Reduce Stress Through Acceptance
It is worth considering that much of our stress is caused by not accepting reality (things/people/events/thoughts/emotions/sensations/experience) just as it is. We resist, avoid and deny things. We crave things to be different. We expect things to be the way we want them to be. We push away things we do not like, that are painful or that we want to be different. But when we do this we don’t get rid of our problems, we make them bigger, we get more tense and caught up in them and add another thing onto our stress load to worry about.
Carl Jung said, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
Acceptance is one of the most helpful attitudes to bring to meditation/mindfulness. Acceptance is about perceiving and acknowledging our experience and allowing it to be as it is, without judgement, aversion or resistance. Acceptance means we stop fighting with our experience, we accept reality just as it is, warts and all. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with that reality, and it doesn’t mean the reality is ‘okay’, but we accept that it exists and is happening right now. This allows us to better deal with the situation and respond from our calm, clear and balanced centre.
For example, perhaps you sit down to meditate and feel overwhelmed by thoughts distracting your attention again and again. If you don’t accept the fact that your mind is very busy, you become more and more frustrated, upset and annoyed with yourself. You want to focus on the meditation but just can’t.
Like everything in life there is what happens and there is our reaction to what happens. In this example, what happens is lots of thoughts entering your mind during meditation. A secondary and seperate event is your reaction to what happens, which is not accepting that thoughts always come up in meditation and criticising yourself for having too many thoughts.
The way out is to acknowledge and accept that thoughts are a normal and natural part of meditation. You can do this by gently repeating to yourself ‘thinking is happening’ or ‘it’s natural to think’ or simply labelling it as ‘thinking.’
The same can be said for pain, noise distractions or any other challenging experience. When we remove judgement from the experience (eg pain is bad/pain hurts), we can perceive the experience as raw sensation without the influence of thought. We can ‘lean into’ and accept the experience is there and let go of tension/aversion/denial/wishing is wasn’t there.
Fear, pain and emotional tension often hold us back and cause us stress. The fight/flight response - aka the stress response - is an automatic, hard-wired, biochemical and physical reaction to fear and pain. Being mindful is the exact opposite of this habitual, auto-pilot response. Mindful living comes from letting go. Letting go enables us to stop resisting fear and pain, to see clearly and respond with kindness.
Meditation and mindfulness practice teaches us to accept reality as it is and to let go of resistance or wanting to fix or change reality – physically, mentally and emotionally. This reduces tension and frees up energy that we can use when action does need to be taken. Letting go can be initially challenging as we are usually in the habit of hanging onto things even if they cause us distress or harm. With practice we may realise there is much that we no longer need to hang onto.