Acceptance is saying “what is is.”


The more we fight with reality, the less smoothly our lives go. The spiritual word for “not fighting with reality” is acceptance. (The religious word is surrender.) The more we accept, the easier our lives are.




As Byron Katie wrote, “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”

The first and most important thing to learn about acceptance is what it is (and what it isn’t). 

John-Roger and Paul Kaye wrote the following definition. I remember first seeing it posted on the refrigerator in my college-girlfriend Caryn’s house at Tufts University.

Acceptance is not approval, consent, permission, authorization, sanction, concurrence, agreement, compliance, sympathy, endorsement, confirmation, support, ratification, assistance, advocating, backing, maintaining, authenticating, reinforcing, cultivating, encouraging, furthering, promoting, aiding, abetting or even liking what is. Acceptance is saying, “It is what it is and what it is, is what it is.”  

Acceptance is saying, “what is is.”

This definition of acceptance doesn’t mean that you oughtn’t strive to change the things that you can, the things that you find within your control, the things that you feel ought to be changed. You ought to change those things, of course. But the things that cannot be changed? Those things are better accepted.

Serenity is often cited as the grace – the gift – that allows acceptance of things that ought to be changed but can’t.

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Shantideva has a great quote: “Fire is hot. The sky sometimes has clouds.”



I’ve taught this quote for years. (I picked it up from Pema Chodron.)


There is not a sane person in the world who argues about fire being hot. There isn’t a person in
the Pacific Northwest – where I live and where it is often cloudy – who attempts to argue about the sky for having clouds.


Fire’s heat and the sky’s clouds are just part of their nature. And we have an easy time accepting that. However, when it comes to people, it seems more difficult to accept qualities as part of their nature. We feel, if only unconsciously, that they could make a different choice and that they didn’t have to be rude to

We often feel lack of acceptance with regard to issues in our own lives. We feel that we cannot accept ourselves and our nature as it is, and we lambaste ourselves for being who we are.


Detangling what we can change

I want you to think about a situation. Something that has happened that you did not like very much. Something that has happened to you and you just can’t accept

I want to show you a way of being able to change a part of what happened, even in the face of not being able to change what happened at all.

What you need to be able to do is see that there are two different elements here:

1. The thing that happened
2. Our opinion about the thing that happened

The thing that happened is done. Aside from the chance of time travel, you will not be able to undo that thing that occurred. But there is your opinion of that thing that happened.

I am not suggesting that you whistle a happy tune, proclaim, “Hey-ho” and get over it. Not at all.

What I am suggesting is that you look at your opinion towards that thing that happened and accept it. That is, you fully acknowledge your opinion towards this thing that happened. 

I have found that many times people are so disgusted, upset, or outraged over the thing that happened because they do not accept their own disgust, upset, or outrage.

Let me give a recent, personal example. Recently, after I had asked my son seven times to do something, I yelled and it scared him. I hate that this thing happened. (I have made amends with him, but I am still horrified and still feel shame for what I
did.) There is nothing that I can do about the occurrence. It happened. What I had not done – until writing this – was accept my feelings about the situation. Now that I’m writing this, I accept my shame. And, voila, I am better able to deal with the thing that happened.

Please try the above for yourself. But, also, please note: there are traumatic events in our lives that can’t be addressed with a do-it-yourself approach and professional help might benefit you. If in doubt, ask for


Getting towards

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross made famous the “stages of grief” – Denial/Anger/Bargaining/Depression/Acceptance.

I find that while some stages may be absent and the stages may not be linear, I often go through them as prescribed on my way towards accepting reality.

I teach this sequence using the acronym DABDA and refer to them as the stages of acceptance.

Imagine a teacher telling students that their term paper is now due three weeks earlier than anticipated.


“You’re kidding!”

”She’ll change her mind.”



“This isn’t fair!”

“That professor is the worst.”



“I’m going to talk to the dean.”

“Once it’s done, it will free up time.”



“I guess we have to.”

“What’s the point of



“All right. This is how it


Towards spiritual


Think about anything going on in your life something that you don’t

Go through one letter at a time – DABDA. Not to rush yourself through it, but just to see
where you find yourself on this spectrum towards acceptance.


