What The Heck Is . . . So Important About Acceptance?
Let me start off by getting something out into the open . . .
Allowing your emotions does not equate to resigning to them or to your experience. In fact, resigning to your inner experiences is giving them permission to be in the driver's seat, which is the exact opposite of acceptance.
When we truly embrace acceptance, we allow space for our big feelings and challenging situations. Before you look through some helpful techniques, let's first review the definition of acceptance:
From this definition, we immediately see that simply having an awareness of your experience does not imply that you are submitting to it. Rather than working to control or manipulate the thought, feeling of emotion - acceptance asks us to allow space for our experiences to be just as they are . . . right here, right now.
When practicing acceptance, keep in mind the 3 A's:
Acknowledge = recognize that emotions, feelings and thoughts are present.
Allow = let these inner experiences be in the here and now.
Accommodate = instead of trying to change or control them, simply let your thoughts, emotions and feelings be exactly as there are.
Alright, let's practice some acceptance!
Dropping anchor involves shifting your awareness between your inner and outer experiences:
1. The thoughts in your mind
For example: this is boring; what do I need to get from the store today?; I can't believe I said that to my boss yesterday!
2. The feelings in your body
For example: here's tightness in my throat; I feel butterflies in my belly; my head is pulsating.
3. Observations of the world around you
For example: I hear the traffic from the road outside; there's a blue lampshade next to my bed; I can smell the fresh cut grass; My sweater feels soft on my arm.
Start with 2-3 minutes of acceptance practice by cycling your awareness between these 3 elements. Notice if you are able to create even just a little more space between difficult or challenging inner experiences and your impulse to judge, control or react to them.
Take a moment to notice what feeling or emotion is present for you. Then mindfully name it: here is anxiety; I am having the sensation of sadness; right now I am feeling anger.
Without judgment, label the emotion present in your experience instead of attaching the title of "good" or "bad" to the feeling. In this way, you might become more accommodating of your big feeling which can empower you to be present with it rather than trying to change or manipulate it.
Right now, you might be asking . . . well, why can't I just learn skills to change or stop my thoughts? Let's do a quick experiment that you may recall from Psych 101.
Think of a white polar bear. See in your mind the bear in his habitat, sauntering along the snowing banks of the Arctic.
Now, STOP! Don't think about the polar bear. Or at least only think about the polar bear for 5 seconds and then make him go away forever!
See what I mean? It's really tough to control the form and frequency of our thoughts. So with this in mind - practice mindful naming as a way to cultivate a more accepting relationship with your inner experiences.
Pause for a few moments to notice where in your body that you feel a particular sensation. Tune into the feeling as if you had a magnifying glass, and get a closer look. With curiosity, ask questions to get to know this sensation:
Is it still or does it have movement?
Is it heavy or light?
Does is have a certain color or texture?
Does it feel warm or cool?
Is it bright or dark?
Again - with openness and genuine interest dig inward to what your experience is like for you right here as a practice of acceptance.
There are so many techniques to practice acceptance. Start by identifying what kinds of techniques work for you: visualizations, self-talk, guided meditations, breath work, etc.
Then let go of the ones that don't land for you. And as with any new practice be sure to offer yourself kindness and grace.