My therapist is always talking to me about radical acceptance. I have many papers on the subject, with a list of steps to take. Many of my deepest problems concern my philosophy about life. I present these problems to her, often talking in circles, cycling through a list of causes and effects, an endless roundabout on the futility of life.
It occurred to me recently that while I always say I cannot accept death, this also means I do not accept life. These ideas, these realities, are connected. To fully be a human requires accepting them as one. Because life involves unnecessary suffering (all suffering in my eyes is unnecessary), I do not accept it. I do not accept a life that involves suffering, and yet, I continue to live. I have suffered, I do suffer, and I will suffer. But I do not consider only myself; I think as often as possible of the suffering of others, the suffering of billions of people on this planet. It is too much to accept. It is too much to tolerate. I am immobilized by the fear, anger, anxiety, and sadness.
I subscribe very much to a utilitarian philosophy, in that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. I’ve spent almost my entire life attempting to absorb the suffering of others, of my friends.To put myself last on the list, to consume the pain and let them live peacefully. I assumed this as my responsibility in life. It is, clearly, a flawed vision. As I have grown, the cracks appeared in my mission and more and more it faltered. My own health faltered.
In order to function all of these years, it is evident I had to put some of these thoughts behind me, on the back burner. To get up, purchase food, go to school, send letters, sleep, go out…it all requires that I do not think about the suffering. Purchasing food and clothing in a Western capitalist nation requires that I do not think about the humans who produced the goods, the humans who transported it, and the humans who are rich in their beds from profit. Going to school and talking about literary theory requires that I do not think about how I am sitting in a conference room, far from war, but not far from poverty.
My therapist says as I get better, by taking the pills and doing the counseling, I will have more mental energy to spend on fixing the problems. I am overwhelmed by the problems of Earth. But if I get better, I can use the tools, like radical acceptance, to place my mental energy in a more hopeful vision. I can start working to help the people I want to help.
It is crazy how programmed my brain is toward negativity. As I wrote that paragraph, I even thought of how the problem is so deep. The problem is global capitalism. And even if I work for a non-profit and I feed the poor and become a doctor and cure the sick, the system will still exist. If I work to dismantle the system, it will take years and the suffering during my lifetime will still continue. We are forced to be compliant in the system if we want to live. So often I think of the future, I think of a comfortable home I could have. But it is so instantly destroyed by the thought that it is all an illusion.
Of course, I did not set out to write about the evils of capitalism but instead the hope of therapy. Radical acceptance is the process of accepting something that is unacceptable. As my study sheet reminds me, “to accept something is not the same as judging it good.” It also reminds me to stop “fighting reality.” I think of the Buddha. I feel pain because I fight the reality of life: life involves suffering, and life involves death. If I could stop grating against this truth, it is possible I will feel more at ease.
This is a constant and every day commitment. Actually, it is often an every hour commitment, an every second commitment. “Turn your mind,” and “commit to acceptance over and over” is the advice of this sheet. Again I think of the Buddha, of breath. I am connected to this air, to this body, to the bed I am sitting on. I am here and conscious and all of my protests will not change that. I could do something to help other people, and while I will never admit it to myself, I have already done that.
My philosophy of life will change as I grow. But there is one thing that has always remained constant. There is no god or spirit or scientific evidence that can discern why we humans have come to exist on Earth. But the reality is we are here, and so the only solution is to be kind, help others, and radiate peace.
Radical acceptance means to accept that which is unacceptable. It is the only way out of hell.