Acceptance isn't giving up

Acceptance is a difficult one to work with when you are going through a tough time. When your world is falling apart, you have a painful illness or you just can't see anything positive in life, how does acceptance help?

Well, firstly it's good to understand what we mean by acceptance because it is very often confused with giving up and resigning ourself to our current situation.

Acceptance is nothing to do with giving up, it is much more about seeing it clearly, about facing whatever your current challenge is and just saying "well it's here, I might as well face it". In Mindfulness, we say we turn towards it because it is through this process that we can begin to deal with it.

A Beautiful Mind 

It may be useful to look at the story of John Nash, a Nobel Prize winner with a remarkable mathematical mind who has spent a lifetime living with Schizophrenia. The film a Beautiful Mind documents John's story and how he was able to finally find a way to live with his delusional state of mind without medical intervention. To clarify, John Nash had invented three imaginary people who played a major part in his life and that led him to behave irrationally, sometimes dangerously. 

It is in this scene that he gives us some insight into how he has come to terms with his condition. After years of working on his confused, irrational thoughts, John Nash finally shares how he was able to transform his life. Let me share this insightful conversation with his old (real) friend Martin:

Martin: "Have they gone?" (referring to his imaginary friends)

John: "No, not gone, maybe they will never be gone. But I've got used to ignoring them, and they've kind of given up on me"

He then goes on "I think that's what it's like with all our dreams and nightmares, you have to keep feeding them to stay alive"

Martin: "John, but they haunt you?"

John: "They're my past, everyone is haunted by their past" 

What John's story teaches us is that it was only when he was able to accept his delusions, was he able to help himself.

Acceptance is not giving up

Pema Chodron refers to our constant battle with "what is" like us constantly kicking the wheel. We can't have peace of mind if we keep on kicking the wheel, or if we bite the hook so we get caught. In Tibetian, the word "Shenpa" is used to describe that sticky, uncomfortable feeling we get when we are experiencing something we don't like or want. 

Shenpa - An unwillingness of human beings to let go of certain thoughts, particularly those that cause suffering

So what is the difference between acceptance and resigning yourself to your current situation?

In Mindfulness, we practice staying with our current feelings and emotions, even though our instinct may be to run or distract ourselves so that we don't have to feel what we feel. But we can't change the movie if we don't see it, we can't solve a problem until we understand it, we won't know the root cause if we don't explore deeper.

So we learn to stay, even if it is uncomfortable. We bring in loving kindness to the situation, we give ourselves the support we need to sit with the uncomfortable feeling. Until we can develop our inner resilience we are always going to be caught up in life's ups and downs, the slightest thing will upset or agitate us.

By staying and accepting what is happening at this moment you are able to get to the root of the struggle. We do this through meditation or by simply sitting with your breath, becoming fully acquainted with whatever is going on right now.

Taking John Nash's story as an example, we could narrow the process down to three simple steps:

First you must see.

Face your struggling. And recognise the thoughts you have around this uncomfortableness. Question your thoughts, are they real? Do they really reflect the whole situation? In the film Beautiful Mind, at this stage John Nash shouts at his imaginary friends "you are not real" because our thoughts are not a realistic reflection of the whole situation, are they?

At this stage you are curious, you are exploring and you are asking all the questions. If you are suffering from an illness, are your thoughts helpful or are they causing you to suffer more? What are the facts and what are the delusions? 

Making Friends with Your Struggle

The next step is to stop fighting, to surrender to the fact that maybe your challenge will never go away. Now that sounds very fatalistic, doesn't it? Well, actually it's not because when you let go of the struggle, suddenly it has less of a hold on you. For those of us who've experienced childbirth, we know that the only way to bear the pain is to stop the struggle. Adding pain to what's already a painful experience doesn't help anyone.

And always remember to be kind, yes I know this is a whole other subject!

Make Peace - Acceptance

Going back to our friend John Nash, he freed himself from the constant involvement with his thoughts. That is what acceptance is, see it for what it is, let go of the struggle and make the changes you need to make to help yourself. The pain may not go away completely, the constant negative thoughts may not disappear overnight but what will happen is that you will make peace with yourself.

