Mindfulness is not passive: How to practice mindful acceptance

Co –authored by Betsy Parayil-Pezard

Betsy coaches executives and teams who are open to exploring a deeper dimension of their potential. She is an American leadership coach based in Paris, France. She is the founder of Connection Leadership, and organizes leadership labs and mindful leadership workshops on both continents.

As human beings, difficult emotions arise whenever we are facing a problem or a situation that we don’t like. As soon as those emotions emerge, our tendency is to go into an automatic mode, reacting aggressively (No way will I let this happen to me, I’m going to show them) or with resignation (This always happens to me, I might as well give up).

In both cases we soon discover that the issue doesn’t get resolved, at least not as fast as we would like, and that our way of handling it brings in even more negative emotions (fear, anger, despair) and overall suffering.

Let’s explore for a moment both of these reactions and see what other alternatives exist.

The first one, as we said, is when we overreact to something, we fight against it and aggressively try to change it by pushing things hard, with the hope that whatever the problem, it will go away quickly.

This way of acting is based on human belief that we always have things under control, and we can decide how to change them at any time. We believe that if we don’t aggressively go after the outcome we want, others will decide for us.

This aggressive attitude is often passed off as high motivation and strong determination, but is in based on fear of a basic part of human life, the reality that we don’t have everything under our control.

Whether we take notice or not, everything around us is in constant change. We live in a dynamic macrocosm and we don’t have the ability to perceive the development of all the moving parts of the world around us. In order to get an immediate understanding of constant change, we can reflect on our own body. Your whole organism is part of an ongoing transformation that is happening in every moment without being noticed.

Given this lack of perception and control, for us to believe that we can transform things at our own pace and as we wish, is counterproductive and the cause of a great frustration and despair.

Forcing the way forward aggressively will never allow us to resolve the root of a negative situation.

This said, the emotions of anger and rage that arise in a particular situation provide an opportunity for gleaning precious information about ourselves, our needs and our desires.

The second way of handling things, seems to be the exact opposite. When faced with a difficult situation, we go limp inside and become completely passive. Feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances, we want to just give up, allowing negative emotions and the difficulty to invade the entire space of our mind. We tap into a stream of thoughts out that delude us into believing that life is bringing you problems for a reason, and that nothing is required of you as everything will get resolved naturally in due time.

Although we may feel like we are being peaceful, this kind of behavior is also detrimental and dangerous. It takes us out of our intuitive intelligence, and causes us to bypass opportunities where we can care for ourselves and others and contribute.

But among the possibilities of aggressive and passive reactions, a third alternative exists of mindful acceptance.

As a business executive and Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist practitioner (Federico) and a leadership coach and mindfulness facilitator (Betsy), we have learned over the years that mindful acceptance is not about giving up or disengaging from the world around us. Many times, we have heard people saying that meditation allows you to clear your mind in order to be unaffected by the world and accept whatever comes.

In reality, the core of mindfulness meditation, is the exact opposite. Meditation and mindful practices are used to calm and teach our minds a different way of being in the world (calm abiding), allowing us to practice observing the stream of thoughts and emotions without the bias that pollutes our experience. This process is actually a mindful practice of contemplation, and very analytical in a sense. While watching with a calm and focused mind, we go in depth into the details of the object or problem we explore. During this process, we find that our problems are often more complex or simpler than we imagined, that they are dependent on other situations, that they have their roots in something deeper, or are less difficult than we thought. In meditation, we step out of our automatic reactions and open to seeing things more clearly. We connect with our deeper intentions, the human values and connections that we seek to cultivate.

This process of observing our thoughts with no fight for control, no resistance, no immediate reaction, accepting the present moment, invites us to ponder a difficult situation with calm and make mindful choices in due time.

Surprisingly, a commitment to the practice of mindfulness goes beyond the emergence of clarity and gives us the courage to take pertinent and healing action. Both in meditation and prayer, the tools and vision to act in a way that generates value and happiness for all beings present themselves. We see that we are neither victims nor do we need to dominate. It is the opposite of closing our eyes to the world and letting go.

Over the years we have applied these techniques to our personal and business lives, and realized that whenever we are capable of controlling the mind from going all over the place, relaxing, taking time to listen, observe and contemplate the situation with calm, better solutions arise while generating more value for everyone involved.

If you want to apply the practice of mindful acceptance in your life:

- Bring into awareness a difficult situation that you are experiencing.

- Start by observing the negative emotions that arise in that difficult situation.

- Try writing down the details and feelings that you are experiencing, to try to understand those emotions.

- After writing, take time to connect to your deeper intentions.

- Spend time in silence, bringing the difficult situation into awareness and observing your mental space while connecting to your breath. Do this without trying to change anything, only in observation.

- At the end of this time of meditation, write down what you observed.

- If important decisions are to be made, commit to sitting regularly with the difficulty to see how it evolves.

- As the right action emerges, reconnect to your intentions to measure their alignment with those intentions.

Federico Foli©, Betsy Parayil-Pezard©

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