I want to talk about acceptance but our language isn’t good enough.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference

In the Serenity Prayer, acceptance is surrender to reality. There is nothing to be done to change it, so we must make peace with it.

In my naive understanding of Buddhism, acceptance doesn’t have to do with action. It is an affirmation of reality. What is, is. This doesn’t say anything about what happens afterwards or if it is good or bad.

I run into a lot of conversational pitfalls when talking about acceptance. Does accepting yourself make it harder to improve? Does accepting the bad things in the world mean you won’t take action? You get treacherously different answers depending what version of accept you’re using.

I’m usually trying communicate that affirmation of reality. It feels like the basic unit, more fundamental than the other version. So I’d like to use ur-acceptance to refer to that core concept, that what is, is. From it, we can add layers to get the other flavors of acceptance.

A moral layer:

  • It is, and this is good
  • It is, and this is bad

An action / pragmatic layer:

  • It is, and it does not need changing
  • It is, and it is not worth trying to change it (Like in the Serenity Prayer)
  • It is, and it is worth trying to change it

A feelings layer:

  • It is, and I am afraid
  • It is, and I like it
  • It is, and I feel conflicted about it

These combine. For example, about my likely future demise: I accept that it is, I feel confused but mostly displeased that it is, and I do not think it is good that it is. Perhaps my acceptance is making it less motivating to take extreme actions to prevent it, but I don’t like the other options very much.

The other options are disagreement or denial.

With denial, part of you knows (or thinks it knows) something. This is actively hidden from other parts, which means even floating the possibility of ur-acceptance can feel threatening.

Brain things happen for reasons. It’s likely the denial was helpful at some point. It might still serve a useful purpose. But even if it doesn’t, it’s generally rude to destroy people’s coping mechanisms when they aren’t ready for it.

Otherwise, there is a disagreement about what is, and will not ur-accept that thing until they no longer disagree.

One thought on “Ur-acceptance

  1. This articulates something I have struggled with for several years.

    I was once asked, during a goal-setting workshop, if I could accept the worst-case-scenario regarding my future; a future where my worst fears and failures came to pass. The purpose of that question, if I remember correctly (I might not), was to help me put aside underlying anxiety, but it made me uncomfortable to just *surrender to* the possibility of the worst-case-scenario. I felt like doing so would undermine my ability to actually prevent such a future.

    I think there is value in facing what reality throws at us (or might throw at us), but there’s a difference between being *afraid* of it at the feelings layer, and working against it at the pragmatic layer.


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