“When we are in the midst of chaos, let go of the need to control it. Be awash in it, experience it in that moment, try not to deal with the outcome but deal with the flow as it comes.” – Leo Babuta
In last week’s post, “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Week Four,” we learned about how to derive benefits from being more present to our moment-to-moment experience. It can be almost startling how difficult it is to truly stay present in the moment. We have become so accustomed to thinking about the past and the future that we often forget that our lives are only lived in the present moment. When we become lost in the inner world of our minds, the sad reality is that much of our lives go unlived. It is as if our lives are happening to us.
Mindfulness is a tool that allows us to check back in to the constantly unfolding present moment and regain a sense of agency in our lives. As soon as we realize that our minds are tricking us into avoiding the apparent distress of the present moment, mindful awareness allows us to refocus our presence in this moment… right now. It is natural for us to become overly attached to pleasant experiences and fearful or avoidant of unpleasant ones. The danger in living this way is that we miss out on the big picture when we only pay attention to that which we “like.”
Take a moment to pause and reflect on your personal journey with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). You have made the choice to explore many of the benefits of mindfulness in your life and have likely experienced numerous obstacles, frustrations, and joys along the way. Just as with life, the most valuable rewards of your experience with MBSR are found along the journey, not at the destination. In fact, there is no “destination.” We are all works in progress and the choice to live a fully awakened and mindfulness-based life requires recommitting to this goal with the dawn of each new day.
MBSR Week Five: Embracing Acceptance
What does acceptance mean to you and how do you really “know” when you have truly accepted something? One of the most important, and commonly misunderstood, aspects of acceptance is that to accept something does not necessarily mean to approve of it. In fact, some of the greatest benefits to be derived from acceptance come from accepting those aspects of life which we find unpleasant, uncomfortable, or painful.
When we learn not only to tolerate the distress of pain, but to accept its existence, we lessen our suffering. Physical and psychological pain in life is inevitable and unavoidable. Rather than live in denial and build a life focused on the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure, make the choice to learn how to not only tolerate pain, but to embrace it. When we actually embrace our pain, we are not saying that it is “good” in some way, we are simply accepting that it is there.
When you acknowledge painful truths, they cause less suffering. The sad truth is that we are programmed to believe otherwise and often spend a great deal of time causing ourselves unnecessary suffering as we desperately seek to avoid pain through all forms of experiential avoidance. The scariest step toward accepting reality is the first one. It gradually gets easier and easier with time.
MBSR Week Five: Practices
This week, make the choice to accept things precisely as they are. Resist the urge to jump in and try to change reality. If you feel irritated with someone, resist the urge to lash out at them or snap at them. Instead, allow yourself to sit with the feeling of irritation. Allow yourself to feel the irritation in your body and notice your thoughts as they arise in consciousness. What effect does it have for you to simply notice, accept, and acknowledge your experience just as it is?
- Practice 30 minutes of guided sitting meditation. Actively notice your thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise. Record your thoughts and feelings in your MBSR journal.
- Practice the “3 Minute Breathing Space” three times a day. Try to connect the breathing meditation with everyday activities such as meal times, waking up in the morning, and falling asleep at night.
- Practice the “3 Minute Breathing Space” additionally when you find yourself experiencing some form of distress. Use the breathing exercise as a means of allowing yourself to sit with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings rather than push them away.
- Begin to explore the difference between reacting and responding to your experience during challenging moments. Become more mindful of your automatic thoughts and urges to take immediate action. Make the choice to not act in these moments. Notice how your experience changes when you allow yourself the space to consciously and deliberately respond to distress.
Remember to record your thoughts and feelings of your MBSR experience in your journal as you engage in your week five mindfulness practice. What changes do you notice at this point in your personal MBSR journey from week one to week five? Even if you have not managed to keep up your practice each and every day, use each present moment as a new opportunity to recommit yourself to your goal of becoming more mindful and aware of your experience.
Pause to visualize yourself as fully open to and accepting of your moment-to-moment experience. Imagine what it might feel like to consciously respond to uncomfortable situations with greater mindfulness and ease. Picture what life would be like if you did not have to live in fear of emotional pain or overwhelming emotions. Even if you have a history of struggling to respond in your life with mindfulness, you are capable of it. Begin to tell yourself that living with mindfulness is attainable with practice. Commit yourself to this goal and be open to your experience each step of the way.
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Next week, I will explore the practices involved with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Week Six – “Realizing that Thoughts Aren’t Facts.”
This article is not intended to be a substitute for therapy or MBSR as developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This article is intended to introduce you to the basic concepts of MBSR that you can practice in your daily life. If you are interested in exploring MBSR in greater depth, you can explore an online course or a directory of MBSR classes worldwide.
Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Featured image: Water flowing over stones by wolfpix / CC BY-ND 2.0