Accepting vs. Allowing: What’s the Difference?

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acceptingYou’ve probably heard a lot about the benefits of acceptance. (Resistance causes suffering, while acceptance brings peace, right?)

Well, this is often true, but sometimes radical acceptance is an uphill battle that we’re not equipped to fight, especially when it involves a difficult situation or circumstance. Sometimes acceptance carries a heavy feeling with it, because it implies that we need to accept what we really don’t want.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with the idea of allowing. To me, allowing is subtler and less rigorous than accepting. In allowing, we simply create a little space in our minds for things to be less polarized, less rigid. Instead of judging ourselves for making a mistake, we recognize that we’re human and that mistakes are going to happen.

When it comes to matters of personal appearance, success, traffic, or the faults of ourselves or our spouse, we allow for what’s reasonable or realistic. It doesn’t mean that we get lazy and stop trying, or drop our standards to zero. Instead, we look at the big picture and find a healthy balance that reduces the harsh judgments and dashed expectations that so often lead to suffering.

What does allowing look like? Let’s say you recently noticed lines on your face that didn’t used to be there. This experience doesn’t put you in your happy place. Resistance would dictate that you judge and reject these changes, and do whatever you can to make them go away, and/or create an inner battle about it. Acceptance would have you work through or transcend your emotional reactions in order to neutralize the situation in your mind. And Allowing, according to my definition, would be like softening the edges around the situation. You neither resist nor push for acceptance. Maybe you allow for your authentic feelings to surface, and then conclude, “Well, I am getting older—I can’t turn back the clock. I’ll buy some good moisturizer. I still look good.”

When we allow, we embrace reality and our humanity. We don’t deny our challenges or limitations, nor do we overreact to them. We just take a deep breath and allow life to be the imperfect thing that it is, and then we sleep a little better that night.

What in your life calls for allowing? Maybe your commute to work or your relationship with yourself or an important other? Perhaps your career, your exercise program, or your expectations for your teenager? When we allow some wiggle room where there once was a straight jacket, life gets a lot more comfortable and manageable.