Not to push the goal line further away, but really, the stage of acceptance gets subdivided into two. (I didn’t realize this until about a month ago.)

There is acceptance on an intellectual level – ”Yeah, I get it, that’s how it is.”


And, then there is a spiritual acceptance. That’s the one to strive for. Spiritual acceptance is marked with laughter and grace. It’s beyond just knowing it in the mind, it’s a full soulful acceptance. Spiritual acceptance is the acceptance that we see at times that we have for our loved ones. It’s the one where you see your dear-one about to reach for the banana-nut-muffin after you’ve heard him
say for the 100th time, “I’ve got to stop eating banana-nut-muffins” and you don’t get upset, you just look with compassion, with love. Spiritual acceptance is ability to look at a teenager who defers your advice – insisting on doing it their own way which is doomed to fail –  and then loving them enough to let them and not holding it over their head when it does. That’s spiritual acceptance.


Spiritual acceptance is what allows us to not get upset and to even laugh at and with ourselves in our problems.

Spiritual acceptance is what I wrote about above – the serenity that came to me after I allowed myself to have missed the mark by yelling at my boy.

Spiritual acceptance is seeing, even if for only brief moments of time,  that the world is as it is and we are as we are and that the whole confusing mess is actually pretty awesome.

<Take a break here. This has been a BIG article so far.>

The role of acceptance in love


Acceptance is a quality of love. You cannot fully love someone (or something) without acceptance. To love someone, you must accept (fully) that person as they are.


Here are the four aspects of love:







This idea, summed up with the letters R-A-U-R, is my favorite “go-to” lesson.


Step One:


To love someone is to recognize them and to recognize them is to see
them. It means paying attention to them, acknowledging that they are there in your presence and that they are important to you. It also means not being distracted by electronics when you’re with them or ignoring them in some unloving way. The worst thing you can do to someone is to make them feel invisible. Perhaps you remember the feeling of being ignored from having the silent treatment perpetrated on you as a child;  it takes your existence away. Not seeing someone can destroy them in a
personal, hurtful way. Love means letting the other know that you see them for who they are.


Step Two: Acceptance


The act of acceptance is taking someone as they are. Allowing them to be who they are without trying to make them over into someone else. Larry and I joke when we perform weddings that sometimes the first thing the bride sees when she comes down is the aisle, then the altar, and then finally her future husband. What a terrible thing for the bride to think: I’ll alter him. (It’s a bad joke, but we like it.)


To add more words than are in the aforementioned John-Roger
and Paul Kaye quote, Accepting is not abetting, advocating, agreeing, aiding, approving, assisting, authenticating, authorizing, backing, complying, concurring, confirming, consenting, cultivating, encouraging, endorsing, furthering, liking, maintaining, permitting, promoting, ratifying, reinforcing, sanctifying, supporting, or sympathizing. A spiritual acceptance of someone – true love of them – is saying, “You are who you are, and who you are is who I


Step Three: Understanding


Understanding means having
empathy – being able to see the world as the other person sees it. It doesn’t mean agreeing with them, but rather being able to (which starts with being willing to) see the world through their eyes. The end result is that the other person feels they are not alone. They understand that someone else sees the world as they do. This is what we really mean by the word intimacy. It makes us feel connected and experience a sense of oneness.


Step Four:


Love is an action verb. Certainly love is an emotion and a feeling, but the
emotion by itself is not enough. In order to truly be loved, the beloved must know they are loved and be able to receive the love. Love requires a response. That response must be both truthful and kind. A relationship built on lies and deceit is disturbing and ultimately destructive. Any relationship will be destroyed unless it has truth. Love is an action; respond with love.

Now, go and be loving.
Accept the world as it is. 


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Rabbi Brian


Some more questions about acceptance to reflect upon


  • Do you accept faults in yourself or others more easily? Can
    you imagine changing that?
  • There is a phrase: “If things are going your way, you must have changed course.” Is this (always)
  • What do you believe keeps you from accepting things as they are?
  • If you were to accept more things as they are, what might you lose?
  • What is one thing that you are just on the edge of accepting?What needs to change to have you accept it? What’s keeping you?