The Meaning of Acceptance - Part 1

What is Acceptance? 
The concept of acceptance is one that is frequently addressed within the self-help arena and certainly within any discussion of mindfulness.  Many have written about acceptance in its own right within this regard, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha byTara Bach is one such profoundly beautiful example.  

Today, as I was going for a walk I found myself thinking about acceptance and the various meanings it carries.   I talk about this topic with my clients quite frequently and checking in with myself on this meaning every so often is important to maintaining my own therapeutic integrity and personal growth.  As I thought, I realized it would be helpful for me to synthesize what I have learned along the way about acceptance through writing.  This is something I sometimes encourage my clients to do to help integrate things they have learned or gained along the way.

Acceptance does not mean that we agree with what is happening or that we believe it must continue. 

Acceptance means that we are able to gaze into the face of the present and say, “You are in front of me, and I acknowledge you are here.” 

Avoiding the Unpleasant
As we’ve all experienced, ignoring something we do not like, or prefer, does not make it disappear.  Instead, the opposite happens, it gets larger until we have no choice but to acknowledge what we have been avoiding, ignoring, or denying.  By this point, the object of our distress has often gotten bigger and gained momentum away from our conscious awareness.  For example, ignoring anxiety does not make it go away; it can postpone it, but it certainly does not eliminate it and it often increases its affect when it does re-emerge.

The Distractions Around Us
Acceptance of joy and what we consider “pleasant” is certainly easier than acceptance of suffering, pain, hardship, injustice, cruelty, and so on…  Our culture tends to train us that being distracted from unpleasant experiences makes us feel better, and for awhile it does, but eventually we always remember.  We remember because the deep wisdom in all of us won’t let us forget.  Even if we remember for a brief second, we still remember.  And so continues a vicious cycle of trying to forget: the need for a greater distraction from ________X_______.   [Fill in the blank with almost anything.]  It can be a hidden pain, an unpleasant memory, inconceivable realities, self-doubts, fears, painful emotions, anything that we deem “unpleasant.” 

We watch tv, we read, we converse, we drink, we have sex, we text message, we exercise, we listen to music...  By themselves these activities are not harmful and in fact can lead us to be more deeply present, but if we are doing these things to ignore unpleasant experiences (consciously or otherwise), they will hamper our psychological growth. 

What We Ignore and Avoid Always Comes Back
One may argue that we need distraction and avoidance in order to deal with the painful experiences that life presents us with.  This is a tempting way to think about life, however, avoidance does not eliminate suffering and pain, it delays and intensifies it when it re-emerges.  When we choose to deny something’s existence and are forced to face it again, the reality of its presence usually overwhelms or surprises us in such a way that its impact is UN-supportive to our wellness.

Giving Acceptance a Little Help with Hope and Compassion
Accepting something that is painful and unpleasant takes courage and bravery, the outcome of which usually leads to growth.  Acceptance on its own is helpful, but it needs the added energy of compassion, hope, and faith in the Self.  Without these additions, we may look at the world with realism, but there will be a lack of gratitude and honoring of the gifts and lessons life brings.

We Have a Choice
We have a choice to accept or ignore what is before us.  It may not always seem that way because our brains are so quickly able to push something away.  We can regain control when we make the conscious effort to be more mindful and aware of what we are choosing not to see.  Step by step, we will gain more control, and more awareness.  This awareness will permit the wisdom deep inside to welcome another alternative into your consciousness, for instance, that facing what you fear weakens its hold over you. 

So the next time you find yourself feeling unpleasant or catching yourself choosing to ignore something, take a deep breath in and simply acknowledge that it is there.  Do not get caught up in self-criticism if you notice yourself doing it! Choose to simply be aware of the sensation.  You do not have to do anything in that moment. 

Just be with what is present.  Usually the answers begin to show up when we are quiet enough to listen...
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Thanking the Day

Gratitude is an essential part of life.  It brings in new opportunities by acknowledging the current energy of abundance in our lives.  When we are grateful we welcome newness while honoring what is already present.

If we forget to be grateful, we take life, ourselves, and those around us for granted.  This alone is perfect soil for growing hopelessness, sadness, and of course depression.  Apathy nurtures stagnant energy.

When we align our mind with gratitude on a daily basis, we offer the opportunity for further growth.  In our darkest times, and our most painful moments, it becomes the most crucial to find what we are grateful for, otherwise, the illusion that we have nothing begins to turn into a belief we have about life.

