How does Mindfulness Meditation Imply Acceptance?

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the concept of acceptance in the context of mindfulness meditation.
  • Recognize the importance of observing and accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment.
  • Learn to change attitudes and resistances towards anxiety symptoms and anxious thoughts.

Acceptance of the Stream of Experience

Most people know acceptance through the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” By this understanding, some misfortune or tragedy has occurred, and we are powerless to reverse it. Whether it’s a death, a personal failure, self-humiliation, or even a betrayal, there is an experience of irrevocable loss. We grieve and grieve, but at some point the normal course of life must resume, no matter how much the heart hurts. Acceptance facilitates this.

Acceptance as conceptualized in the context of mindfulness meditation, however, means acceptance of your own stream of experience, as it occurs in the moment, whatever it might be. You might free associate to any number of memories, each raising up into the theatre of awareness to momentarily occupy center stage before subsiding again. So you think about your spouse, free associate to the tasty dinner you both had the night before, bring your attention back to your breathe, rest there for several breaths, then feel yourself tempted to think about your sister, wonder why that is, remember that you’re supposed to be meditating, pass judgement on yourself for your lapse, remember that you’re not supposed to do this, try to take it back, resolve not to do it again, and finally return to the breath in a posture of nonjudgmental acceptance, amazed that the stream of awareness has so much judgment in it.

As you can see, at the most basic level, observing and accepting are really just two sides of the same coin. You cannot be a dispassionate observer without acceptance, it’s logically impossible. Without acceptance, you are judging: You are not observing, you’re involved, entangled. When you limit your reaction to simply noticing, this means not getting involved with, or reacting strongly to, your thoughts. It’s the thinking or experiencing mind that gets caught up in judgments and evaluations about your current situation and about yourself and makes up stories that explain and prophesy. For the observing mind, there is no good or bad. There is only the stream of awareness. If the mind reacts strongly to some thought or feeling, then you simply notice this reaction and detach, without self-judgment. Resume the posture of observation.

Acceptance of the Symptoms

What is acceptance with regard to anxious thoughts and feelings? Acceptance is NOT verbalizing to yourself the phrase “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” That’s reassurance, not acceptance, and reassurance is based on fear. Nor is acceptance simply repeating affirmations silently to yourself. Attitude is everything here, the whole point. Acceptance means changing your attitude toward anxiety in your heart as anxious thoughts and feelings occur in the moment. Acceptance means detecting resistance and changing it. Strong examples of resistance include “I hate this, I hate these symptoms” and “I just can’t take this anxiety.” Acceptance is “I’ve done this before, it’s okay..I’m okay with this,” and them effecting this internal change. If you are experiencing intense physiological arousal based on the symptoms, that’s fine. You are changing your experience of the symptoms. You are no longer resisting the symptoms, you are giving them permission, allowing them, making space for them, even welcoming them. Acceptance is the opposite of management and control. When you work on acceptance, you are working on the cure. Acceptance is pure observation.

Acceptance of your Stories

The second level of acceptance is acceptance of your fear of the symptoms, the catastrophizing and mental “what if games” about what the symptoms could become. This level of acceptance is about the interpretations you impose on the symptoms, that is, your stories. When your mind screams, “You’re going to have a heart attack!”, you just shrug, yawn, and say “Whaaatevvvva.” Again, you are giving it permission based on a change in your own attitude. This includes thoughts like “What if this damn anxiety never stops?” These thoughts make your heart beat faster and your throat tighten up. They pull you into a state of cognitive fusion because they escalate the threat. Such thoughts are full scale thermonuclear war. They tell you that you are trapped forever, a kind of parasite-host relationship where anxiety is the parasite and you are the host. To accept anxiety about anxiety, maintain the observer perspective. When the thought, “When is this damn anxiety going away?” arises, instead of reacting strongly, simply note the thought. Perhaps you say, “Ah, another anxiety-about-anxiety thought, that’s okay.” Perhaps you say, “Whatever, more anxiety about anxiety thoughts. Anxiety, you have my permission to be whatever you want to be. If you want to give me these thoughts, go ahead.” What you say is not as important as your attitude. Monitor your own internal resistance. Make sure that you are not observing in the front of your mind and resisting in another part of your mind. If you continue to resist anywhere in your being, your efforts will be less successful, and a complete recovery will take longer.


Acceptance of the Stream of Experience

Most people know acceptance through the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” By this understanding, some misfortune or tragedy has occurred, and we are powerless to reverse it. Whether it’s a death, a personal failure, self-humiliation, or even a betrayal, there is an experience of irrevocable loss. We grieve and grieve, but at some point the normal course of life must resume, no matter how much the heart hurts. Acceptance facilitates this.

Acceptance as conceptualized in the context of mindfulness meditation

However, means acceptance of your own stream of experience, as it occurs in the moment, whatever it might be. You might free associate to any number of memories, each raising up into the theatre of awareness to momentarily occupy center stage before subsiding again. So you think about your spouse, free associate to the tasty dinner you both had the night before, bring your attention back to your breathe, rest there for several breaths, then feel yourself tempted to think about your sister, wonder why that is, remember that you’re supposed to be meditating, pass judgement on yourself for your lapse, remember that you’re not supposed to do this, try to take it back, resolve not to do it again, and finally return to the breath in a posture of nonjudgmental acceptance, amazed that the stream of awareness has so much judgment in it.


Reading Comprehension Questions

1. What is acceptance in the context of mindfulness meditation?

  • A. Repeating affirmations silently
  • B. Observing and accepting one’s stream of experience without judgment
  • C. Verbalizing “it’s okay” repeatedly
  • D. Managing and controlling anxiety symptoms

2. Why is it important to change attitudes and resistances towards anxiety symptoms?

  • A. To escalate the threat of anxiety
  • B. To maintain cognitive fusion
  • C. To observe without resistance
  • D. Because resistance causes anxiety to worsen in the first place.

3. What is the opposite of acceptance?

  • A. Judgment and evaluation
  • B. Nonjudgmental observation
  • C. Reassurance and fear
  • D. Verbalizing affirmations

4. How can one accept anxiety about anxiety?

  • A. React strongly to anxious thoughts
  • B. Ignore the thoughts and feelings
  • C. Allow thoughts about anxiety to occur, accept them, but don’t believe them.
  • D. Seek reassurance from others

5. What is the goal of acceptance in the context of anxiety?

  • A. To resist and control anxiety symptoms
  • B. To observe and accept thoughts and feelings without judgment
  • C. To avoid experiencing anxiety
  • D. To eliminate all anxious thoughts

Answers

1. B

2. D

3. A

4. C

5. B

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