In this series of blogs titled, “I am sick of it”(anxiety), I am going to explore the positive responses we can have to things about our anxiety that we are “sick of”. Firstly I am going to explore the idea of acceptance.
If there is one thing that would make your life (and mine) a lot easier, it would be the capacity to accept what you are “sick of”. Theoretically, this is quite a simple idea: “Just accept what ever you are struggling with!”. But practically, this can be very difficult, as there are so many things that can work against acceptance.
Often, I hear people with good intentions saying variations of this same idea to people in need: “Just let it go”, “Accept it for what it is”, or “Accept what you cannot change”. My first thought is often “Well, if they could do that, they would not need help with whatever they are struggling with!” It’s not necessarily that these people are wrong; it’s just that they say it as if it were easy to do and as if everyone automatically knows how to do it. This is obviously not the case.
So much of what leads people into using unhelpful coping strategies is because they cannot accept their experiences for what they are or understand the importance of it in their life.
The need to work towards acceptance of our experience is even more important when you start to appreciate that the more you don’t accept something the more you struggle and fight to avoid, control, or suppress your experience, the worse things become.
Even if you agree with how important it is to accepting your experience, it can be incredibly hard to do so, especially in certain contexts. I often see clients trying to “massage” their experience so it fits what they want to experience or what they believe they should be experiencing
What I would really like you to understand, is that there is no other experience you could be having than what you are having right now! Whatever you are experiencing right now is absolutely OK!
So trying to not have that experience is setting up a battle inside you, and ultimately, that battle will cause more problems. The way forward is not to repeat the same old things you have done in the past (control, avoid, and suppress) as that creates the merry-go-round effect, keeping you going around in circles. The way forward is staying with, accepting, and working with your experience. This will be much more helpful in the long run, even though challenging at times.
However, don’t fall into the trap of just saying, “Well, if I need to stay with my experience, I just should accept it because I can’t do anything about it being there”. Because this implies that you still don’t like it and cannot change it, so you must accept it and endure it as it is. This kind of acceptance may seem useful, and you may believe that this is allowing you to feel your fear. It may help initially, so it might seem like you are “doing the right thing” and “doing what you are supposed to” in terms of taking steps towards acceptance. However, “acceptance” in this way feels more like giving in, feeling defeated, and is more likely to lead to other problems than a healthy experience of acceptance.
True acceptance is much deeper and more useful than this; true acceptance is neither pushing something away nor tightly holding on to it. True acceptance is about being truly where you are at right now and being open to whatever is happening. True acceptance is about allowing a thought or a feeling to be noticed without judging it as good or bad, right or wrong, and so on, whether the emotional experience is pleasant or unpleasant (such as fear). In true acceptance, you are not pushing the unpleasant feeling away and grabbing for the more pleasant or “really good feeling”. True acceptance means you are fine with your emotional experience as it is—unchanged! You need to say to yourself, “I need to stay here and experience this because this is how it is right now, and I need to understand what the experience is all about despite the fact that it might not feel good” (Almaas, “The Unfolding Now” p. 93, 2008).
But what if I am not fine with my experience as it is? Paradoxically, this is true acceptance also. Truly accepting that right now you are not fine with your experience as it is, is acceptance! The goal here is to be able to be with what is, whatever that may be, even if you are not fine with it at that moment.
This type of deep acceptance will not just appear one day, even if you have been practicing a lot. Acceptance of this nature will slowly develop over time, becoming deeper the more you practice and work with this idea. Over time, your capacity to accept will slowly be able to encompass more and more of your experience, especially when you are practicing some type of acceptance technique or meditation process that fosters acceptance.