No Mud No Lotus: Cultivating Acceptance

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In Plum Village, France there is a lotus pond in the center of the monestary. The flowers are stunningly large and delicate. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches "No Mud, No Lotus" to remind us that lotus flowers will only grow in mud. It is life's mud that offers the nutrients for our souls to strength and our hearts to grow.

In his seminal research study on acceptance of pain, Steve Hayes reminds us that word "acceptance" is derived from a word meaning "to take or receive what is offered." When we radically accept what is, we engage in an active process of opening up. Acceptance does not mean that we "like" what is happening or even approve of it. Acceptance does not mean that we are being passive and "tolerating" our experience. Rather, acceptance is acknowledging that, as Marsha Linehan teaches in DBT, "rejecting our reality will not change our reality" and "rejecting reality turns pain into suffering."

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Our instinct when we experience difficult thoughts, emotions, sensations, or memories is to control them. We have a tendency to resist "what is" in three ways:

1) Numbing: We use substances, food, busyness, checking our phones to numb what we are experiencing under our skin

2) Thinking: We practice problem solving, ruminating, worrying, with the belief that our thoughts can change or prevent the negative experience.

3) Opting out: We quit and avoid situations or people because we do not like the thoughts and feeling they bring up for us

These practices may "work" in the short term, but despite our efforts we often find that the negative feelings keep coming back. This is what a client of mine calls the "whack a mole" prolem.

What's more, the direction of our life becomes dictated by what we don't want as opposed to the life we do want. As Jacob Glass has stated in his lectures, trying to change what is out of our control is, "like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." In order to move toward meaningful lives, we are going to need to accept the pain that comes along for the ride. 

In his book The Happiness Trap, Russ Harris has a simple practice for accepting that I often practice in meditation when difficult emotions and sensations arise:

Observe: observe the emotion/sensation without getting caught in the story. What is it's shape, texture, smell, size, weight? Can you watch it transform and move inside of your body?

Breathe: Breathe around, inside, and from the emotion/sensation.

Create Space: If your emotion/sensation grows or changes as you observe it, allow space around it. Notice a vast space. There is enough room for this emotion/sensation to be there.

Allow: Let go of the fight against your difficult emotions and sensations. Allow them to take take their course. Emotions will naturally rise and fall, and rise again. It is often our efforts to control emotions that cause them to stick around. Allowed to be, emotions are as transient as the waves.