Cultivating a Practice of Acceptance
The practice of acceptance enables us to non-judgmentally open up to unpleasant feelings and thoughts, allowing them to exist without trying to suppress or avoid them, and ultimately leads to better mental health, personal growth and wellness.
I think we can all agree that we’re living in somewhat tumultuous times. People’s egos and accompanying fears seem to be on high alert these days and media platforms seem intent on stoking both, with scary stories about AI taking over like Skynet in the Terminator, forecasts of the end of democracy as we know it and how much peril we’re all in due to climate change. Some days it feels like chicken little is running amok in the streets screaming that the sky is falling.
The news has been particularly alarming over the past few weeks related to artificial intelligence. With leading members of the tech community, including the developers of OpenAI which makes ChatGPT, Google DeepMind, Elon Musk, and the creators of modern AI all coming out to say AI could herald the end of humanity, it’s hard not to feel at least some anxiety. But none of these tech geniuses warning us of our pending extinction are halting further development of AI. And I’m not hearing anything on the news to remind us that AI is a tool that may appear to have human qualities, but in fact does not. It’s a tool created, shaped and used by humans. So it seems to me that we humans have to choose whether or not to use AI in a way that benefits us and others, or not.
The problem with the constant stream of bad news is that as it begins to make us feel bad, it prompts fear or anger. The purpose of these two emotions is to prompt action. But I can’t stop the nasty political rhetoric or climate change or the further development of AI, so what do I do with that pent up energy that is urging me to take action? This is exactly what is causing a lot of the destructive behavior that occurs every day.
Taking action on something we have no control over doesn’t benefit us or fix the problem. Of course, if there’s something within our control we can do, by all means we should do it. But I think for most of us, the problem is learning to accept the things in life we don’t like that we have no control over. And frankly, we don’t have control over much beyond ourselves.
The mindfulness practice of acceptance involves cultivating a non-judgmental awareness of our experiences and allowing them to be exactly as they are without trying to change or fix them. It's about recognizing and acknowledging our present moment experience, whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, and simply allowing it to be present without resistance.
This practice involves developing a sense of openness and curiosity towards our experiences, rather than trying to avoid or suppress them. I’ve been practicing this with AI Conversation Bots and I think of it as experimenting. What can it do to help me? What strange results might I find? Acceptance requires us to let go of our preconceived ideas about how things should be, and instead, to be present with what is. This is particularly challenging for me right now around politics. My mind wants to keep reminding me that things shouldn’t be this way, that our politicians should be serving us instead of themselves. But, in a lot of cases, that’s just not how it is. Instead of feeling upset about it, I try to let go of my ideas about how things should be and try to approach it with curiosity, like: “I wonder what led that politician to this place? I wonder if all of the current fighting and corruption will lead to something better?” Maybe.
Acceptance doesn't mean that we like or approve of what's happening in the present moment, but it does mean that we're willing to be with it and allow it to be there. It's a way of acknowledging and embracing the full range of our human experience, including the challenging and difficult parts. By practicing acceptance, we can develop a greater sense of peace and equanimity in our lives, even in the face of difficulty. It can also help us to cultivate a greater sense of compassion and kindness towards ourselves and others.
I’ve spent some time over the past few weeks reflecting on how I’m feeling and recognizing that it’s time for me to do some serious adjusting. I have worked nonstop since the pandemic began, as I’m sure many small business owners have, but I thought that by returning to socializing and visiting my favorite haunts, I’d returned to something close to normal. I haven’t. I’m still working way too many hours because I’m short-staffed and I’m feeling kind of down. I thought back to when I last felt really content or even happy. It was 2019, pre-pandemic, which is surprising to me because I’m generally a pretty happy person.
