first told the story to me))  Demands Negative Nancy.  Since there was no pony Negative Nancy no long felt any need to pretend to get along.
    Positive Polly pauses in her digging and grins up at her sister and says.  “With all this poo there has to be a pony in here somewhere.”
    My grandmother concluded the story and waited for the parable to light the dark corners of my soul.
    A girl covered in shit grinning from ear to ear was an image my grandmother thought of as perfectly illustrative to the point of the compelling value of positive thinking as a life’.
    I was horrified.
    I looked at my grandmother and said. “Well now I tell you what, come Christmas dinner, you get to sit next to Positive Polly.”
    I prefer to deal with the world as it is not as I hope it to be.  At least that way I don’t have to sit next to the girl with the shit eating grin.
    acceptance is sometimes looking at a pile of poo and think maybe I can start a garden, not I hope I find a pony. 

  25. Saraju Prasad Pathak says:

    I really liked this. Thanks.

  26. Good guidance and thoughts, Ian! I like both of your main sources… Jung and Rogers.  Both had strong religious backgrounds, incidentally.  Rogers, far as I know, didn’t consciously pursue a spiritual path in his adult years.  Jung had had strong interest in the ministry before going into psychiatry, and he retained interest in his own and others’ “inner” lives, their spiritual experiences, including what we tend to call the “paranormal”.  This is fairly well known, but what is less known is that only recently (about 2 years ago, I think) did the handlers of his estate release the broader (and deeper?) range of his musings, his own artwork, etc. having to do with the subconscious and/or our spiritual dimensions.  The form of that is an over-sized beautiful book with many glossy pictures of his work, his reflections (many journal entries I believe), etc.  I’ve only perused it at a library… it is not a cheap book, as one would imagine.   

    Although it only touches on the surface of Jung’s beliefs re. spiritual phenomena, I also just enjoyed the movie, “A Dangerous Method” on the early period of his professional life, helping develop psychoanalysis with Freud.  It shows, I believe fairly accurately,  that Freud’s refusal to accept or respect Jung’s interest in paying attention to the spiritual is a good part of why they severed their briefly close relationship and frequent correspondence.  

    I know this got quite afield from the original topic, but perhaps of interest to you or your readers.  And I DO recommend the movie for anyone interested in psychodynamics, the beginnings of psychoanalysis, personal (family) and professional relationships, especially relative to sexuality and how it was viewed/treated in the late Victorian period and in the foundation of psychoanalysis.    

  27. ian says:

    Thanks Howard, very interesting info. Im intrigued to look up the book you mention.

  28. Jill Ed says:

    Great article. I will have to bookmark this page for reminders and inspiration.

  29. Christopher says:

    That is the premise behind the teachings of Radical Acceptance. Thanks for writing on this important subject.

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