"I can accept the situation the way it is..."
Is something we would all like to say, but an internal battle ensues with a part of us railing "I don't want it to be this way." When we are unable to accept undesirable situations, that is when anger arises.
Acceptance is the first stage in all kinds of problem resolutions, whether it be a conflict or an addiction.
The word Islam itself also means "to submit" and submission follows acceptance. But what is exactly meant by acceptance, how is acceptance actually attained?
Let's see if we can define a pathway to acceptance.
Step 1: Identify your emotions
Elaine Smookler , a mindfulness practitioner and psychotherapist says:
"When some piece of news or alarming reality knocks you down, you may well feel completely overwhelmed. It’s natural. It’s your body’s response to alarm. "(1)
When strong emotions or overwhelm arises just allow them to be there. Try to name your emotions. (anger, sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, excitement, joy). It's ok to feel that way.
Acceptance is an integral part of meditation, and meditation practices help us train our minds to manage our emotions and practice acceptance.
Meditation is a form of internal housekeeping, it can be a way to have a dialogue with yourself, to gently nurture your own self and teach it how to deal with emotions and feelings. And it can be learnt. We don't have to be alone and lost in dealing with ourselves and our emotions. Knowledge and faith together both provide the techniques and skills to better navigate our internal battles .
The first step to acceptance is to identify what you are feeling: you need to know yourself .
This 6 minute meditation helps with allowing your thoughts to settle, to cultivate stillness within so you can be in better touch with your true self and your feelings.
The following 11 minute meditation helps in befriending difficult emotions, to help identify them and to just allow them to be.
You can always use the remembrance of Allah as an anchor to focus on in meditations, as He is the Constant who is alway there.
Another method which helps is the 90 second rule; it involves simply looking at a timer or clock for 90 seconds. It will take less than that for the chemicals built up to flush out of your system, as you observe your emotions . You will then feel better equipped to move on. (2)
A dictionary definition of acceptance is:
" to receive, especially with consent, with favour, or with approval."
"willingness to tolerate a difficult situation"
You may be wondering, how does the consent or willingness arise? And why would you tolerate discomfort?
Pema Chodron a Tibetan Buddhist nun, in a conversation with Oprah says that the upset that arises as a result of failure or some unpleasantness is actually a part of the Ego, the feeling that we have something to protect. To make peace with ourselves , to be able to handle life's challenges with grace we need to allow the nervous system to handle the suffering, the insecurity, and the discontent.
Once we can identify and are aware of our emotions, we then are able to manage our reactions. It helps us to disengage from the emotions and places a much needed pause between our thoughts and feelings and our reactions so we can then choose how to proceed. The emotions are ok to have, it's what you choose to do next that matters. (3)
Step 2: Develop a greater understanding of situations and discover a new way of looking at them.
Now let us look at how the Imams or spiritual role models, approach acceptance.
Imam Ali Zainul-Abideen(a.s) says:
"And the highest degree of conviction is the lowest degree of acceptance [of Allah’s decrees].”(4)
Meaning when you have conviction or complete certainty about something that is where acceptance begins.
Allah asks you to trust Him on the basis of proof. He took care of you and made arrangements for your upbringing when you couldn't, your body continues its functions without your intervention along with complexities we can hardly imagine, and so does the entire universe.
So if you trust Him with complete conviction then you can accept and therefore submit to His will.
As someone once said,
"Will we trust God? Or will we continue to trust self?
Is God really big enough to meet my needs and take care of me if I trust Him?
Decide for yourself whether God is worthy of your trust, worship, adoration and total submission to His Lordship or not."
Can we look through the lens of humility and recognise His blessings?
The Qur'an clearly states in Surah Ankaboot that we will be tried:
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوا أَن يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ
Do people think that they will be left alone on saying, "We believe", and not be tried?
Surah Al-Ankaboot (29), Verse 2
So there is no running away from trials. Life will always consist of ups and downs, pleasure and pain, the point is how do we approach it.
