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How is Acceptance a Key Aspect of Mindfulness?

May 10, 2019

Yoga pose sketch credit Ramana Kumar, @ramanasketches


I think most of us would agree that the tendancy to judge is something we learn as we grow up. From early years to adulthood we mimic a judgemental world around us. Mindfulness teaches us that letting go of judgement leads to acceptance which, in turn leads to a peaceful mindset.


Acceptance is effectively about letting go of negative feelings associated with an experience and deciding to move forward wholeheartedly. It is a key emotional skill for dealing with stress. It's about non-judgement and being receptive towards our experiences.


When we are accepting we are cultivating the ability to not judge ourselves, our actions, or even our experiences. Instead we aim to view the situation and our self with compassion.


Our natural instinct when we feel either physical pain, such as a painful shoulder or mental pain, such as anxiety - is to try to avoid the feeling. You ignore it or distract yourself or use drugs or alcohol to numb the discomfort.


"Fear grows out of the things we think; it lives in our mind"


This may work in the short term but it doesn't solve the emotional hurt and struggle with the actual suffering. So there is a secondary response here to the underlying hurt which Buddha calls the 'second arrow', it refers to a warrior who is injured and allows a thought to unleash, like 'why did this happen to me'. Once the thought has popped into the head it becomes the secondary emotional response to the hurt and deepens the pain. 


In Mindfulness we learn to be aware of our negative thoughts and the ability to observe them the moment they pop up, then accept the thoughts without judgement, so that we can stop them in their tracks and let them go.


When we practice meditation one of the biggest hurdles is the 'second arrow'! Initially during meditation lots of thoughts will enter the mind. It can be hard to switch off completely, as the mind is active and busy most of the time.


If we don't accept that thoughts are bound to come up in meditation this becomes the pain of the 'second arrow' because we tend to criticise our self for having too many thoughts and therefore think we are unable to settle into the meditation successfully.