Posted on August 3, 2014
Mindfulness and acceptance are difficult concepts to grasp, but there is a general consensus about four qualities that go into mindful acceptance. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994, p.4) captures these essential qualities in his definition of mindfulness: “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.” Let’s explore each part.
Paying attention in the here and now seems like a simple enough task, but in reality it is very challenging because we all live with two sources of distractions: those from the outside world and those from the world inside our bodies – that is, our thoughts, feelings, memories and body sensations. On top of that, your critical judgemental mind will often pull you out of the present too, so that you react to people and situations based on old habitual patterns of thinking, relating, and behaving. Learning to pay attention mindfully can liberate you from these traps and put you in fuller contact with yourself and the world as it is, rather than as your mind says it is.
To pay attention, you must consciously choose to do it, and do it again and again, over and over, throughout your day and your life. This alone can be difficult to do. Sometimes you’ll get pulled back into the same old automatic patterns that have kept you stuck. The skill is to recognise when this is happening, recommit to acting with purpose, and get back to noticing what’s really happening in that moment. And when those old habits do pull you in from time to time, just notice them. Rather than putting yourself down for having “failed”, instead be glad and grateful that you have recognised the old dead ends, then gently and purposefully return to what you’d really like to notice and do in the moment.
In the Present Moment
We all live in the here and now, but our minds can quickly take us elsewhere. If you pay attention, you’d be amazed at how often this happens on any given day. For instance, when you took a shower this morning, you might have been thinking about what to wear, or all of things you had to do today. Your body was in the shower, but your head was elsewhere. Perhaps you have had the experience where you were driving along, thinking about this and that, only to realise that you’ve travelled 10kms and can’t remember a darn thing you’ve passed along the way! You might have missed your turn, too. The point here is that we can all readily be pulled out of the present, but when this happens, we miss out on the here-and-now experience, which is the only place where life is lived.
Of all of the qualities of mindfulness, this one is the most challenging to learn. We have a tendency to judge and evaluate just about everything we do – situations, other people, even our own thoughts and feelings. But all judgement creates an illusion of reality that isn’t so, and when you hold onto these evaluations, particularly when they are automatic and intense, you can quickly lose focus and get caught in cycles of struggle and self-blame in an effort to remove the unpleasantness or to acquire something you don’t have. Your mind makes it seem like these qualities are something you can have, hold, and keep. The evaluations seem real. But can you get happiness and hold onto it like you can get a can of Coke and keep it with you as long as you wish? Or does happiness tend to ebb and flow over time just like most thoughts and emotions? Are feelings something you can grab onto and hold like objects in the physical world? When you act as if you can hold onto them or push them away, and try to do what your judgemental mind says you should, you’ll end up stuck. However, putting the qualities of acceptance – willingness, openness, compassion, kindness, and playfulness – into action is a powerful way to dilute this suffering. These softer qualities, when mixed with paying attention on purpose, nonjudgementally, and in the present moment, will undercut the very need to struggle and will give you the freedom to make wiser, more informed choices about how to act in a way that is consistent with your values.
When bringing these four qualities of mindful acceptance to your experience, you are not stopping your mind from generating thoughts, or your body from generating feelings. You are simply choosing to be kinder and gentler to yourself, and to create a space between you and what your mind, based on old history, is telling you. If you are willing to choose the softer path, then you’ll be doing something new, with the potential to free yourself up from old patterns. So if you believe that mindful acceptance is something you would like to learn more about, please contact Felicity Farmer, your local Therapist in Brisbane, for more information or to arrange an appointment.Back to Blog
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”
- Anais Nin