Accepting What We Cannot Change

Accepting What We Cannot Change February 7, 2024

One of the hardest spiritual practices in life is accepting that which we cannot change. Even in the case of events and situations that we can change, the practice of radical acceptance helps us find the patience we need while discerning and making the change.

The term “radical acceptance” is used by many Buddhists to refer to the practice of sitting with your situation—just as it is–and feeling your emotions–just as they are–for a period of time.

The interesting thing about our emotions is that they can have a pretty short lifespan if we simply allow them to be without trying to push them away or fight with them. Spiritual directors are trained in assisting directees in accepting their emotions, whether they are the unwanted and difficult feelings or the pleasant, life-affirming ones. Many spiritual directors practice radical acceptance with clients without even knowing the name for it.

The ancient practice shared here is adapted from an excellent book on the subject, Radical Acceptance by therapist Tara Brach.  It can be practiced alone, in groups or within a spiritual direction session.

  1. Find a quiet place to do this practice. Set aside all distractions and take several deep breaths. Relax.
  2. Recall a situation in your life with which you are struggling. Ask yourself, “How am I feeling about this?”
  3. Name the feeling and allow yourself to experience that emotion without judgment. Breathe into it. Accept it.
  4. Notice how you feel this in your body. Where does this emotion rest?
  5. Connect with your longing to be held in unconditional love in the midst of experiencing this emotion.
  6. Bring to mind the image of a spiritual figure that–for you–embodies unconditional love. Ask this Holy One to be with you.
  7. Placing your attention on your heart, allow the Holy One to embrace you or surround you with love.
  8. Stay with this loving embrace long enough for it to embed itself in your memory. You can return to this embrace whenever you feel vulnerable or overwhelmed with emotion.
  9. End your spiritual practice by expressing gratitude to the Holy One for the gift of radical acceptance.

I doubt anyone who practices radical acceptance on a regular basis would call it easy, but it is an essential practice if we are to mature in our spiritual journey. When practiced regularly, you may find that life’s road bumps are less jarring and that you recover from disappointment much faster than when you refused to accept what was real.

About Teresa Blythe
Teresa has been working as a spiritual director with individuals, groups, and organizations since 1997. Teresa works with people from a variety of faith backgrounds as well as those who are in-between, searching or from the "it's complicated" category. In addition to running the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction and serving as spiritual director for First Church, Teresa is Director of the Apprentice Training Program for Spiritual Directors—a one-on-one educational program that trains and forms new spiritual directors. She is the author of 50 Ways to Pray, Spiritual Direction 101 and co-author of Incline Your Ear: Cultivating Spiritual Awareness in Congregations. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC), Teresa received her Master of Divinity and Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction from San Francisco Theological Seminary in 2000. She is a member of First UCC Phoenix and Spiritual Directors International. You can read more about the author here.
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