Thinking Out Loud

Acceptance and Paradox

Ancient and modern teachings about life and humanity emphasize acceptance as something to (continually) strive for. Acceptance is a broad topic, and here I am talking about self-acceptance, accepting others as they are, and accepting the unexpected because we can’t predict the future. Of course all of these are a part of being present in the moment—something else we strive for. 

Acceptance, though, has more than one dimension. It includes paradox, which is tricky because to accept things as they are doesn’t mean giving up on change. Change is natural. Everything changes over time and not necessarily how we would like it to change.  If we invest too much in our hopes that change will occur in the way we would like it to, we are not likely doing well with being accepting.

This, of course is a paradox: accepting things as they are, yet knowing that change is the natural order. Intuitively and through experience we know this is true, yet living with it is complicated because we want things to change for the better (as we see it) and we must accept things as they are.  Hmm . . .

We live with paradox all the time. For example, we know that our best qualities can also get us into trouble. One of my virtues is being very patient, and most everyone who knows me would likely attest to this. Yet when I assess the times in my life that have been the hardest, there is a theme of being “too” patient, not knowing when to draw a line in the sand—being too flexible to my own detriment. Most of us can reflect similarly and identify this type of paradox in our life.

So is being patient good or bad for me? The answer is . . . it all depends.  That’s the nature of paradox, and paradox is all around us. We would like things to be simpler, as in black or white, but it’s rarely so because so much depends on a given situation and the particular circumstances in a person’s life.

Believing in our ability to grow and change and at the same time accepting ourselves as we are is fundamentally important. We cannot uncouple these two because they are one. I struggle with this concept regarding my writing ability. Documented learning disabilities make writing very difficult for me, and it’s something I struggle to accept. Coming to greater acceptance has freed me to improve as a writer. There is an interplay in this paradox; they don’t exist without the other. Each side effects the other, which means that I get better at doing this task the more I truly accept my limitations. Fighting one’s limitations consumes energy, and for me that means I’m stuck and no progress occurs.

Discovering paradox as we look at ourselves and in the themes we’ve observed playing out in our lives is helpful. It cuts down the judgments we make of ourselves and others and helps keep us present and humble as we strive to grow and change—all in the spirit of true acceptance.


Back to the blog