Focused Attention and Open Awareness New York City

Mindfulness in Everyday Activities - Cultivating Mindful Acceptance

By George Marino CPC, CMMT

Cultivating Mindful AcceptanceThe poet Rumi says, this being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, an irritation, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorsably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

We know that positive and negative experiences are an inevitable part of life. For most of us, we have no problem dealing with positive experiences. Negative experiences can be more challenging. Most of the time, negative experiences can be more challenging not because of the actual experience, but because of our attitude and relationship with those feelings. Although, pleasant and unpleasant situations are both part of life, many of us have developed a completely different relationship with them: we tend to embrace and accept pleasant experiences and fight against or resist negative experiences. In the long term, this tendency to deal differently with both types of experiences creates a certain relationship with each of them. The following metaphor can help explain what is meant by this.

Imagine, someone comes to your office to see you. As you greet this person you notice he is in a good mood, smiles and has a positive attitude. You have a nice chat and then he leaves. The next day, he shows up again. You invite him in for a further discussion and a cup of coffee. You spend over an hour together and then you invite him to lunch . Over time, a positive relationship is built. Every time he visits , you open your door and let him in. He is welcome.

One day, he comes to your office and as you open the door, you are confronted with a completely different person. This person is in a negative mood, looks sad, and has a negative attitude. He is having a difficult time and asks if he can come in. You respond that he is not welcome and that he should leave. You immediately shut the door and try to forget that he even came to see you that day.
After a while, the phone rings and your assistant informs you that he is in the reception area of your office . As you are walking towards him you are hoping to see a positive person. Unfortunately, it is a negative person again. Slightly irritated, you tell him that he is not allowed to come in and is certainly not welcome. Notwithstanding, he continues visiting you from time to time. Although, you have never sat down with this negative person to get to know him, in your mind he gets more turbulent and confrontational. Occasionally, you are burdened with fear that he might randomly show up again at your office. Perhaps, you decide that it might be safe to barricade your office suite or place cameras at the front door and in the reception area. All of this has resulted in a negative relationship between you and him.

This metaphor illustrates how we can develop a relationship with positive and negative experiences even without realizing this is so. The positive and negative people in this metaphor represent positive and negative experiences. As we do not allow the negative person to come in, we are not willing to allow negative or difficult experiences to be present. We try our best to avoid them by suppressing, distracting or challenging them with stories that will put us at ease. Generally, we develop a relationship with negative emotions that is characterized by non-acceptance and avoidance.

Naturally, there are many reasons why we want to maintain a healthy distance from negative experiences. First of all , they are basically unpleasant and by shutting the door we think we can prevent them from hurting us, at least temporarily. Second, our culture implicitly teaches us to keep negative experiences out and at bay. A father who tells his son “ big boys don’t cry” is effectively telling his son to block any emotion that can cause tears or emotional pain.

There are several issues that can emerge when we keep negative experiences out. First, we are unable to decipher the valuable information these experiences hold for us. I like data in my role as an accountant, and emotions are data with both debits and credits. So, we want them to balance out. Let’s take anger for example, this emotion can tell us when someone has crossed a line. It could be a personal value which should not be transgressed, or it could be a hidden belief that is actually erroneous and requires revision. Second, if we never let negative emotions in, we are unable to develop emotional regulation skills and the confidence that can be developed around handling difficult emotions. Third, trying to keep negative emotions out means we are in a fighting mode, consequently the struggle itself creates additional suffering.

When we apply the mindfulness principle of acceptance we may come to realize that it is not the experience themselves that are in most cases problematic, but rather the way we relate to these experiences. One exercise that can help us cultivate an attitude and intention of acceptance is the “three minute breathing space” practice. Here is a guided mediation that can help in developing the “muscle” of mindful acceptance.

Schedule Your Appointment