Radical Acceptance - The Pathway to Freedom

by A.J. Mahari

Radical acceptance can be found in the "Distress Tolerance" module of Dr. Marsha Linehan's Dialectical Skills Training Manual. While this concept is not limited to Linehan’s DBT it is a cornerstone of her ground-breaking work especially in the treatment of those with Borderline Personality Disorder. It is included in a section entitled, "Basic Principles of Accepting Reality". In this section Linehan outlines the following:

"freedom from suffering requires ACCEPTANCE from deep within of what is. Let yourself go completely with what is. Let go of fighting reality.

ACCEPTANCE is the only way out of hell.

Pain creates suffering only when you refuse to ACCEPT the pain.

Deciding to tolerate the moment is ACCEPTANCE.

ACCEPTANCE is acknowledging what is.

To ACCEPT something is not the same as judging it good."

One of the most troubling aspects of most mental illnesses and Borderline Personality Disorder specifically, as well as what results from trauma and sexual abuse and the like is a black and white, "all-good" or "all-bad" polarized way of thinking. Dialectical thinking systematically weighs contradictory facts or ideas with a view to the resolution of their real or apparent contradictions. Learning to see, understand and appreciate the very broad paradoxes life offers us more often than not and learning how to incorporate them into our thinking is a major difference between much mental illness and mental well-being. As we look to explore more about Radical Acceptance here it is helpful to begin firstly with some notion of paradox. For those who have a mental illness, a personality disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, have been abused and so forth, it can be especially challenging to consider radically accepting what you may well, up to now, have simply been unable to even imagine tolerating.

"Radical Acceptance offers gentle wisdom and tender healing, a most excellent medicine for our unworthiness and longing. Breathe, soften, and let these compassionate teachings bless your heart." — Jack Kornfield, author of “A Path with Heart and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” (see left to purchase this book)

Whether you have a mental illness, personality disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, love and care about someone who does, or whether you are stressed out, often anxious, or if you have been sexually abused or had a traumatic or even a merely difficult up-bringing (most have some wounds from childhood) or consider yourself to be healthy and just fine Radical Acceptance can and will enhance your overall quality of life and your spiritual experience in and of everyday life.

Radical Acceptance requires that you change the direction that you allow your mind to go in. It requires that you accept that you have the ability to act with the power of choice and that most things we think and do are choices. Practicing acceptance, actually being accepting of whatever is, is a choice. It is a choice that brings with it emotional freedom. It is a choice that replaces chaos and suffering with manageable pain and in time, peace of mind.

Radical Acceptance practice allows us to unearth the very root causes of so much of our emotional angst and suffering.

Radical Acceptance is a way of saying yes to each and every moment mindfully. If we can radically accept that we won’t always be accepted or liked by others and that life is full of challenges, for example, we can clear the pathway from the power of rejection and negative experience and/or thoughts and how we may have experienced them as severing our belonging. We can then make way for much more positive thoughts and feelings. Rejection or any other defined negative experience only has the power that we continue to give it. Radical Acceptance, in essence frees us up emotionally in reassuring ways that allow us to take back our personal power, or to not give it away to circumstance and whim anymore.

Practicing Radical Acceptance will, as Dr. Wayne Dyer, talks about in his book, Your Sacred Self” enable you to become more in tune with your “observer self”. It is from this “observer self” that one can begin to see things much more clearly. You can merely observe and accept whatever is. You don’t have to react to it. You don’t have to interpret it as “good” or “bad”. It can just be and so too can you just be. Just be with it, whatever, it is. Radically accept it. By doing so you will be exercising the power of your “observer self” and as a result you will be able to choose to stay in a calm and peaceful state no matter what emotions you are observing and/or feeling. Your “observer self” does not do anything with the emotions that you feel or that are at hand. They are just observed as existing. No more and no less.

Literally, using radical acceptance, through your “observer self” will gift you with the true “power of now” (Eckhart Tolle). The power of now is the inherent reality that willfully we can experience whatever the now has to offer us through observing and radically accepting without interpreting or taking any action whatsoever. This is freeing.

In Your Sacred Self Dr. Wayne Dyer says, "The little three-letter word ego has had various meanings applied to it...there are many misinterpretations of the word ego...I look upon the ego as nothing more than an idea that each of us has about ourselves. That is, the ego is only an illusion, but a very influential one...The ego is a mental, invisible, formless, boundaryless idea. It is nothing more than the idea you have of your self -- your body/mind/soul self. Ego as a think is non-existent. It is an illusion. Entertaining that illusion can prevent you from knowing your true self."

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As I have written in my up-coming ebook, (Coming Very Soon) The Shadows and Echoes of Self: The Essential Journey of Reclamation, "Your true self awaits your mindful radical acceptance of things, thoughts, feelings, people, and events in your life. Your true self awaits your warm nurturing loving kindness, your forgiveness, your attention to his/her woundedness and pain. It is in these precious new moments of radical acceptance that the true self begins to slowly re-awaken from a trauma-induced slumber of denial and bullying abandonment through one's own pain by his/her false self. That knock on the door of your soul is your spirited inner-child, authenticity personified clamoring to get your attention that he/she might have, finally, his/her wounded unmet needs satiated" (A.J. Mahari)

Learning about, reading about, and then beginning to practice Radical Acceptance is a crucial aspect of learning to find, know, and continue to develop your authentic self. Radical Acceptance, in my experience is like a pause button on a VCR, it gives you time to experience things that you otherwise wouldn't. These experiences over time begin to be life-changing. These new experiences, even seconds at a time will open small new windows for any and all who have become enslaved to the repetitive and self-defeating worry thoughts and cognitively-distorted beliefs of his/her false self.

