Radical Acceptance

An accident, an unexpected test result, a dismaying prognosis...

A flood of thoughts and intense emotions compete with my pounding heart and quickening breath for attention.

As my discomfort escalates, I struggle to make sense of the challenge that has emerged.

Why did this happen?

Is there something I could have done, something I should have known to prevent this or ensure a different outcome? 

I scrutinize the details, searching for an explanation that will bring me peace.

I manufacture alternative scenarios, and allow these to fill my mind, as if in some way this will alter my reality and provide relief.

Yet, my efforts to justify this experience only increase my distress.


I recall a conversation in one of my yoga classes.

On this particular day, we were asked us to consider radical acceptance of all that is.  All that is. 

Not what we want or even feel that we need.  Not what seems fair or justified.  

Just what is.


I appreciate that this approach may be helpful when dealing with minor irritations, but is the concept of radical acceptance too simplistic when facing serious circumstances?

As I consider this question, I recall the laughter of the jubilant individual whose bone marrow has stopped making blood cells. 

I reread his text on the day that he is told that he will not survive more than 3 months without a bone marrow transplant, assuring me that he has this “life stuff” in the proper perspective.  

In the same paragraph that he reports his prognosis, he shares that he feels blessed that his daughter is expecting a child, and refuses to express urgency, writing that he will call me in a few days.

I read poetry with a woman who has recently lost her child to cancer, inspired as she nods in agreement when she listens to the quote:  “a snowflake does not choose where it falls.”


I begin to recognize the insanity of resisting or attempting to justify that which has arisen.

Radical acceptance does not eliminate the uncomfortable emotions, the unsettling confusion or the sometimes excruciating pain.  

It is not an excuse to give up, to retreat from action.  

Yet the practice of radical acceptance, no matter the importance of an issue, is useful in defusing tension and safeguarding our physical and emotional health.


Accept - then act. 

Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.

Always work with it, not against it.


                            – Eckhart Tolle


By accepting an unwelcome situation as it emerges, we can forgo the mental gymnastics that deplete our energy, distract us from the reality of the situation and prevent us from responding to the experience with clarity.

This way of interfacing with our experiences helps us to remain attentive, acutely aware of our thoughts and feelings, our surroundings, our biases and our habits.

It is a promise to ourselves to reorient our attention when we notice that we are reliving or regretting the past, and to do our best to minimize criticism or blame as we work to negotiate the difficulties that inevitably arise on a daily basis.

Radical Acceptance is perhaps the ultimate act of compassion, for ourselves and for others - and a valuable opportunity to make the most of life.



This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

– Rumi