If you have a personal struggle, we may be able to help. 

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What is a Present Moment Experience?

I've just returned from Scotland where I attended a five-day retreat as part of my continuing professional development.

It was a tough few days where at times I felt like running, self-doubt stories kept creeping up on me. The point of the retreat was to assess my readiness to teach the eight week Mindfulness Based Living Course. The assessment required that I lead two practices to my peers. You would think after years in the classroom teaching challenging teenagers that this would come naturally, that certainly was not the case. 

The Fear Story

I think the strongest, most paralysing emotion for most of us is fear. And I don't mean fear that is real, when perhaps your life is in danger, I mean the fear that comes from the stories we tell ourselves.

I had booked onto this retreat twice previously and both times fear took over leading me to pull out at the last minute. I wasn't good enough, I would fail if I went and so the story went on for over a year. Holding myself back from taking the next step.

Finally, I decided to accept that whatever happened, I just had to take the chance. I'd overcome so much more in my life, this was not going to beat me! 

So there I was into the third day and doing my presentation. I couldn't believe how much I was shaking but I did it and I passed. And the relief was like I'd put down a huge weight that I'd been carrying for a long time. 

The Present Moment Experience

The next day I was to give a shorter presentation but still part of the assessment. And I got thinking about my school teaching days. When a teacher knows they are going to be observed for assessment, they will play it safe. I did it myself and I observed many other teachers do the same. We would plan a "safe" lesson, one that didn't require too much classroom management.

The problem with playing safe is that you get safe results, nothing inspiring, just safe. And often that can be a bigger risk because a dull lesson is not always seen as adequate by inspectors. 

So with this in mind, I got up in the morning, trying to decide if I would take a risk and deliver my presentation the way I would normally teach it to my groups? 

I was fortunate to wake up to a beautiful scene, the snow had covered everything and it was just an amazing white picture. I stood outside just looking at the tree, the grass, the almost unreal natural beauty. Then something inside suddenly spoke, "what are you doing just standing here?" And out came my phone to take a photo.

snow bridge.jpg

In this world we live in, to just stand is not natural and when we do it, many of us feel guilty. Like it's a waste of time, we should be doing something. However in that moment, I realised that I didn't want to see this view through the lens of my phone, I just wanted to experience it as it is. I wanted to be in it, see it in its full beauty and take the whole thing in. Breath the fresh air, smell the wet ground and be right there.

In that short space, I was in the Present Moment. I stopped doing, I just started being. It wasn't long, it was just a few moments, a few breaths but it gave me a taste of Mindfulness at it's essence.

Thinking adds a layer to present moment experience - unknown

I took this experience into my teaching practice, I took the risk and used my own experience to present my task. Thankfully it worked out well for me. 

Mindfulness is learning how to not become so involved with the thinking so that it interupts our experience of life. It's not easy but with practice you get better at it.

To learn how to develop your own Mindfulness practice, then join us at one of our events. 

What is Mindfulness?

What is Mindfulness?

It's difficult to define something that is a felt sense, an experience and not an intellectual concept. There is already so much out there about Mindfulness, that it has over complicated what should be a very simple practice.

In it's essence, Mindfulness is a way of life. It's a purposeful effort to pay attention to what is going on right this moment. In this video I try to demonstrate how you begin to develop mindful awareness in everyday situations.

Mindfulness is learning how to accept and deal with the ordinary situations of our daily life

In the West we tend to look at most things from the point of "what will I gain?"  That's why when someone asks me what they will gain from practising Mindfulness, they are a little apprehensive when I reply - "let's see!"

As Mindfulness practitioners we always start with a beginners mind, everyday is a new day, every moment a new moment. If we can stay with that fresh mind then we are beginning to practice Mindfulness. As soon as we start looking for benefits, progress and achievement, we are no longer in the present moment. We are now venturing into the comparing of ourselves to a past self or a future better self because right now we are not good enough. And this is where we lose the point, that the only moment that exists is this one.

A short video where I try to describe Mindfulness in action.

A short story to explain mindfulness in action. To learn more visit

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