When I was teaching mindfulness to professionals in social work and counseling a while ago, I got a question about acceptance.
One of the students had woken up with a splitting headache that morning. She had prepared for the class, read the literature, and was very conscious of the fact that acceptance is one of the pillars of a mindful attitude. But her head was telling her: ‘This is real bad timing, I can’t get through the day like this, PAINKILLER, PLEASE!’. She was confused. The ‘mindful’ thing to do would be to ‘embrace the headache, because it’s there already’. However, she said, slightly guiltily, she had taken that paracetamol anyway.
There is a persistent misconception about mindfulness and acceptance. As if it were super-mindful to just let everything wash over you, stare into the headlights like a frightened rabbit, and not judge, nor act. Because, after all, mindfulness is about being, not doing – right?
But let’s take the weather as a simple example. When it rains, you’d better accept it. No matter it ruins your plans, not matter you’d rather have sun – it’s raining, so all resistance is useless. Quite the contrary: it is your resistance, your sulking, your struggling with reality that makes you unhappy, not the rain.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t take your mac and umbrella with you. In fact,that would be the smart thing to do.
This is what acceptance is about. Facing reality. Not fighting things as they are, not holding on to struggle and harbouring thoughts of how ‘it shouldn’t be like this, it can’t be, it is unfair’ etc. It is a waste of energy and causes a lot of extra stress. Facing reality brings peace.
This is it.
Breathe in, breathe out.
And with that peace comes space, A space in which wisdom can whisper in your ear what would be the smart thing to do. And if you’ve woken up with a headache that day, taking Paracetamol could be the answer. That, too, is mindfulness.