One of the primary components of mindful living, perhaps THE foundation of mindfulness, is to accept things as they are and live with them. It is the ability to not try to change things we cannot change, but rather to acknowledge and accept them as they are and to be with them.
It is adaptive for humans to avoid uncomfortable sensations and situations. Remembering the berries that made us sick or the steep cliff where members of the group have fallen off is how humans have survived and evolved as long as they have. Small children who touch a hot stove quickly learn to avoid touching any object that looks like a stove. We remember negative experiences and avoid pain and other uncomfortable sensations and emotions for a reason. We are hardwired to avoid what stresses us out and induces uncomfortable emotions or sensations.
Modern society’s high stress environment has created a nation of overwhelmed and stressed humans who are experiencing stress chronically, day after day. Modern life is set up in a way where we have the potential to feel stressed from the moment our alarm goes off until we finally fall asleep. From slow WiFi to traffic jams to projects at work, society is a minefield of stressors. As you can see, these opposing processes increase stress responses.
This is where ruminating and worrying come into play, which may or may not lead to feelings of anxiousness, sadness, fear, etc. We cannot seem to quiet our minds from all of the stressors we face daily, from to-do lists to health woes to finances to relationships, yet we are ill equipped in handling the accompanying and uncomfortable emotions that come with our worried minds.
We cannot change modern life, with all of it’s fast-paced, tech-heavy and competitive living, but we can learn to quiet our minds and accept things-including ourselves-for what they are.
The first step is to simply name what it is you are feeling and accept it. Naming an uncomfortable emotion or sensation allows you to acknowledge it, which is the first step in living mindfully. For example, saying to yourself: “I am feeling sad”, or, “I am feeling scared” is the first step of acceptance. Athletes can use this to break through previous mental thresholds: “I am feeling intimidated by this hill, I feel so exhausted.” Acknowledging being afraid of something, or being tired, makes it easier to accept it because you are not fighting it.
You can also run through a list of emotions or feelings, answering “yes” or “no”. “Am I feeling sad? Yes. Am I feeling overwhelmed? Yes.” Going through a list of emotions and better understanding everything you are currently feeling is the first step in understanding your experience and beginning to accept it.
Once you have named what you are feeling, you can begin to accept it for what it is and learn to simply live with it.
It is when we resist physical or emotional pain, when we resist feeling anxious or nervous or afraid, that we are actually feeding those feelings and emotions and heightening our experience of them.
Acknowledging and accepting what is uncomfortable is not the same as distracting yourself, nor it is assuming you will never feel pain or anxiety or sadness again.
It is accepting it for what it is, and sitting with it. It is accepting and understanding that what you are experiencing can simply exist, it does not have to cause you suffering.
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering.
Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
It takes time to build a habit of acknowledging and accepting what is causing you suffering and to be okay with it.
Practice it. Practice it every day. Practice it when you do not feel suffering, naming positive emotions (“Am I content? Yes”). This way, when you experience suffering, you are used to naming emotions and accepting them.
Once you begin to accept emotions and experiences that cause suffering, you will begin to free yourself from suffering.
You will begin to feel more calm and accepting of what life throws at you-whether it’s a tight deadline at work or coping with a major life change.
What are you feeling? Can you name the experience or emotion? Is it something you can learn to sit with?
Run on, my friends.