To Create Abundance, Vitality, and Opportunity in Your Life:
Before you go to sleep, take at least a full silent minute to acknowledge at least one thing that you are grateful for.  Do this same thing when you wake up.

It will also be helpful to keep a simple gratitude journal that can be used daily or weekly.

Gratitude is something that I keep keep coming back to again and again, both with myself and my clients.  I truly believe that it creates an energy around us that cultivates harmony in our lives.
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How to Create Intentions After Meditation

A New Routine to Your Day
If you start your day with a morning meditation, adding a few extra minutes to create a couple intentions for the day may drastically improve your life. Even if you don't meditate *yet* , it will still be a useful part of your daily practice. With the use of intentions the road to fulfilling your deeper purpose will be clearer.

Why Create an Intention After Meditating?
After meditating, we are typically more clear, focused and in line with our higher self, higher purpose, Universe, etc. etc. etc. You get the idea. Basically, it's a great place to be! Our mind has slowed in its chatter and we often feel more calm and at peace. It is likely that our emotions are not as loud and we feel more centered with ourselves.

For this reason, creating an intention for the day after meditating can be incredibly powerful. Why? When we are more aligned with our deeper purpose and we begin to create intentions, those intentions come from a deeper space of wisdom.

From this state of presence, we touch upon our deeper Truth and can more accurately bring it into Being.

Imagine what it would be like if you were to try to create an intention in a place of emotional disturbance, chaos, and distress. Yes, the intention would still be beneficial and contribute to your goal, but it may lack a certain preciseness and focus that will be present when you are more aligned with the present moment.

Our thoughts create our reality and when our emotions are clouding our thoughts in such a way that our intentions become muddled, we may be attracting things we may not really want. For instance, "I want this darned person to understand me today" may lack some important elements. Instead, a more mindful approach may look like this: "I intend to communicate and be clearly understood today."

Simple Tips on How to Create an Intention
1.) Reflect on some important short term and long term goals that you wish to work on.

2.) Briefly think about any potential barriers that may negatively impact those goals for the day. You may wish to allow the intention to be about breaking through those barriers.

3.) Breathe and connect to your breath and body. Bring your awareness inward.

4.) Close your eyes and say to yourself "I want to address [identified goal]" Pause for a moment to connect to the goal fully.

5.) Now say out loud or in your mind "Today, I will bring energy to this goal in a positive way by --------" and then simply allow the present moment and your inner wisdom to complete the sentence. If the answer does not come right away, breathe deeply, create some patience in yourself, and then ask the question again. Do not judge the response you hear and simply allow the Truth that is inside you to be heard. (This may take some practice and is another reason why doing this after a meditation will likely be easier.)

6.) Repeat this intention several times or write it down. Recall it throughout your day, each time you do so, breathe deeply, bring awareness inward, and believe in the power that your thoughts have in helping to manifesting your goals.

That's it! Try it out for a week or more and see what happens!

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Louise Hay, Reflections: Becoming Aware of Our Thoughts

I just finished watching this brief interview with Louise Hay:

Was thinking about the message she delivers about how important it is for us to be aware of the thoughts that we have since they contribute to our future and inherently, our lives. I believe applying this concept to mindfulness has a great deal of benefit. Specifically, the more that you meditate and practice building mindfulness, or present moment, non-judgmental awareness, the more you gain awareness into the thoughts that you have.

One may think, "How can I not be aware of the thoughts that I have?" To that question, I ask "How often have you felt uncomfortable, sad, or upset out of nowhere with seemingly no source?" If that has happened to you, it means you have been unaware of a thought or belief that has contributed to your own suffering.

I am willing to argue that if you are feeling an emotion such as this (or any other emotion for the matter), it is because some belief and/or thought stimulated that feeling inside you.

Feelings are nothing more than a physical reaction to our thoughts and behaviors. How do you know you are experiencing a feeling? Through the body. The body never lies.

I reflect on these things because it indirectly highlights to me the importance of awareness. The subtleties and seemingly fleeting thoughts we have in our mind can be a great contribution to our suffering. The final point being, that the more that we can encourage awareness, the more we are able to identify the thoughts that are contributing to our own suffering and the more we are able to reprogram the thoughts that are rooted in judgment, pain, and guilt, then the more joy, peace, acceptance, love and stillness will dwell in our bodies. When we heal those parts of ourselves through awareness, our lives begin to change and so too our perceptions. A change in perception as the Course in Miracles explains, is the definition of a miracle.