There is an inherent reality in each now that is missed and lost if we aren't radically accepting what is in each unfolding present moment. Ekhart Tolle, in his book, The Power of Now says, "Instead of 'watching the thinker' you can also create a gap in the mind stream simply by directing the focus of your attention into the Now. Just become intensely conscious of the present moment. This is a deeply satisfying thing to do. In this way, you draw consciousness away from mind activity and create a gap of no-mind in which you are highly alert and aware but not thinking. This is the essence of meditation...The single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind. Every time you create a gap in the stream of the mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger."

It is important to not have your sense of self dependant upon the content of your mind. Living merely at the whim of each and every thought denies your soul room to be and to breathe. We are much more than our minds. In fact, as Tolle points out in his book, The Power of Now our minds our tools that we have at our disposal for specific tasks. Like any tool, a drill or a screwdriver, which we put away after we are finished using it for a specific task, we also need to lay down our minds from time to time. We no longer merely think, in this day and age, but we are actually more often than not, addicted to thinking and to processing information. We are addicted to thinking as a means of escape and also because we have identified ourselves with our thinking. We are much more than we think. This ghost-self that is addicted to thinking is the ego. To the ego, of which the false self is king, the present moment rarely exists.

The more you practice Radical Acceptance and allow the space of observation to permeate your experience the more you will learn to lay down your mind. This makes room for you to get in touch with a much more profound aspect of self - your true self, in all its authenticity which is the spiritual aspect of who you are -- your soul.

If we are able to be fully present through radically accepting what is observing things such as our inner-body, our thoughts and feelings, events around us, surrender from a place of loving kindness and forgiveness and understanding and be a witness to the unmanifested of each moment we will be open to the ever-transforming reality of the power of now.

Radical acceptance means that we have to consciously choose to be aware in and of each and every moment. We need to be willing to choose to accept what is. Willing to surrender our wilfullness. Wilfullness is what often leads us to choose to deny what is and fight it with illogical thoughts, worry, anxiety and the like. It is not a fight that we often win really. Not accepting what is causes a tremendous amount of anxiety and worry and traps you in your suffering. Even if we have pain, accepting it and not fighting it can keep our pain from turning into suffering. There is a difference between pain and suffering.

Most of us don’t realize how much of our thinking is narrow, black and white, at times, and also very repetitive. Not to mention, often, negative and protective, often without cause. These kinds of thought patterns are always destined to give us similar feelings. Feelings that create anxiety and worry and leave us fearful and even angry. Feelings that, if acted upon, often produce very unwanted impulsive self-defeating and regrettable behaviour.

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So much of what can be ruminated about and dwelt upon is what produces most of the anxiety and worry that many are suffering with and from. You can choose to stop it. You really can. By staying in the moment, being mindful, and radically accepting whatever is you can eliminate the ruminating and the need to worry and react in anxiety-producing ways. So much worry and anxiety originates with "what-if" thoughts or thoughts that build each feeling into a catastrophe of sorts usually with very dramatic reaction. If you make a choice to accept what is in the unfolding moment, mindfully, one moment at a time you can spare yourself the suffering from these cognitively-distorted anxiety-producing thoughts.

Radical acceptance does provide emotional freedom. It does this by freeing up our minds long enough with new information and possibility that we see that ruminating, dwelling on thoughts and worrying about things past or future robs us totally of every here and now unfolding present moment.

Life lived mindfully, with radical acceptance of all that is in each and every unfolding here and now moment is manageable and transforms endless suffering into manageable pain and in time, into a greater more stable and consistent peace of mind.

When you radically accept something as being just as it is, no matter how initially undesirable the thought, emotion, or reality might be, you are freeing yourself to be able to, over time, cope much more effectively because you will be at the root of what actually is and not responding to how things appear to be or how you wish things were.

It is very important to work at tolerating the thoughts and feelings that you may have, for so long, felt very adverse to. Radically accepting them gives you an opportunity to get to know them in a new and more productive and manageable way. You will come to gain more insight into how you think and how that leaves you feeling by accepting what is and allowing yourself to equally accept how what is really feels without trying to deny it, push it away, mask it and/or escape from it.

Radical Acceptance unleashes our potential to experience the power of each and every now. It gives us an wonderful opportunity to experience more of what is, as it is and to learn to not react to anything and everything out of faulty thinking or faulty interpretations.

Whether you have a mental illness, personality disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, love and care about someone who does, or whether you are stressed out, often anxious, or if you have been sexually abused or had a traumatic or even a merely difficult up-bringing (most have some wounds from childhood) or consider yourself to be healthy and just fine Radical Acceptance can and will enhance your overall quality of life and your spiritual experience in and of everyday life.

© Ms. A.J. Mahari January 16, 2006 - All rights reserved.


Last up-dated December 2, 2010