What do we gain from tests? The same concept of tests in school applies to the tests in life. Tests help us identify our strengths and the areas we are weak in and need to work on. We advance to a higher level as we now are aware of what we are capable of.
We may not enjoy the idea of a test but intellectually we seek it out as we know it is for our betterment and benefit. The test was not a trap designed so that we mess up and fail. The examiner is not waiting behind the scenes looking for you to make a mistake so he can pounce . That is not the purpose of the test. The purpose of the trials in life is part of the journey of our betterment, for what else is life but the journey of the soul in the vehicle of the body trying to reach and know God.
This beautiful meditation calls on Allah by His name Al-Fattah - "The Opener" to help our hearts gain deeper insights.
Step 3: Let go of Resistance
Imam Jaffer As-Sadiq (a.s) says :
“The attribute of acceptance is that you accept what you like and what you do not like."
"One who accepts forgets about all his choices"
After complete conviction and trust, you let go of all the what ifs, forget all the other options and choices and accept what IS.
What could be more liberating then that!
We need to gradually learn to let go of our attachments in this world that actually create the resistance. How? Let's examine this further. The Holy Quran states:
مَثَلُ الَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ كَمَثَلِ الْعَنكَبُوتِ اتَّخَذَتْ بَيْتًا وَإِنَّ أَوْهَنَ الْبُيُوتِ لَبَيْتُ الْعَنكَبُوتِ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ
The parable of those who take guardians besides Allah is as the parable of the spider that makes for itself a house; and most surely the frailest of the houses is the spider's house did they but know.
Surah Al-Ankaboot (29) Verse 41
We feel our wealth, our possessions, and our backup plans are protecting us. We think those things are what will provide us with the security we need , whether it is a position, a belonging, health or a relationship. But Allah says all these things are as fragile as the web that a spider spins. (5)
So if we lose something or someone, are denied an opportunity, or face a disappointment, before the anger, resentment or despair take over we can try to remember that though the means may have gone or been lost, that is all it was; "the means". The actual source, which is Allah, is the Constant. He hasn't gone anywhere and He is the one who creates the means, so He is very much able to provide you with another means whenever or whatever it may be. The Holy Quran provides us with description for acceptance in the following verse:
لِكَيلا تَأسَوا عَلىٰ ما فاتَكُم وَلا تَفرَحوا بِما آتاكُم ۗ وَاللَّهُ لا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُختالٍ فَخورٍ
so that you may not grieve for what escapes you, nor exult for what comes your way, and Allah does not like any swaggering braggart.
Surah Al-Hadid (57) verse 23
The HolyQur'an also says:
فَأَمَّا الإِنسانُ إِذا مَا ابتَلاهُ رَبُّهُ فَأَكرَمَهُ وَنَعَّمَهُ فَيَقولُ رَبّي أَكرَمَنِ
وَأَمّا إِذا مَا ابتَلاهُ فَقَدَرَ عَلَيهِ رِزقَهُ فَيَقولُ رَبّي أَهانَنِ
People think they have been blessed when they receive and punished or disgraced when the blessing is withheld
Surah Al-Fajr (89) Verses 15-16
However, we have it wrong, it is an incorrect mental construct on our part. The fact of the matter is we can never see the whole picture and get so attached to our possessions that we are unable to see beyond their gain or loss.
The solution therefore lies in holding everything loosely as the verses say, so He may provide and withhold as He sees fit, as He alone knows the complete picture and He alone is the source.
Another way to describe the approach is:
"A neutral acknowledgement and openness to what comes next" (6)
Yes we all enjoy certain things and we feel disappointed in life as well, that is part of being human, we must try not to let the gain or loss of worldly endowments make or break us. Do not let them define your life and how you choose to live it.
Prayer is a remedy that the Qur'an recommends. Reading of the Qur'an with understanding , salah and any zikr of Allah gives us the reminders we all need time and time again to help keep life's joys and disappointments in the perspective recommended by Allah. The Holy Quran says:
الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ
Those who believe and whose hearts are set at rest by the remembrance of Allah; now surely by Allah's remembrance are the hearts set at rest.
