Sounds like an unbelievably charged word and a daunting, heavy practice.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Before we unpack acceptance, let me start by talking about resistance. Have you ever noticed how much energy is actually required to resist something? Take change, for instance. Consistently falling back to the habit of meeting change with a negative attitude, or apprehensive thoughts and behaviours, is not only draining to those around us but draining to ourselves. More often than not, after the change occurs, we usually catch ourselves saying, “That wasn’t so bad after all.” Whether it be a new routine at work, a new coffee machine (considering that you l-o-v-e-d your old one), or better yet, the change of seasons; we tend to fall back on unskillful habits of reacting to change with resistance. Resistance blocks the flow of life’s natural energy. It creates a headspace in which we are unreceptive to new ideas and to intuition – it sabotages our creativity, mental clarity, and openness.
In Buddhism, there are three types of poisons that create suffering in life: aversion (avoidance), clinging (attachment), and confusion (delusion). The danger of these poisons reside in our unawareness to the ways in which they manifest themselves in our thoughts and in our actions. If we were to apply these poisons to resistance, we are met with behaviours such as holding back when we are fearful or turning a blind eye to help (avoidance), falling back on anger or blame because that’s all we may know or understand (clinging), or downright refusing to believe something for what it really is (delusion). Why do we get so attached to our suffering, get stuck, and become despairing about ever feeling good? Why do we become complacent about the patterns and habits that hurt us?
One of the three core components of a mindfulness practice is attitude, as defined by Dr. Shauna Shapiro. This is the stance we take towards our experience. If we consistently meet experiences with resistance, then our minds suffer in turn with clouded judgement, negativity, and reserved or harmful behaviours. I propose then a letting go of the habit of being resistant: letting go of the fear of the unknown and practicing seeing things simply as they appear to be, non-judgmentally.
It’s as simple as that: changing our attitude. Simple but not easy. Not when the habit to respond a certain way to events has been our comfortable pattern of reactivity that was most likely taught to us, modelled in a certain way, and even reinforced over the years. Enter the process of unlearning, enter the practice of mindfulness. Allowing the present moment to unfold as we cater to it with openness and curiosity will disable the power of resistance. Once we are aware of our unskillful patterns of reactivity, we will be able to make that shift and treat the moment with intention. When we learn to release control, we are able to embrace life with more power and more consciousness.
The most important component of remaining steady and present in the face of distress is to treat ourselves with compassion and to respond with non-judgemental awareness. When we release the attempt to manage or control our experience, we are given the permission to experience things just as they are. In this moment, space is created: space to choose how to respond. Space to choose our stance towards our experience.