If you try to learn more about mindfulness and meditation you may come across an overarching theme. A theme of acceptance.
You are expected to accept your circumstances.
One of the popular definition of mindfulness according to Bishop et al. is:
“A kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.”
You may also have heard of a term ‘radical acceptance’. It points to the notion of cultivating acceptance of what is normally not accepted or hard to accept.
Some of you may raise a question. Is that practical?
What if I am experiencing tremendous suffering? Perhaps a terminal illness, chronic pain, death of a loved one, an abusive relationship, or an abusive boss or colleague.
Should I just accept my circumstances and continue to suffer?
The simple answer to this question is “No”.
But then why the emphasis on acceptance in the first place? Because things are not always simple in life.
We need to dig deeper.
Accept What You Cannot Influence
Acceptance is predicated on discernment or wisdom. There are situations and circumstances that you can influence and there are the ones you cannot.
For example, you cannot influence following situations.
- Something that has already happened in the past.
- What others say.
- Natural forces, e.g. aging.
The real question is, can you accept what is beyond you? As you can see it implies you need to be able to discern what it is that you can influence and what is beyond you.
For an untrained mind sometimes it is very difficult to accept something that happened in the past. It can be extremely difficult for you to accept aging or chronic illness nonchalantly.
The acceptance as invited by mindfulness, and yes it actually is just an invitation and not an imposition, is coming to terms with reality as it is. It is an invitation to not resist the reality predicated by wisdom.
It is okay to inquire, “why can’t things be different?”. Pose the question an investigate.
It is quite possible for things to be different sometimes. Sometimes you can chose to behave differently in a situation!
Other times, things cannot really be different. It is futile to resist the law of gravity.
It is only wisdom to work with the gravity. Just like that the whole notion of acceptance is an invitation to inquire into the nature of reality.
Not as it may appear on surface but deep down, how do things really work? And once you comprehend that reality, how you can align yourself with that reality rather than fighting against it.
Designed by Evolution
The real cause of the dilemma is evolution.
The sole objective of evolution is to maximize the survival and the passing of the genes. And I keep repeating this notion that evolution doesn’t care about your happiness or peace of mind.
The objective of evolution is at odds with the behavior of acceptance that mindfulness advocates. Evolution has designed your emotional(limbic) brain to be specifically non-accepting when it comes to aging, disease or anything that jeopardizes your well-being.
For an untrained mind, no amount of reasoning will help easily accept certain situations like, the death of a loved one or terminal illness. That is the reality.
But this is not inevitable. The mind can be trained to accept what is otherwise not acceptable.
Your Brain and Hence Mind Is Plastic
The mind can be trained to come to terms with reality where the circumstances are beyond you, e.g. the death of a loved one or terminal illness.
The emotional brain can trained and mellowed down such that it doesn’t hijack you so badly.
The teachings of mindfulness and meditation charts a path of mind training. This path begins by becoming a scientist of your own mind and curiously studying how your mind works.
Roughly this path is comprised of formal and informal practices of meditation along with a lot of inquiry and investigation to help train the mind.
And once you start with this training you may realize that no matter how much you train, you may still have instances of experience when you are unable to accept reality.
In that moment you accept the non-acceptance. That is what really the radical acceptance is.
The Stance of Awareness
Also if you realize, if you take the stance of awareness, you never run into this problem of whether to accept or not. Because awareness hold acceptance, non-acceptance and acceptance of non-acceptance.
Awareness is just aware. From awarenesses perspective everything is okay. Acceptance is okay and non-acceptance is also okay.