One simple way to define mindfulness is that it’s about working skilfully with present-moment experience. The skilful bit is about bringing a set of skills and attitudes to our experience. Similar to playing the piano, or riding a bike, practising mindfulness is not just about learning the theory; it’s all about embodying and refining the skills and gaining insight through experience. Acceptance is an important one of these skills.
We live in an increasingly turbulent world, with the pandemic, climate change, and new technology affecting the political, economic and cultural landscape, which affects all of us on an individual level. There are also smaller events that are closer to home; from the uncertainty about our job, to losing the edits on a report we’ve been writing or making good progress on the motorway only to get trapped in a three-lane car park. Life does not always go the way we hope. Feelings of frustration, disappointment, low mood, and anxiety can quickly arise. Our mind gets busy with negative thoughts about who’s to blame; we catastrophize; our self-worth takes a dive, and our body tightens up with stress.
In his book, “The Power of Now” Eckhart Tolle provides three useful options for difficult situations: leave it, change it, or accept it totally. There are some situations we can just walk away from and others we can improve by changing something that is within our control. Then there are situations where neither of these is an option, where we just need to embrace reality as it is and accept it.
Acceptance means consciously allowing things to be as they already are. Although this seems simple and obvious, it’s not always as easy as it sounds.
Some of the things that make this difficult include:
- How we interpret the world at the time through our thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions can help us to make sense of reality but are not reality itself. The thought, “This rain is ruining my day” is very far from the natural raindrops falling from the sky.
- We all want life to go smoothly and get our needs met, but there are some things we can influence and control and many others that we can do nothing about. For instance, we could check the traffic and take public transport if there’s congestion, but if we’re already driving and there’s an accident ahead that stops the traffic, there not much we can do.
- A related third factor is that we often take things too personally when many things are impersonal and would have happened whether we existed or not. For instance, unfortunately, some people lost their jobs during the pandemic, but it was not because they were not good enough.
Acceptance means turning towards a difficulty rather than habitually avoiding or resisting it. For example, if someone irritates us, rather than reacting, we can acknowledge the feeling of irritation, connect with the sensations in our body and notice any thoughts that arise. Are we taking this situation too personally? Are we being overly critical or judgemental? How much of this is to do with us rather than with them? Of course, some people will always irritate us, but by accepting their behaviour and not taking things personally we open the possibility of relating to the person differently, with greater kindness and compassion.
Acceptance does not mean we’ve lost a battle or become a victim. It’s about finding an easier path through a difficulty, by embracing and working with reality as it is. By practising acceptance, we change our relationship with our experience. Resistance and avoidance are generally automatic and habitual ways of coping that may seem to work at the time, but often make things more complicated and difficult in the long term. By consciously accepting things as they are, with awareness, openness, and flexibility, we create the space and freedom to act.
So, the next time you’re faced with an unwanted or difficult situation, take a few moments to pause, allowing the situation to be just as it is, connecting into the present moment, aware of your body and breath, maybe noticing the impulse to react, then responding with the most appropriate option, which may be to completely accept the situation as it is.
Suggested weekly practice
- Notice when you feel the impulse to react automatically to an unwanted or difficult situation and see what happens if you work more skilfully and accept the situation as if you had chosen it, instead.
- If you find yourself in a queue in a shop or traffic, try letting go of feeling frustrated or impatient and accepting the situation as it is, and notice how you feel.
- Notice when you personalize things when they are impersonal.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware. There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore noticing what’s already here in the moment and practising acceptance.
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