Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Mindfulness and Acceptance

by James Porter September 20, 2010

What people generally know about mindfulness is that it has something to do with being in the present moment. And this is true. Harvard Professor, Ron Siegel, who wrote a book called The Mindfulness Solution, defines mindfulness as "present moment awareness with acceptance." It's a good definition, because in order to be in the present moment you have to accept whatever the present moment brings. While the present moment can be wonderful (and easy to embrace) when you're gazing at the stars, looking at a beautiful sunset, or lying on a warm beach it can be difficult to embrace when you're stuck in a traffic jam, listening to noisy neighbors, dealing with annoying coworkers or suffering through allergy season! How are you supposed to be "in the moment" with all that?

That's where acceptance comes in. Acceptance of the present moment encompasses everything including your (occasionally)negative reaction to it.

For example, let's say, you're stuck in traffic. You've tried saying, "hey it's just a traffic jam, what's the big deal!" And that didn't work. You've tried taking a couple of deep breaths but that didn't work either. You're just plain annoyed and there's no getting over it (or so you think). So what do you do? Just accept the fact that you are annoyed! Acceptance might be as simple as noticing your annoyance and saying to yourself: Wow, look how annoyed I am over this traffic jam. Simply doing this brings you back into the present moment with acceptance. And the more you give yourself FULL PERMISSION TO BE ANNOYED, the more likely it is that your annoyance will fade away quickly.

Mindfulness and AcceptanceAs long as you are aware of what's going on in your head: you're here right now (in the present moment). It's when your mind takes you places you're not aware of that you end up completely losing the present moment. Usually your mind plays a movie with you in it that takes place either in the future or in the past. If it's something you're worried about, your mind travels forward: The dentist appointment, the big presentation or the pressing deadline. If it's something you're angry about, usually the mind has travels backward: The criticism your boss made, the nasty remark from your coworker or the fight you had with your spouse. Sometimes your mind will play out these angry or anxious scenarios over and over before you have the slightest idea that YOU ARE NOT HERE!

But this is the amazing part: The minute you REALIZE you're gone, you're back in the present moment.

I'm a little spacey. My mind wanders no matter how hard I try. I accept that about myself, and simply try to notice WHERE I've gone when I'm gone. That's practicing mindfulness with acceptance.

Mindfulness is infinitely flexible in this way. You can ALWAYS take one step back from where you are standing (especially when you feel stuck) and find a place of acceptance that puts you back in this moment right here and right now: Whether that's accepting that you have a noisy neighbor, or accepting that you're too timid to speak up to this noisy neighbor or accepting (or realizing) that you too can be a noisy neighbor sometimes. There's lots of room for you to step back (and gain perspective) when it comes to acceptance.

So practice mindfulness AND acceptance. Notice when your thinking mind starts playing one of your least favorite home movies (staring poor you) and smile. Notice whether you've traveled back into the past or forward into the future. Accept how you're feeling at the moment, and realize that you are just a human being. Take a step back. And watch that when you do this, your difficult emotions will begin to dissolve and become less intense. Notice also, how your troubles don't seem so intense when you are truly connected with this moment and accept whatever this moment brings. That's when you'll start to see the liberation that present moment awareness with acceptance can bring.

James Porter
James Porter