It’s easy to confuse the idea of mindful acceptance with unhealthy states of being like giving up, complacency, or settling for less. The typical argument runs something like, “Acceptance is for losers. I refuse to accept my lot. I’m going to keep striving until I get to a better place.”
But mindful acceptance places no restraints on wanting a different future, no restraints on motivated behavior meant to change the present set of circumstances. In fact we could make the existential argument that acceptance is the necessary prerequisite for any future change. As Carl Rogers once put it, “When I accept myself as I am, then I can change.”
In our view the heart of mindful acceptance has two fundamental parts. The first is seeing the present clearly for what it is and the second is realizing that despite the various unwanted elements of this present situation there also exist all the necessary elements for happiness and fulfillment right now.
In no way does mindful acceptance ask us to hold off on eliminating the various unwanted elements but it does remind us that constantly envisioning a brighter future while ignoring or degrading all of the wonders of the present is a dangerous game. As Thich Nhat Hanh put it, our appointment with life is in the here and now. We can’t exist in the past or the future, we can only exist in the present. If we don’t accept the present for what it is then we can’t be fully in this present and we miss our appointment.