Having said all of this, I do not want to discount the difficulties in creating changes in our thinking and in being able to cultivate awareness. It can be challenging, frustrating and at times it feels like we're alone in this difficult journey. The spiritual and mindful path is one that requires our attention each and every day, so it's important that we offer compassion to ourselves in the journey.

I'll end with the affirmation that Louise Hay recommends we repeat to ourselves in times of difficulty:

All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation, only good will come and I am safe.

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Anusara Meditation

I love Anusara Yoga and try to practice it as often as I can, so I was very excited when I came across this meditation lead by an Anusara teacher.

There are some great body posture/positionings that can really help to improve your meditative posture.

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Four Ways to Use the Breath in Mindfulness Meditation

I want to share with you all a profound lesson that has significantly enhanced the way I do mindfulness meditation. I learned this a couple years ago at a meditation class lead by a Buddhist monk. It deals with utilizing the breath to be mindful.

It is perhaps one of the most common ways that people do mindfulness meditation, by following the breath. Frequently though, there isn't all that much direction aside from just "pay attention to your breath". Although useful, it doesn't really address which part of the breath to follow. The monk shared a profound story about another monk whom had spent about one year practicing each type of breath awareness. I was moved by such commitment, and also curious to experiment with it myself. I've found that it's helped me sharper my focus and "mindfulness muscle" considerably. Try it out!

Here are the different ways to use the breath in mindfulness meditation:

1.) Temperature: Pay attention to the temperature of your breath as you inhale and exhale. Notice the subtle difference between the heat of the exhale and the coolness of the inhale. You may find it helpful to bring your awareness to the back of your throat where the air hits before it travels down into the lungs. In the beginning it may be helpful to pay attention to the difference, however you can take it a step further and simply be aware of the inhale temperature and the exhale temperature as two separate activities.

Image Source:

2.) Length: See if you can pay attention to the length of each breath. Again, you may start by noticing the difference between the length of the inhale and exhale. Is one shorter or longer than the other? Are they the same length? Just as above, see if you can pay attention to the length of the breath separate from one another. In the beginning you can use the comparison as a tool, but you want to aim for non-judgmental awareness--even at this basic level.

3.) Depth: When you inhale and exhale how deep or shallow are your breaths? Pay attention to your chest and abdomen to get a sense of this. Again, it may be helpful to notice the difference between each breath in the beginning of your practice, but it is best to eliminate judgment from the experience and to simply notice the depth of your breath for the sake of its own being.

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4.) Sound: What does your breath sound like? Bring your awareness to the subtle sound that your body makes as it takes in life-giving oxygen and pushes out carbon dioxide. Notice the difference between the inhale and exhale, and eventually move away from comparisons.

You may choose to notice without comparison for any of these from the very beginning. I would recommend focusing on one of these per week or longer (a year for each perhaps!)

If you found this helpful, please share it with others by using the "Share" link below.

Be well, everyone!
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The Relationship Between Prayer and Meditation

Over the last few months, I've found myself praying after meditating. It evolved on its own, organically, sort of just happening at the end of every meditation. When I say "praying" I mean offering myself up to the Universe, giving of myself, and sending out energy and sometimes requests, questions, and private thoughts to the Source and my all knowing Self. I have found that after meditation, my prayers feel more filled with integrity and hold a vitality that carries me through the day.

Today I had an incredibly profound moment at the end of my prayer wherein I heard in my mind an affirmation:
I am an instrument of light for the Universe, bringing hope where there is none, Love where there is fear, & light where there is darkness.
I found myself reciting this over and over in my mind and eventually out loud. It carried such a loving and compassionate energy that I'm committed to beginning my day with this affirmation hence forth.

This experience caused me to really reflect on prayer and meditation and their interconnectedness. As I was thinking about this, I was also looking through my bookshelf for some guidance, when I came across The Energy of Prayer: How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh. I bought this book some time ago, put it on my bookshelf and essentially forgot about it until today.