I considered that despite the fact that I feel like I’m partially back to my “old” self, I’m not feeling like my old “happy self.” I think part of it is my preconceived ideas about how things should be now, normal, and they’re not. I also realized that going through over a year in complete crisis mode, followed by two years of intense work volume and adapting to remote work, in addition to all of the changes in the world we’re all trying to adapt to, it’s not surprising my mental health has taken a hit. And I’m certainly not alone. According to the national institute of health, rates of anxiety, depression and substance use disorder have greatly increased since the pandemic. Many people have reported psychological suffering as well as signs of PTSD. Maybe it’s time we use our fears and anxiety to prompt internal action.
I happened across an article in the New York Times the other day about setting an intention for the summer. The author suggested creating a theme and it really resonated with me. Prompted by the statement, this is my summer of – fill in the blank – it took me a while, but I finally came up with mine. This is my summer of redefining myself. I started with making a list of everything that’s missing in my life, activities I’ve neglected, thinking about what my work means to me, noticing which activities make me feel good and what hasn’t been going as well as I wish. When’s the last time you conducted a self-inventory of wellness in all of the domains in your life? How are you doing emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually and socially?
If you’re feeling like all of this sounds like a self-absorbed pity party, remember that we can’t really be of service to others if we’re not well ourselves. This in fact is part of what prompted me to pause and start asking these questions. I’m perilously close to burn-out or maybe even compassion fatigue, which I realized because I’m not enjoying my work as much as I always have in the past. I’m tired, a little irritable, a little impatient, none of which is my norm. So if I want to continue to support hundreds of other people through their challenges in life, I have to get myself right first. And it feels like that means a period of redefining who I want to be.
I encourage you to consider the same. As I began this self-reflection, the biggest stumbling block I encountered was acceptance. I resisted accepting the fact that I can’t do it all or that I can’t step back from certain activities. But it’s not true – it’s just in my own mind. So consider the practice of acceptance as you inventory your own life and decide if it’s good as is or if you need to make some adjustments and what acceptance might be needed to accomplish that.
How can you cultivate acceptance in your life? Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool for cultivating acceptance. By bringing your attention to the present moment and simply observing your experience without judgment, you can begin to develop a greater sense of acceptance towards whatever arises.
Take time to notice your thoughts and emotions as they arise throughout the day. Rather than trying to push them away or distract yourself from them, simply observe them with curiosity and non-judgment. This can help you to develop a greater sense of acceptance towards your internal experience.
Frequently, we struggle to accept difficult experiences because we are hard on ourselves or feel that we should be doing better. By practicing self-compassion, we can develop a greater sense of kindness and understanding towards ourselves, which can help us to be more accepting of our experiences.
We also struggle to accept things because they don't meet our expectations or desires. That includes not only our interior landscape, but the external world including AI, climate change and all of the other scary things happening in the world these days. By letting go of our expectations and accepting things as they are, we can cultivate greater peace and contentment in our lives.
It’s important to recognize that everything is impermanent and constantly changing. By embracing this reality, we can develop a greater sense of acceptance towards the ups and downs of life.
As with all mindfulness practices, cultivating acceptance can take time and effort. Be patient with yourself and continue to practice these techniques regularly to cultivate greater acceptance in your life. I’ve uploaded a guided meditation podcast adapted from Tara Brach’s RAIN method for cultivating acceptance, so if you’re struggling with this concept, give it a try.
I’m excited and a little uncertain about what will happen over the next few months, but I feel like I’m moving in the right direction. If you’re not feeling well in any area of your life, I hope you’ll take a peek under the hood and see if you can make any adjustments to feel your best and start practicing acceptance to support you in doing that.
If you weren’t familiar with our podcast, A Mindful Moment. (Amindfulmoment.com), we will be going on hiatus in a couple of weeks. I’m not setting a time for a return yet because I don’t know how much time I need, but we have almost 300 episodes available, so hopefully there’s information and techniques for whatever you’re focusing on. Know that you are worth an investment of time if you need it. And know that I deeply appreciate you and the time we’ve spent together so far. Happy summer!