What is acceptance?
Acceptance means, firstly to accept that you are a human being having both good and bad experiences, and both are created through the power of thought. The first step to changing from one to experience to another is to see that you can control that power.
Most types of psychological distress arise from one simple fact: sufferers want their experiences to be different from the way they are. Especially when it comes to those staples of the mental health industry: anxiety, depression and addiction.
For example, say you have a panic attack. Tunnel vision comes on, and you can’t think or feel anything except your heart thumping, your lungs constricting, the panic rising in your chest, and your awful racing thoughts about whatever catastrophe your mind has just made up for you. If you are like most people you will just want it all to go away. But there are sound reasons why that demand might be mistaken.
Acceptance psychology teaches that you may be failing to appreciate the power of thought. The conscious power that can create a multi-sensory panic attack can just as well provide you with a sublime perspective on the dawn rising, or the love you feel when you see the face of your beloved next to you in bed. Still more amazing is that you can learn to switch between between one or the other. Our painful experiences are just as compelling as the beautiful ones. By ceasing to avoid them we can see them for what they are: as creations of our minds.
Your very own virtual reality cinema
The fact is that your mind shows you dozens of virtual reality scenes every day, decked out in 3-D multicolour, panorama sound, and an array of chemically orchestrated sensations, feelings, and emotions. In the background your brain, nervous system and endocrine networks sync to create the whole movie for you. As a finishing touch your mind plays a running commentary on the action: that is a guilty memory; this is your best friend to whom you can tell anything; that is the bad thing that’s going to happen when you get to the office; this is a fantasy about what you will do when you win the lottery.
Depressing episodes, boring experiences, angry moments, drug cravings, panic attacks and joyful memories are all created the same way. What makes it especially compelling is that you are in the middle of the whole film – walking, talking and emoting about it. This, you tell yourself is ‘reality’. Except it isn’t: what is there is not reality in the absolute sense, but a selective version of it displayed in personal consciousness.
The virtual power of your mind can show you other scenarios if you prefer. But to exercise that choice you first have to learn how to direct your mind, rather than being a slave to it. Resisting your experience keeps you in slavery.
What you resist persists
Another important reason for acceptance is that fighting your unwanted experiences makes them worse, not better.
What creates resistance is the thought: ‘I should not be like this.’ But the moment we fuse with that thought another alarming thought comes up in the chain: ‘I am trapped.’ Then another thought follows: ‘I can’t stand this‘. Then (unless we have defused by this point) ‘I am going to die.’ With each successive thought your panic escalates for the simple reason that your body is syncing with your alarming thoughts. When that happens you are caught in a loop: each alarming thought creates more panicky sensations, and each panicky sensation triggers more worrisome ideas.
Ways to practice Acceptance
Recognise negative experiences for what they are: virtual experiences created in thought.
Name it or label it. I usually advise clients to add a nonsense label. Thus ‘panic attacks’ become ‘the bojangles’; depressed moods become ‘the dim drops‘. Or you can normalise it with the thought ‘I’m having another cinema moment.’
In a mindful state, and without fusing with it, observe the state as if you were watching it happen to someone else. This may take practice as it is easy to to get sucked back in. Practicing meditation every day will help you achieve this more easily.
Defuse from your dis-preferred state, then defuse from the thought that powers it.
Refocus on another activity with is a) rewarding to you, and b) is connected to one of your values. Examples of values most people have include: love, service, creativity, friendship, fitness, education, spirituality.