As I read through the pages, I felt that Thich Nhat Hanh was touching on a Spiritual Truth that I was resonating quite strongly with. Here are some excerpts that stood out to me:

...the one who prays and the one prayed to are two realities that cannot be separated from each other. This is basic in Buddhism, and I'm quite sure that in every religion there are those who have practiced for a long time and have this understanding. They can see that God is in our heart. God is us and we are God. The entire visualization gatha [hymn] goes like this:

The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are both, by nature empty.
Therefore the communication between us is inexpressibly perfect (pg. 42).

This of course, is not an entirely new concept to many of us, but hearing it from a Buddhist angle adds some new perspective for me. He goes on to talk about how two elements are necessary for effective prayer:
1.) The communication between ourselves and the one we are praying to. Because we and the one we are praying to are interconnected, our communication is not dependent on time and space. When we meditate on this, communication is realized straight away and we are linked. At this point, there is electricity in the wire (pg. 42).

2.) The second element we need for prayer is energy. We have connected to the telephone wire, now we need to send an electric current through it (pg.42).

And here's where I had one of those big "ah-ha" moments of clarity and awareness:

In prayer, the electric current is love, mindfulness and right concentration. Mindfulness is the real presence of our body and our mind. Our body and our mind are directed toward one point, the present moment. If this is lacking, we are not able to pray, no matter what our faith. If you are not present, who is praying? [emphasis mine].

To pray effectively, our body and mind must dwell peacefully in the present moment. When you have mindfulness, then you have concentration. This is the condition that will lead to prajna, the Sanskrit word for insight and transcendent wisdom. Without that, our prayer is just superstition (pg. 43-44).
I can't really add more since Thich Nhat Hanh said it so beautifully. I can say that I do have an incredible sense of gratitude in being able to connect with the affirmation I mentioned above and to have stumbled upon this reading to deepen my practice and increase my understanding. The word gratitude comes to mind.

I would love to hear your impressions, etc.

...And in case you are interested in reading the book I was referring to, you can find it at Amazon by following the link below. I highly recommend it:

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Using Visualization to Reduce Anxiety |||amp; Increase Relaxation

The power of the mind can be an amazing thing when it comes to stress and anxiety reduction. I've used this technique to increase my sense of calm in stressful situations. It is a simple and effective technique that will give you more control over your body and mind during crucial moments. There are many ways to treat anxiety and stress, maybe this will be one you can add to your list.

  • Find a quiet and comfortable space where you know you won't be disturbed for at least 15 minutes. Make yourself comfortable in this space in whatever way is easiest for you. You may choose to have calming music playing in the background if you wish
  • Close your eyes and take about 10 relaxing breaths in through the nose, and out through the mouth
  • Imagine in your mind's eye a blank, white movie screen
  • After you picture or imagine this movie screen, begin to visualize a relaxing scene that may have some special meaning for you. This can be as simple or complex as you wish. Take your time. Some possible ideas include: a forest glen, the ocean, a deserted island, your own bathtub, floating on a cloud, a garden, a waterfall, etc.
  • If you wish, use your senses to fully create this scene. What might it smell, sound, feel, and taste like?
  • Once you have this clear in your mind, project yourself into the movie screen until it becomes clear and vivid--as if you were actually in the scene you have just created
  • Enjoy and explore this sacred space you created. Decide on a word that best captures the experience. It can be a description of what you are feeling (e.g., peace, joy, relax, freedom, etc.) or of what you call this place. Use this label every time you visualize this scene
  • When you are finished visualizing, imagine yourself back in the room you started in. Take a few more breaths and open your eyes when you are ready
  • This is probably the most important step! Practice, practice, practice! Practice this visualization on a daily basis. Eventually your body will naturally respond to the word you chose earlier
  • When you notice yourself becoming anxious, stressed, or when you need a quick "break", take three deep breaths, call up the word and image you have spent time creating, and allow the anxious feeling to fade into your image/word. After some time your body will respond rather quickly to the positive association you have with your chosen word and visualization
Some other things to keep in mind:
  • Enhance the experience by using "Abdominal Breathing"
  • This technique works great as a preventative. If you catch yourself having anxious thoughts, immediately bring to mind your word/visualization. If you do this every time, the chances of getting more anxious over time will reduce
  • Don't rush the experience when you first start out. Treat this time as a sacred moment between yourself and your desire to increase your overall well-being
  • It's ok if your mind wanders while you create your visualization, simply bring your attention back to your image
  • If you have a hard time "picturing" the scene, involve more of your senses in the creation of your sacred space
  • With practice, it will take less and less time for you to visualize the scene to create a noticeable change in your body and mind
If you try this, let me know!
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How to do Abdominal Breathing

When we're stressed and/or anxious our breathing often changes without our realizing it! Often we breathe in a shallow way (chest breathing) that can cause anxiety and sometimes panic to emerge. Changing the breath can change how you feel. Follow this simple, easy to do, and effective breathing technique to gain control of your anxiety, panic, or stress. It will also help you to be more present within your own body.

