• Christopher Miller, L.Ac

Active Acceptance


Christopher Miller and his son Oberon!

There is a lot about my life right now that I do not recognize, and if I were to be completely vulnerable, I would admit that I am uncomfortable with ambiguity. I am someone who finds great comfort in following the rules, knowing the expectations, and spending an unreasonable amount of time understanding a choice before I make a decision. My son turns nine months old soon, and it has been about that long since I’ve felt like my life has been violently shaken like a snow globe. I'm still very much waiting for the particles to settle.


Before the birth of my son, I was a grounded, well-read, meditated, patient, and all-around accepting dude. Okay, only one of those descriptions is true (dude). But I certainly felt like I knew who I was. That firmly held identity is being rocked to the core, and my money is on for the better. But currently, it feels …uncomfortable.


I come from a rural farm town in south-central Iowa. There is a well-established acceptance embodied by most who live there. Phrases like: "It is what it is.", and "If it ain't broke, don't fix it.", or one that is receiving a lot of necessary friction lately, "Boys will be boys." It's a type of acceptance involving shoulder-shrugging and a deep sigh. It is a disempowered acceptance that conserves established power structures and status quo. As a child in that culture, it made me pack my car 30-minutes after high school graduation, drive far away and not look back.


So when I started learning meditation and doing more profound personal growth, I often squinted my eyes at the word acceptance. And, frankly, I didn't give it the attention I could have. Possibly this whole new Dad gig would feel more ease-ful if I did?


It wasn't until I found Pema Chödrön's book, "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times," during a particularly turbulent time in my life when things were—falling apart— that I got the first taste of what the mystics all meant when they point to Acceptance. And my goodness, what a stark contrast from what I understand the concept to convey.


There is a difference between passive, disempowered, apathetic acceptance and active, empowered, curious acceptance. One asks to ignore. The other asks to pay attention. One is trying to pass responsibility. The other is sitting in the middle of the experience and owning. Both are uncomfortable, but passive Acceptance does its best to spend as little time as possible in the discomfort, while active Acceptance leans right on into the discomfort and does its best to befriend it.


In Pema Chödrön's book, she coaches us through practices that help us sit in the middle of whatever is coming up for us and listen. To fully be with grief, fear, anger, jealousy, sadness, worry, disgust, hurt, or any challenging-to-experience feeling, we can gain wisdom about ourselves and empathy towards others.


This summer, the teachers at Pause are studying Resmaa Menakem's book "My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies." He talks a lot about the active act of Acceptance. As a white man, if I don't do that critical, often heavy work of sitting in my body's discomfort, I will recapitulate that discomfort (usually pain) outside of myself. That pain continually reasserts cultural norms (violence) towards others because I haven't taken the time to be present and feel (accept) the reality of those norms. I've always thought that the affective protest sign "Silence is Violence" illustrates that fact quite well. Active Acceptance is the first step to change. It clarifies, it informs, it motivates, and it directs. Passive Acceptance snuffs out any action and muddies the water of progress. Passive Acceptance numbs and therefore hurts. Active Acceptance is an act of non-violence.


As a new father, I am feeling a whole lot of feelings. Of course, there is immense joy, pride, hope, and wonder. I also feel heavy identity loss, loud frustration, and irrational worry. When there is barely time to shower and brush my teeth these days, passive Acceptance effortlessly becomes a crutch. No doubt that is what my Dad did. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be raised by parents who practiced active Acceptance?


The practices that Pema and Resmaa teach are connected to active acceptance. It takes skill to choose active Acceptance, though I'm learning how consequential that choice is. When I can meditate or even be curious about my loss, frustration, and worry, I meet myself on a more holistic level. And I gain meaningful empathy towards my father, his father… and all the other fathers craving eye contact in the grocery store.


 

Self-Reflection

Consider exploring the following questions.


  • Is there an aspect of your life that could benefit from active acceptance?

  • Where do you notice passive acceptance in your body? Where do you notice active acceptance? How does it feel?

  • Is there a person/place/organization that personifies passive acceptance? Active acceptance? How do you recognize the difference in your body?