Surah Ar-Rad (13) Verse 28
Marzia Hassan in her Daily Wisdom series says:
"To complain before Allah is not to question and complain against His decree. We can accept His decree for us and still be in pain about it. To complain to God means to share our pain, to open up our hearts, to talk to Him and find solace in communication with the Divine.
As Imam Ali (a.s) says in Nahjul Balagha:
Invoke Him to grant you your heart’s desire, lay before Him the secrets of your heart, tell Him about all the calamities that have befallen you and misfortunes which face you, and beseech His help to overcome them."(7)
If your mind keeps replaying a negative situation, ask your self questions such as:
Do I want this thought?
Is this thought helpful?
Is this thought true?”
How does this thought make me feel?
What does it make me want to do?
What would I do if this thought wasn’t here?
This helps with letting go of unhelpful thoughts (8)
Step 4 : Have faith and hope in Allah; there will be a good outcome.
There are so many places in the Qur'an where Allah gives us hope:
مَا أَصَابَ مِن مُّصِيبَةٍ إِلَّا بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ وَمَن يُؤْمِن بِاللَّهِ يَهْدِ قَلْبَهُ وَاللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ
No affliction comes about but by Allah's permission; and whoever believes in Allah, He guides aright his heart; and Allah is Cognizant of all things.
Surah At-Taghabun (64) Verse 11
Allah will guide you to the outcome that is right for you, you just have to believe.
In Surah Al-Ahzab 33, Verse 3:
وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا
And rely on Allah; and Allah is sufficient for a Protector.
An example is Prophet Musa who said,
"Surely my Lord is with me, He will guide me"
( The Holy Quran 26:62)
This was when he was completely cornered, the sea ahead of him and a hostile army behind. NO possible way out. Allah (swt) split the sea! He creates solutions from where you can never imagine .
In Surah 94 Al-Inshirah Verse 6 Allah says that:
إِنَّ مَعَ العُسرِ يُسرًا
Surely there is difficulty with ease
In surah Al-Ankaboot 29 , Verse 67:
أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا أَنَّا جَعَلْنَا حَرَمًا آمِنًا وَيُتَخَطَّفُ النَّاسُ مِنْ حَوْلِهِمْ أَفَبِالْبَاطِلِ يُؤْمِنُونَ وَبِنِعْمَةِ اللَّهِ يَكْفُرُونَ
Do they not see that We have made a sacred territory secure, while men are carried off by force from around them? Will they still believe in the falsehood and disbelieve in the favour of Allah?
We cannot even fathom the forces around us that Allah is managing for us. We need to have faith , trust and hope in God alone, without being downhearted or with despair. Keep reminding yourself how many countless times He has kept you safe in the midst of the chaos around.
This concept; Tawakkul, or complete trust in God resonates beautifully in the following poem by Denise Levertov:
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them;
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit's deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
This 13 minute meditation calls on Allah by His name Al Mo'min , the Provider of faith and security. He is the one who blocks all other avenues of fear as He is the only true source of security.(9)
Step 5: Identify your area of control and take action where you have been granted power.
Release anything which is outside your control with trust in Allah.
An important part of developing acceptance is to identify what you can and cannot control. Once you have identified what you CAN do, either to change or improve the situation, or just to approach it positively, then you can take action instead of letting the situation paralize you.
Allah never leaves us to fight our battles alone. He provides us not only with the physical blessings to help us along the way but also with coping skill. He teaches us how to approach situations through the Qur'an.
The Quran sums it up in Surah Al-Ankaboot (29), Verses 58-59:
وَالَّذينَ آمَنوا وَعَمِلُوا الصّالِحاتِ لَنُبَوِّئَنَّهُم مِنَ الجَنَّةِ غُرَفًا تَجري مِن تَحتِهَا الأَنهارُ خالِدينَ فيها ۚ نِعمَ أَجرُ العامِلينَ
How good the reward of the workers, Those who are patient, and on their Lord do they rely.
