Tools for learning acceptance

samuraiOne interesting thing about meditation is that if we try too hard to change it actually makes it harder to change.

I’ll tell you a story. There was once a man who wanted to become the finest swordsman in Japan, so he went to seek out a hermit who was reputed to be the best teacher, although it was said that he lived in a remote place and rarely took on students. After a long search, the seeker found the hermit deep in the mountains and asked how long it would take him to become a great sword master.

The hermit looked him up and down and said, “Maybe five years.” The seeker thought this sounded like a long time, so he asked, “How long would it take if I tried really hard?” The hermit stroked his beard and thought about it. After a while he said, “Maybe ten years.”

Desiring to change is okay, but longing for change actually hinders our growth. An important aspect of developing acceptance is learning to avoid craving. Craving is when we long for something, and unfortunately craving can make us very unhappy. One common form of craving is to crave experiencing something different from our current experience. This longing actually creates an unhealthy form of dissatisfaction with what we’re currently experiencing since the flip-side of craving is aversion. Craving and aversion are polar twins. When we crave to be experiencing something different then we reject our current experience.

Mindfulness involves an attitude of acceptance, which is the opposite of either pushing an experience away or longing for an experience. With mindfulness we’re prepared to take on board how we actually are. This doesn’t mean that we want to stay the way we are at the moment. On the contrary we almost certainly will wish to move on from there, but the first step in moving on is to recognize fully where we are, and to accept it.

It’s possible to want change without that desire involving craving, because not all desires involve craving. For example when we say “May I be well” in the metta bhavana practice that can represent a desire that is free from craving. It’s only when our desires lead to us rejecting our experience or longing after other experiences that we create difficulties for ourselves.

8 Comments. Leave new

  • Thanks for this :-)

    Isn’t acceptance part of equanimity? ‘Equanimity is a spacious stillness of mind that allows us to be with things as they simply are.’ Salzberg

    Another thought : is the action of pushing away/repulsion inherent in non-acceptance akin to what psychologists call avoidance, suppression & denial ?

    Locating & finding the 2 Noble Truth inside of oneself cuts through a lot of external texts, external voices … makes it real… a real eye opener as well as a real opening up of the path.

  • Thanks for a thoughtful comment.

    Yes, acceptance is a key feature of equanimity, or uppekha.

    Avoidance, suppression, and denial are certainly forms of pushing away, but the tendency to avoid unpleasant experiences can also take the form of anger and hatred.

  • Mikey O'Connell
    June 23, 2012 10:45 pm

    Was in an accident in 2000 leaving me w/ TBI (traumatic brain injury) amoung MANY other repercussions. Trying ti change, to who I used to be, which I remember clearly, but know that I’m not.
    Am I gonna struggle forever for nothin?
    Thanks for your help:)

    • Struggle’s never for nothing, Mikey. The brain is capable of growth and regeneration, and although you may never go back to “normal” you can become more whole and suffer less. If you’re not already meditating, I’d highly recommend it. Meditation’s been shown to be very beneficial for brain health, and to promote the growth of tissue in the parts of the brain to do with emotional regulation, foresight, etc.

  • Do you have any tips to let go of craving and find peace without the fulfillment of what is craved?
    Must we search for a less intense desire and bring our thoughts back from what is yearned for?
    I am finding acceptance to be a great challenge and I completely understand its importance but I have trouble with it but know thats what i am meant to do
    Any words of advice would be greatly appreciated
    thank you

    • Well, you could write a book on that topic :)

      A few things, though:

      Shift your attention from your thoughts about the thing you’re craving to the feelings you have in the body that are connected with that craving. Be mindful of those feelings and you’ll notice that your craving is lessened.

      Reflect on impermanence. The thing you crave is going to cease to be, and you’re going to cease to me. Most of the things we crave turn out to be meaningless.

      Reflect on all the times that you’ve craved something in the past, got it, and then it’s all gone sour. Is this time really going to be different?

      Keep coming back to the simplicity of the present moment. Notice your breathing. Notice your body, and what you’re seeing and hearing and feeling. If you relax deeply enough into the present moment then you’ll realize that you have everything you need, right here, right now.

  • […] have told me – stop trying so hard! I was reading Bodhipaksa’s blog about acceptance on the Wildmind website and he told a story of a man who wanted to become a master sword […]

  • […] “pop-spiritual” method for escaping this cycle of chronic dissatisfaction is acceptance: that is, reconciling ourselves with the way things are, and the way we are or may feel at this […]


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