1. Posture: Allow yourself to sit upright with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. You may also do this lying flat on your back.

2. Hand Placement: Place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach, roughly over your belly-button.

Conscious Breathing: Take a few relaxing breaths (3-5), just noticing the rising and falling of your two hands

Breathe In: After the 3-5 breaths, take a breath in through the nose and intentionally push out your stomach, away from your spine. Make sure that when you do this your top hand remains motionless and your bottom hand is moving forward.

5. Breathe Out: When you exhale, breathe out through your mouth and push out any remaining air by bringing your stomach in, back toward the spine. You may even want to gently push in with your bottom hand. Again, make sure that your top hand remains motionless.

6. Repeat: Do this at least 10 times until you begin to feel a change in your body, your breathing, and your overall state.
  • Once you do get accustomed to this way of breathing, you will no longer have to use your hands as guides.
  • The more conscious you are of your breath, the more mindful you will become in general.
  • Use this breathing technique before any relaxation/meditation technique you may like.
  • Breathe at your own pace.
  • As a way to increase mindfulness, see how many times throughout your day you are breathing in without taking a full breath. Every time you catch yourself breathing in that way, take two mindful abdominal breaths.
  • Check with your doctor if you have any respiratory issues that you feel need to be addressed before taking on any breathing technique.
Happy breathing!

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Dealing with Stress

I've been thinking a lot about the impact stress can have on us and how unconsciousness can intensify that impact. I had an experience awhile ago, that I believe exemplifies these thoughts.

Many months ago, I was in a very stressful job situation that was taking a toll on me emotionally, physically, and mentally. Although I loved the job I was doing, the demands of that job were more than one person could realistically attend to. Sound familiar? During that time, I found myself becoming increasingly more reactive, judgmental, and not surprisingly, stressed. I found myself meditating less and falling into old patterns of behavior (i.e., not taking time for myself in silence, becoming more disorganized, exercising less, eating worse, etc. etc. etc.)

I've been a regular meditater for years, but gradually reduced my practice as my stress level increased with this new job stress. As I became more stressed, I meditated less, and the stress began to impact me even more; a vicious cycle that brought disharmony into my life.

Eventually I got to a point in my mental state that I realized I needed to make some sort of change. That change came in signing up for an 8 week meditation workshop. I felt I needed the added discipline and structure to motivate me into a more regular practice again. My experience there added more vibrancy and balance to my life than I realized was possible at the time. Meeting together every week with the same people to cultivate presence was empowering and life affirming.

After only a few weeks I found that I was able to catch the critical voice inside my head much more quickly and with a degree of compassion that was lacking in the weeks prior. Slowly, I began to react to the stress around me less and instead begin to respond . By the time the eight weeks were over, I found that I felt an increased sense of control over my mind and energy.

It was toward the end of the workshop that I realized that I stopped resisting my present situation and began accepting it. This felt incredibly freeing amongst the then chaos at my job. Despite the work load and demands, my energy still shifted, and I began to feel more "in-flow" with life.

What makes this experience so much more powerful was that around that same time that I felt in "flow", a co-worker approached me telling me that she was resigning. I wished her luck and didn't really think much of it. A few days passed and I was sitting outside alone, enjoying the subtle gusts of wind and vibrant blues of the sky, when a flash of insight came to me: "You have to apply for her job!"

Something inside me felt very strongly about this and I decided to give it a go. Long story short, I got the job, which was a considerable promotion and a perfect fit for me.

I share this experience as reminder for myself (and to positively contribute to any readers along the way) of the importance of ongoing practice and at the power of attending to the needs of our body, mind and spirit. When we neglect aspects of each, I believe we fall out of flow with life and the external world begins to make small impressions on the internal parts of ourselves that maintain peace.

The more we are in flow, the more we are able to connect with our purpose. As a result, the universe will support us and it will be easier for us to notice the signs it is giving us to go deeper into our purpose and/or the greater purpose of the whole.

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