Wednesday, August 25, 2010


"Acceptance does not mean that you have to like everything or that you have to take a passive attitude toward everything and abandon your principles and values. It does not mean that you are satisfied with things as they are or that you are resigned to tolerating things as they "have to be." It does not mean that you should stop trying to break free of your own self-destructive habits or to give up on your desire to change and grow or that you should tolerate injustice, for instance, or avoid getting involved in changing the world around you because it is the way it is and therefore hopeless. Acceptance as we are speaking of it simply means that you have come around to a willingness to see things as they are. This attitude sets the stage for acting appropriately in your life no matter what is happening. You are much more likely to know what to do and have the inner conviction to act when you have a clear picture of what is actually happening than when your vision is clouded by your mind's self-serving judgments and desires or its fears and prejudice." Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness

Cultivating an open mind doesn't have to mean having no opinions, but it does mean being ready to set that opinion aside long enough to hear something else, or notice the effects holding that opinion might have. Today I watched my students make such a variety of efforts related to our yoga practice. One student continuously took each movement beyond her comfort zone, another simply closed her eyes and moved from within. Each one was living within the constraints of what she knew to be so, as well as within the parameters set by her opinions about what she thought she knew. When Jon Kabat-Zinn describes acceptance, he lists many of the aspects of ourselves that we fear we will have to give up or lose if we "accept" what we know to be true. He goes on to explain that acceptance "means that you have come around to a willingness to see things as they are." From this vantage point the one student can see the source of pain in her shoulder, and also the source of pain in her pushing herself into that posture AND the possibility that she gains more from staying within her pain-free range. The other student can accept that her inner voice will take her where she needs to be, and she can see that this inner direction may be steering her towards or away from fully experiencing the movement. Acceptance is an important step towards the truth and towards awareness of the range of possibilities. The part that limits us the most is that clouding of the mind by its "self-serving judgments and desires or its fears and prejudice."

I like to think about acceptance as I watch the season change. Accepting all the stages and phases of these transformative times is such a deep experience. There is more joy in it for me than clinging to the idea that summer is the time when I can relax or when the world is more beautiful. It insures disappointment to imagine that only the height of the season represents that season. Taking in the subtle beginnings, watching the process of the changes, cherishing each part of this warming and cooling, blooming and storing, procreating and dying gives me a much wider sense of my own options too. Acceptance helps me to see myself interacting, reacting, and in stillness without needing to attach judgment to each of these. I can tolerate stressful situations by adapting to the conditional nature of the moment, and accept that there is a deeper level where other possibilities exist too. This can bring a sense of hope, a sense of potential for solutions that might otherwise be invisible or inaccessible. In practice this might mean discovering movements and energy that would otherwise be blocked by attachment to associations, prejudices, judgments and patterns from the past. For me acceptance, hope and possibility are each held within one another.

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