Why is acceptance so essential? 

I’ve had two thoughts shuffling through my head on repeat the past few weeks:

Life abroad is an emotional rollercoaster.

Life as a therapist is an emotional rollercoaster.

But actually, the truth is, that life, wherever you live, whatever field you’re in, is an emotional rollercoaster.

One of my friends who works as a therapist told me that if his patients get only one thing out of therapy with him he hopes that it is this: acceptance that life is painful.

We beat ourselves up so much when we experience unpleasant feelings. Ironically, this battle to not feel anxious, sad or angry, ultimately only causes us to feel worse. Opting for acceptance, instead of resistance, of our inner emotional experiences is what is behind many of the newer mindfulness-based therapy approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Thankfully, clinicians and researchers have started to realize that trying to fight the inevitable, to be on a constant quest for euphoria, is actually counter productive.

A great quote that sums this aspect of mindfulness is this:

 While pain is inevitable, suffering is optional

Haruki Murakami

Suffering happens when we try not to feel the pain. When we tell ourselves we shouldn’t feel that way, when we numb ourselves, when we say we can’t handle these feelings. If you’ve ever been to a  yoga class you know it is only in accepting that your muscles are tense in a certain pose that you can actually find yourself relaxing into that pose. The same is true of our unpleasant emotions. Acceptance is key.

And acceptance is a wonderful skill to practice because we can apply it not only in relationship to our internal experiences (thoughts, feelings, etc.) but also to external experiences. It’s not only our inner emotional experiences that we don’t have 100% control over, each and every day we encounter events and people outside of us that we can’t control either.

We seek this feeling of control in order to find a sense of comfort in the looming uncertainty that we’re faced with day after day. And this can manifest itself as worry, perfectionistic tendencies, disordered eating, avoidance of certain people or situations that cause us uncomfortable feelings…the list is endless.

But trying to control the uncontrollable, whether it is going on inside of you or outside of you, is exhausting and not a long term solution (that is, if you want a long term solution that doesn’t lead to deterioration of your well-being and relationships). We seek control in the hopes of feeling comfortable and safe, but it is only in accepting the uncertainty and unknown that we can actually find that comfort and safety that we all crave. The certainty that regardless of what situation we find ourselves in, that when the moment actually calls for it (not when it is merely a hypothetical ¨What if” situation), we will be entirely capable of springing into action, problem solving and protecting ourselves and those around us.

In the face of pain and the fears that come along with it, it is so tempting to seek control over acceptance. Acceptance requires us to be brave, courageous, human. To leap into the unknown, trusting we will create a net to catch ourselves, regardless of what lies ahead. And it is an attitude that can only happen in the here and now which means learning to balance a carpe diem mentality with the responsibility of planning for tomorrow, and finding balance in life is a challenge in and of itself.

However, I believe that seeking balance is one of the greatest challenges we have in our time here on earth. And facing the present moment with a curious and accepting attitude can remind us that uncertainty does not always have to equal pain. When we allow ourselves to be in the moment we can begin to tune into the small details of the world around us, which can help us to experience awe and gratitude.

Mindfulness and mindful self-compassion are two powerful resources that I see as essential for global nomads whose lives are often filled with the chaos that comes with frequent transitions. If you’d like to get started with either of these practices, you can check out these following blog posts I’ve written:

Introduction to Mindfulness

Introduction to Self-Compassion

Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”

~James Baraz

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