“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In my meditation workshop, I break down mindfulness into three components:
Awareness + of the present moment + acceptance = mindfulness
Each week we have exercises, homework, and guided meditations centered on one of these components. Today is the last class, and we are focusing on acceptance. To me, it’s one of the hardest parts about mindfulness meditation. The word “acceptance” used to bring up a lot of emotion, mainly anger, for me. There’s plenty of awful things in this world that we don’t want to even think about accepting: murder, rape, child abuse, genocide, war, the list could go on. Regardless of whether we accept the existence of these things, they exist.
For a long time, acceptance to me felt like giving up or resigning myself to a life where I was the victim. Everyone else would get to be evil, and I would just have to accept it. For a brief time, I tried to put a positive slant on my suffering: What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Acceptance isn’t giving up or deluding ourselves into false security. It’s just making some space for all of your sensations, thoughts, feelings, and urges to exist. It’s a practice in self-compassion or “unconditional friendliness.”
Practicing acceptance is difficult because we are so bogged down in thoughts that are not even true. When we believe everything we think about ourselves, it’s hard to get out of the cycle of crappy thoughts that lead to crappy decisions that lead to more destructive thoughts. In my workshop, we do a simple cognitive defusion exercise that can help break this cycle.
First, write down a harsh thought you are having right now. It can be anything from, “I’m a loser.” to “Everyone’s out to get me.” Pick one that causes you a lot of stress. Take a few moments to sit with that thought. For example, if you picked, “I’m a loser,” feel what it feels like to be a loser. Imagine how people treat you in your loser status. Picture what will happen when you are in the future as a loser.
Now, rate your stress level on a scale from 1 to 10. Now take your stressful thought, and add the words: I’m having the thought that _______. Does it feel different? How would you rate the thought now?
Lastly, take your stressful thought and add the words: I’m noticing… So, my original statement of “I’m a loser.” is now, “I’m noticing I’m having the thought that I’m a loser.” Do you feel the subtle difference?
I find it’s a bit kinder to examine your own thought processes in this way. It takes some of the emotional charge from them, and most importantly, it allows you to recognize your own thoughts, even your negative ones and make space for them without trying to change them. You can keep your thought about being a loser. It’s actually a part of you, a part of your richness as human being. When you make this space for even the bad thoughts, you learn that thinking “I’m a loser,” isn’t something that has to isolate you from society. If anything, it connects you to the rest of humanity. We all have these thoughts, and it’s only when we become aware of them and accept them that we find true presence and peace.