This month at the studio we are delving into the mindfulness attitude of acceptance.
It is first important as always to be clear on terms. The word acceptance can have several meanings, in a mindfulness context however the term acceptance is referring to an expansion, an opening, an embrace of the present as it arises moment to moment.
As one famous psychologist put it “most of our lives are a compulsive effort to avoid uncomfortable feelings” he may be exaggerating a little but there is no doubt we spend much of our time and energy avoiding or fighting with difficult thoughts feelings and emotions.
I read an interesting stat not long ago which claimed that around 80% of our thoughts have a negative tone to them, and actually this has been a crucial factor in our evolution and has insured our survival as a species for some 200 000 years. Our brains have literally evolved to worry, look out for danger, and to be critical of ourselves. If this is true, the harsh reality is there’s probably not all that much we can do about it.
Many popular psychological approaches such as positive psychology and cognitive therapy would suggest that the answer lies in positive thinking. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones until the mind rewires itself to be a little more optimistic. This sounds great in theory and appeals to our common sense but ultimately the mind is just not that easy to control.
The mind loves to tell stories, in fact it never stops. All day everyday it is telling us what we should be doing with our lives, what other people might think of us, what is going to happen in the future and what went wrong in the past. It is like a radio that never stops broadcasting. Unfortunately many of these stories are quite negative in content like, ‘im not good enough’, ‘my life sucks’, ‘nobody loves me’, ‘I will fail’ and so on. The problem is not the stories themselves but the way in which we fuse with them, give them our full attention and take them as an absolute fact. Which then feeds anxiety, depression and low self esteem.
The attitude of acceptance doesn’t ask that we get rid of these stories but rather to change the way in which we relate to them. To observe thoughts as stories rather than absolute truths. This allows for a process of de-fusion, where the stories are still there however we no longer pay them too much attention, and we certainly don’t waste time trying to fight with, or get rid of them. So long as we have minds we will have thoughts and emotions. As one of my favorite Buddhist teachers put it “just as the ocean has waves or the sun has rays, so the minds own radiance is its thoughts and emotions. The ocean has waves, yet the ocean is not particularly disturbed by them’.
So the attitude of acceptance encourages us to let thoughts arise, whatever arises do not view it as a problem, do not impulsively react, but rather be patient and allow thoughts to settle back into your mind like waves in the ocean.
Learning to relate to ourselves and our experience in this way creates space for a greater understanding and embrace of who we are, an openness to the way our minds have naturally evolved to operate and hopefully a more accepting attitude of the current predicament we find ourselves in, that is, to be alive and Human!