The Practice of Mindful Acceptance
When we experience emotional pain, such as a “broken heart” after the death of a loved one or loss of a relationship, it is natural and even necessary to feel such pain in order to heal and go on with our lives. It is part of the mourning process. At Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry, I help people learn to observe their thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to change them, and at the same time behave in ways consistent with valued goals and life directions. In our work together, clients learn that while emotional pain hurts, it is the struggle against pain or even attempts to avoid pain that causes suffering. In our work together, clients learn that pain is an inevitable part of living that can be accepted, whereas struggling to avoid inescapable pain causes more suffering. The struggle with pain is seen as a form of non-acceptance or resistance to what is—what cannot be changed.
Acceptance is about allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them. Acceptance follows naturally when we start paying attention to the here and now. We can accept things as they are. We are not our thoughts, but we have thoughts. We have feelings, yet we are not our feelings.
In the office, I help people practice acceptance using a variety of different exercises. Below are two ways you can practice acceptance on your own.
Practice acceptance by sitting in a comfortable position, with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Softly close your eyes. Imagine bubbles slowly rising up in front of you. Each bubble contains a thought, feeling or perception. See the first bubble rise up. What is inside? See the thought, observe it, and watch it slowly float away. Try not to judge, evaluate, or think about it more deeply. Once it has floated out of sight, watch the next bubble appear. What is inside? Observe it, and watch it slowly float away. If your mind goes blank, then watch the bubble rise up with “blank” inside and slowly float away.
You can also practice acceptance by writing down an emotional situation you have experienced. See if you can remember how you felt at that moment, what body sensations, feelings and behavioral urges and thoughts came to you. Accept these sensations, feelings, thoughts and urges without trying to control or avoid them. Even if these internal experiences were very hard for you, try to embrace them as they are and simply accept them.
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