So we could represent this in a formula for defining acceptance :
Working + Patience + Reliance = Acceptance of a Situation
We have to do our bit, we must take action, followed by patience.
But not simply patience.
Not just gritting your teeth and putting up with things with no safety net or hope of relief, but to bear up safe in the knowledge that the One who sees the whole picture is the One you have asked for help, the One you can put your trust and hope in.
Imam Ali(a.s) in a letter to his son says:
"The Lord who owns and holds the treasures of Paradise and the earth has given you permission to ask and beg for them and He has promised to grant your prayers. He has told you to pray for His Favours that they may be granted to you and to ask for His Blessings that they may be bestowed upon you. He has not appointed guards to prevent your prayers reaching Him. "
Imam Ali(a.s) also explains how acceptance is the way to handle our problems.
'Overcome your sorrows, your worries and your misfortunes with patience and faith in the Merciful Lord and your hard work" (10)
The acceptance described here is not just letting go, not just patience , but working along with it and reliance on God. And that is perhaps the mindset that is true acceptance based on Tawakkul, which leads to humility and then eventually gratitude as we truly recognise and are able to see the blessings in all Allah has given.
And finally in this way, acceptance can also be an act of love and a form of adoration of your Lord, because when one loves Him he sees the good in anything that He does. That is a level of acceptance to aspire to, or atleast keep in mind.
As Imam Baqir AS puts it in a conversation with a companion:
“As for me, O Jabir, if Allah causes me to age, I shall love old age, if He keeps me young, I shall love young age. If He causes me to fall sick, I shall love sickness. If he heals me, I shall love healing and good health. If He causes me to die, I shall love death, and if He decrees to keep me alive, I shall love to stay alive.”(4)
May Allah help us all in discovering the acceptance of His will with humility and gratitude that brings peace to our souls.
A Key point summary that may be helpful the next time a situation that requires acceptance arises:
The 5 steps to acceptance:
- Identify your emotions - meditation can help - 90 second rule
- Try to develop a new understanding - trials have a purpose so trust Allah
- Let go of resistance - forget the what ifs - He knows the bigger picture, pray and remember Him - question your negative thoughts to release them.
- Have faith and hope in Allah - He will lead you to a good outcome - Quranic verses of hope.
- Define your own area of control - focus on what you can do by Allah's blessing, let go of what is outside your circle of control.
(Click below to download a printable version of the chart to help with defining what you can and cannot control)
Work+ patience + reliance on Allah = Acceptance
Acceptance can be an act of love for Allah!
Written By: Saleha Haji
5 steps to acceptance - https://www.patrickwanis.com/5-steps-process-acceptance/
Marzia Hassan's Daily Wisdom Series -https://www.marziahassan.org/blog/
Lectures by Fatimah Agha - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcmDwhmTAbb7IymcLAl-COQ
Lectures by Shazia Haji
1-How to make friends with what you are feeling - https://www.mindful.org/how-to-make-friends-with-what-youre-feeling/
3- Tame Reactive Emotions by Naming them
5- Marzia Hassan Daily Wisdom Series - Attach to strength rather than frailty - https://familyconnectionsinternational.activehosted.com/social/1c1d4df596d01da60385f0bb17a4a9e0.939
6-The 4 stages of acceptance - https://mlcooper.com/four-stages-acceptance/
7- Marzia Hassan Daily Wisdom Series -Talk to the best listener - https://familyconnectionsinternational.activehosted.com/social/2ba596643cbbbc20318224181fa46b28.945
8-7 Ways to Ease Your Anxious Mind - https://www.mindful.org/7-ways-to-ease-your-anxious-mind/
9- Al-Mu'min - https://qfatima.com/a-99/6-al-mumin-the-giver-of-faith/
10- Imam Ali's Letter - https://www.al-islam.org/articles/letter-father-son-last-will-ali-ibn-abi-talib