Mindfulness for Change, Part 9

"If you let go a little you will have a little happiness. If you let go a lot you will have a lot of happiness. If you let go completely you will be free." - Ajahn Chah

How did your meditations on acceptance go? What did you find?

As suggested by the quotation from Ajahn Chah, the idea of acceptance I introduced last week allows us to find a freedom in life we're unlikely to otherwise have. Acceptance can often be challenging and seem even to be wrong at times, but letting go of the illusion of control can be a turning point in our lives.

The illusion of control is the idea that we hold that we actually have more control in life than we really do. This illusion does serve us psychologically. When I believe that I have control, I may feel that I can change outcomes to how I want them to be. That I can prevent bad things from happening. That I can avoid loss, or change, or being alone... That I am safe.

In truth, I am generally unable to control very much of the world.

As we meditate, the observer mind develops. We become comfortable with not interacting, not judging, not controlling our thoughts and feelings. Rather we just notice them.

As this perspective develops, we recognize our thoughts "just are". Similarly, as we practice and mindfully focus on the world, we come to realize that the events of the world "just are". And as such, we find that we can accept how things are. We don't need the illusion of control any longer.

This doesn't mean that situations work out as each person desires, as I desire or as you desire. This doesn't mean that we approve of what has happened, or what choice someone makes. But, nonetheless, they have worked out. Acceptance like this is sometimes called "radical acceptance" because as we practice non-striving, we find we can accept all kinds of situations, no matter how much accepting challenges us.

Since the beginning of history, despite the desires or strivings of people, things work out as they do. Sometimes we can influence their pathway, sometimes we can't.

Professional athletes I work with often find that their careers often go in directions that they didn't imagine or even desire, but their career continues. It's similar with our jobs, in politics, in relationships...

As a more challenging example of acceptance, I'd like to mention a friend who has cancer. That's not what I want for them, nor what they want. Yet, it will work out for that is the flow of life.

I can be as scared as I want, I can yell at the sky, plead, bargain, etc., and still the cancer will be there. Well, to put it very simply, life doesn't change because of my protest. There are simply things that will be no matter what I want.

I've learned this and bringing mindful practice and acceptance to the situation allows me to focus on my friend and stay in the present versus going into a future where my fears live and wasting my energy there. Again, accepting that the cancer just is doesn't mean that I'm happy about it, but that I can move beyond being upset and that I am able to just notice it and have my energy for other parts of life.

As we become comfortable with the idea that we don't control how life flows, we find we can be okay with how it does flow. We can then let go of the illusion that we can control and change things that we never really could. However, letting go isn't necessarily easy because of how we feel control serves us and sometimes because we feel that accepting is the same as approving - it isn't.

Letting go of attempts to control the world, letting things flow, we become increasingly freed from anxiety, stress, fear, jealousy, anger, disappointment, etc. Letting go serves us too, but in a healthier way than the illusion of control.

As we explore the ideas of flow and acceptance, we may find that we return again and again to attempts at control. Certainly, I do with my friend. But just like a new swimmer grasping to hang on to the wall, after a while we develop confidence that even when we let go of control we can be okay and trust the flow of life.

Truly accepting a situation we find ourselves in may take a while. We may experience sadness or a sense of loss when we are mindful and when we trust ourselves to witness what there is to witness. However, though we may pass through fear, anger or other such emotions first, with time these will usually shift into sadness and then usually into a place of quiet, or evenness with the situation we're facing as we accept it. I can just witness what there is to witness. I think of this as a peace that comes from not striving to change the situation. Usually the ones we're most upset by are ones that we really don't have control over.

This perspective can be a real challenge for many of us, but its power to change our lives is well worth the effort to cultivate it. I consider myself a student regarding this perspective. It isn't that I'm okay with some of the ways that things work out, certainly I've experienced things that I wouldn't choose, but I've come to understand that that's okay, that it's just the way it is.

This week, continue with your meditations and take some time to think about what it would mean if you accept something, or someone, that angers you, or scares you (an FTP test maybe?), or otherwise challenges you. As you meditate, bring the person or situation into you mind. Notice it non-judgmentally, stay with it. Give it time, maybe over several practices, but with time you'll come to see that it is just what it is. Now, you'll begin to find your freedom.

Reach out to me with any thoughts or questions you'd like to share.

Dave Marks, LCPC 847-299-3400