Mindfulness opens us to positive alternatives
Acceptance – Expectations and “Shoulds”- Forgiveness
by Jimmy Petruzzi
Mindfulness is experiencing the present moment without judgment, reservation, or attachment, which requires a radical (and seemingly unnatural) acceptance of the nature of ourselves, and our thoughts and feelings as they come and go.
In most therapy and healing systems acceptance is the most important starting condition. While traditional behavioral and cognitive behavioral approaches view problem cognitions as “distorted” and dispute them as such, more recent systems recognized that such a rigid disapproval invalidates patients’ personal experiences, increases guilt and shame, hardens expectations, and causes resistance and non-adherence to treatment. Instead, the patients’ responses are validated as reasonable given their own life experiences and accepted as real, albeit not functionally optimal in their current circumstances.
Comparative research results proved that therapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Mode Deactivation Therapy (MDT), all of which employs the concept of radical acceptance, are much more effective in reducing problematic behavior and affect compared to traditional behavioral interventions.In the practice of mindfulness as well, it is about accepting how you feel right now, rather than denying it; understanding that acceptance comes first, and change later. As such, mindfulness has three different aspects that operate together seamlessly to bring about a state of mindful awareness, and the cornerstone of each is acceptance.
1. Intention. Your intention is what you hope to get from practicing mindfulness. You may want stress reduction, greater emotional balance or to discover your true nature. The strength of your intention helps to motivate you to practice mindfulness on a daily basis, and shapes the quality of your mindful awareness.
2. Attention. Mindfulness is about paying attention to your inner or outer experience. Your mindful attention is mainly developed through various different types of meditation – either formal, traditional, or informal – when talking, cleaning or driving, for example.
3. Attitude. Mindfulness involves paying attention to certain attitudes, such as curiosity, acceptance and kindness.
Acceptance is related to effortless awareness, a natural sense of observing without judgment, expectation, or attachment. One of the most famous sages of the 20th Century, Nisargadatta described it as such: “Discover all that you are not – body, feelings, thoughts, time, space, this or that – nothing, concrete or abstract, which you perceive can be you. The very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive.
” In observing and accepting each passing experience, the acronym RAIN is often utilized (Alidina, 2010).
R – Recognize the emotion you’re feeling. Name the emotion in your mind if you can.
A – Accept the experience you’re having. Yes you probably don’t like the feeling, but the reality is the emotion is here at the moment.
I – Investigate. Become curious about your experience. Where do you feel the emotion in your body? What kind of thoughts are going through your mind?
N – Non-identification. See the emotion as a passing event rather than who you actually are, just as different images are reflected in a mirror but are not the mirror. Different emotions arise and pass in you, but are not you, yourself. The most powerful step is non-identification. Have the attitude “anger is arising and will soon pass away” or “sadness is coming up in me, and at some point will dissolve”.Acceptance is not acquiescence. But it is free of unrealistic expectations, fantasy, imagination, and hope. It is simply the raw, unadulterated experience of our life in this moment. It means not to judge, depend, or attach, but relinquish the boundary of tension between our view of the self in relation to other objects.
Expectations and “Shoulds”Expectations and “shoulds” are what easily form a cage for our true self and our relationship with and understanding of the world. As American poet and philosopher Elbert Hubbard said: “Our desires always disappoint us; for though we meet with something that gives us satisfaction, yet it never thoroughly answers our expectation.” In reality, from childhood we form expectations of ourselves, others, and the world in general. It is self-involved and mostly unrealistic, but we cling to them as a perception of our own identity and its value.
It assumes a clear boundary between the self and our control over the environment. Alas, it is but an illusion that we desperately cling to as we believe it defines our value. The unrealistic demands is like an inner “slave-driver”. One can never succeed that way. It just forms an endless cycle of disappointment and dissatisfaction.In his 1989 book titled, “A Gradual Awakening”, Stephen Levine wrote on page 74: When we start working on ourselves, there’s a tendency to be judgmental of certain qualities of mind or perhaps to feel that we aren’t accomplishing as much as we somehow imagined we might. In the beginning, there is much effort necessary to develop steady concentration, to become more aware, but there is another kind of trying which may slow down our progress because it creates expectation.
Expectation is the opposite of patience. Expectation is waiting for something to happen; it is not a patient waiting. True patience manifests itself as a non-grasping openness to whatever comes next. It is a calm willingness to be present, to allow awakening to occur as it will. As trying matures into patient resolution to devote energy to the practice without grasping at results, the universe slowly reveals itself.Therefore, expectation is not just an illusion that forever remains just out of our grasp, the resulting continuous dissatisfaction and disappointment affects our thoughts and feelings, which easily becomes habitually negative and hopeless. Expectation is not only the opposite of patience, but of acceptance as well. Expectation is about not accepting ourselves who we are, and always living in another moment but the present.
Forgiveness Being angry and annoyed with yourself or someone else, especially for prolonged periods, are not healthy. It harbors unpleasant feelings and thoughts, and is expressed in harmful behaviors. Not only is it harmful to your own health and psychological well-being, but it directly contradicts the concept and intent of mindfulness. It ruminates and focuses on the past. It festers, fulminates, and preoccupies. The imagined threat also has negative physiological effects and over-activates our stress response system. It is important to distinguish forgiveness from forgetting or condoning the hurtful action, but only to realize instead that the mercilessness, need for revenge and justice, and self-righteousness has a high emotional and energetic cost to ourselves. In reality, we sacrifice a part of ourselves for an unworthy cause. Mindfulness help us to disengage from the construct of anger and hatred that we have fabricated, and our own reliance on these “stories” as part of self-identification. Instead, mindfulness opens us to positive alternatives rather than continue to ruminate, judge, and reject our own subjective interpretation that probably deny the other person’s true situation.