What Is Radical Acceptance?

What Is Radical Acceptance?: Joan of Sparc

America is amid a global pandemic that has somehow turned wearing a mask into a political statement. Systemic racism is being exposed to horrifying displays of violence, murder, and discrimination. Unemployment numbers have skyrocketed and parents are faced with an impossible decision about how to school their children. Our country is leaderless and no unifying messages or directions are being given. Through all this upheaval and disconnection, you can learn how to ground yourself by asking this simple question: what is radical acceptance?


The New Normal

In this forced isolation I have been introduced to myself in new ways, ways that I may have never connected to if not for COVID-19. I faced uncertainty when I was furloughed from my job and now when I am trying to determine if it is safe to go back. I felt shame when I acknowledged how my privilege as a white woman plays a part in racism in America. I feel fear when I see the discourse, division, and violence that is being sold on the nightly news like this summer’s hit blockbuster.

Some days I feel productive. I write. I hike. I cook nutritious meals, bathe, read, and stretch. Some days I am overwhelmed, sad, angry, and disappointed.


The feelings of too much and too little co-exist and confuse the peace right out of me. I feel like I should be doing more and like I cannot possibly handle anything more than the bare minimum—at the same time.


Not knowing is the only constant and I still want to know. I ask questions seeking answers and I am reminded, there are no right answers right now. We are collectively in the same captainless ship, riding the waves of past, present, and future as they swell and swirl. I’ve spent much of this pandemic getting curious about my why’s hoping to find my metaphorical life jacket to keep me afloat in what can sometimes feel like a drowning unknown.


When I get quiet and remember that I am not the sinking ship, I am the ocean itself, I hear the answer being offered—radical acceptance.


What Is Radical Acceptance?

When getting curious about radical acceptance, my lived experience replies, presence, compassion, empathy, and tenderness. To me, the definition of radical acceptance is showing up for what life gives you: the confusion, the hardship, the unknown, with all of the emotions they come with. This includes shame, anger, fear, disgust, and disappointment. Then, allowing it all to be ok. It means not wishing it was some version of an illusion you’ve created that would somehow help, fix, or save you.


Radical acceptance means letting yourself feel all your feelings and experience all that life is offering without expecting it to be anything other than it is. It means showing up for yourself, in real-time and not judging who you are or how you feel, at that moment.


Like anything in life that brings me closer to the truth of who I am and how I want to show up in the world, existing in radical acceptance is a practice. Just like I show up for meetings and speak to my sponsor to stay sober. Just like I get on my mat and connect to my breath to stay sane. Living radical acceptance requires the same combination of will, discipline, and surrender that yoga and sobriety have taught me.

Six Tools to Live in Radical Acceptance

These qualities and tools are a suggested recipe for a more content way of being in the world:

Stay Present

No one knows what the future holds. This has never been more tangible and evident to me than at this point in American History. At this moment, I am safe. At this moment, my breath is here for me. At this moment, I have everything I need. Pay attention to when your mind wanders to the wreckage of the future or past and redirect your thinking to this moment.


The details and journey to the outcome are not often as I planned and hoped for, but the result is always what I need.


I have a 100% track record of things working out.


Let Go

Surrender any notion that I can control the outcome of my actions. In AA I was taught that I can show up and do my work, but the outcome is in God’s hands. This applies to everything. We are not in control of how the world reacts to our presence in it. We can only show up, tell the truth, and let that be the reward.


The patriarchal systems that are flailing and falling want us to believe that we should be doing more, better, less, louder, and faster. What it doesn’t want us doing is loving ourselves through every step of every process, without expectation and judgment.


Take a nap, daydream, read a book, binge a show, eat cake, eat a salad, go for a run—or don’t do anything. Do what you need to do. Again, you cannot do you wrong and every way you show up is perfect.

Get Into Your Body

This could mean exercise if that’s your thing. It could also mean laying down on your bed and breathing into your toes, witnessing the kiss of the breath on the nostrils as you inhale and exhale. Another great practice is naming your body as your own in the shower, saying aloud, This is my head, these are my arms, this is my belly, etc. 


Inner Knowing

I navigate a sea of decisions before me: Should my kids return to in-person classes sooner or later? Is meeting that guy with the killer smile from Tinder for coffee safe? Am I making the most of this time of paused reality? Am I resting enough in this time of forced seclusion? It feels like my compass is broken and the North Star is South.

When the tides of doom threaten to drown us, we can ask ourselves, what is radical acceptance? We tune into our inner knowing, the compass of our hearts and ask,


This being true, what is the loving, most kind thing I can do for myself at this moment?


The answer is exactly what you are doing. Then the next right thing and the next right thing after that. You have the tools within. You are our own guru. Your inner knowing wants to stretch her legs and dance with you. You cannot do you wrong. Even when it appears to be a setback, you are moving forward in the only way you can—and it is enough.