Radical Acceptance

In The Bridge of Spies, American lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend captured Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).  At a downturn in the trial which could send Abel to the electric chair, and seeing Abel’s ever-present calm demeanor, Donovan turns to him and asks, “Do you never worry?”  Abel’s reply: “Would it help?”

Acceptance.  Radical acceptance.  Abel demonstrates this acceptance – of himself, others, the situation – knowing exactly what he can do and what he can’t.  He is completely in the present, focused neither on past failures and regrets nor future worries.  He doesn’t allow any of that to live rent free in his head.

This is what founder of AA, Bill Wilson, called “emotional sobriety,” the ability to let go of our dependencies and need for things outside of our control to change in order to feel good about ourselves.  It is what St. Ignatius referred to as “indifference,” the ability to let go of outcomes, and focus on living in “pursuit of the goal for which we have been created.”  Indifference does not mean that we don’t care, rather that we care enough to live in the truth that allows us to accept that which we cannot change and have the courage to change what we can.

To do this brings an incredible freedom to our lives, yet one which is so difficult to attain in real time when we can feel imprisoned by our fears and addictions.  It is no surprise that anxiety is the most prevalent mental health condition in our country – it is the antithesis of this radical acceptance and freedom.  As Bill Wilson and St. Ignatius would no doubt agree, the answer is not a quick fix, but a spiritual journey on which we are invited.  Where can we begin?  Well, just for today if you notice yourself wanting to worry about something, step back, take a breath and ask yourself, “Would it help?”

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