3. Acceptance

A teacher walking with his students points to a very large boulder and says, “Students, do you see that boulder?” The students respond, “Yes, we see the boulder.”  The teacher asks, “And is the boulder heavy?” The students respond, “Oh, yes, very heavy.” And the teacher replies, “Not if you don’t pick it up.”

The fact is we are constantly trying to move the “boulders” in our lives into the places we think they should be. We are constantly passing judgment on our observations, on others and on ourselves. Acceptance involves be aware of tendencies to resist how things are and letting go of the desire to rearrange the boulders. It is simply knowing that there is a boulder here in this moment, I don’t like it, and that is OK. Negative emotions result from wanting things to be different than they already are. Of course you may be very well aware by now that the fuel that feeds this tendency is selfishness.

We are born selfish, sadly it is an accepted part of human behavior. Society does not frown upon it, it feeds it. Parents, teachers, relationships, and society influence selfish behavior in ways that are known and unknown. This is deep endemic conditioning that has become so ingrained that most people live on automatic pilot, being pushed and pulled in directions of thoughts and actions that they are totally unaware of. Take note of the marketing and the politics we see today. Can you see the “compliance techniques” used to get you to take their desired direction, what do they all have in common. It is all about you, it is what is best for you, it is what you want, it is what you need. They are very well aware that the key to getting you to to comply is your selfishness.

Let us take a closer look a the boulders in our lives.

Who you are.

How much control did you have over your genetics, where you were born, who your parents are? The answer is simple, none, so why would you spend any effort judging these things that you have no control over, and then wanting to move the "boulder" by wishing things were different. Think for a moment, you have no control over your intelligence, and I cannot think of or find any reason why smarter people are better or happier people. Think for a moment, why are smarter people admired, looked up to, they had nothing to do with it. The same perspective applies to looks, who decides who looks good and who doesn't, what is attractive and what isn't. These are social values that have no content, from an artful perspective everybody is the "Emperor with no clothes". The more we try to impress the more ridiculous we look. There is nothing you can do on the outside that will change what is on the inside. Thinking artfully involves accepting yourself as you are, not looking up to anybody or looking down upon anybody. You were not created better or worse than anybody else, there is no need to attempt to move this boulder or dress it up.

Where you are
How much control did you have over your parents, your teachers, the events of your childhood? Can you go back into time and change the decisions you made?  The past is a boulder that you will never be able to move, you can’t even touch it, it is gone. You have made mistakes, everybody does. Learn from them, then accept them. Thinking artfully involves accepting where we are because it is the only place that matters. There is no point in inflicting ourselves with negative emotions over what has gone by or what has yet to arrive.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we judge everybody, we grab the boulder. In milliseconds we have formed an opinion, all based on our endemic conditioning. Then we place our self in comparison with the one we are judging. How much control did they have over their genetics? How much control did they have over where they are today? Thinking artfully involves thinking about others as you would yourself with the perspective that there are no “bad” people, just people who behave badly. There are no “good” people, just people who behave well. When you can mindfully accept others as they are, people are drawn to you, they get a sense that they are not being judged, and they may accept you as you are.

The Situation
The same principles apply to your current situation. If the situation is good, you like it, that is OK. If the situation is bad, you don’t like it, that is OK as well. If you refuse to accept the situation as it is then it becomes the “boulder” and your negative emotions will kick in. Once your emotions kick in you automatically react to the emotion and not the situation. Get angry and you will most likely say something or do something that you will regret later. The situation will not improve.

Accepting yourself, others and the situation does not mean that you need to be happy with these things, it just means that you see things clearly, as they are, without passing judgment. When you pass judgment, negative selfish emotions such as anger, frustration, jealously, and so forth will cloud your ability to react with discernment. If you keep a clear non-judgmental frame of mind you can have a clear perspective and as a result make artful decisions about what to do. The art of acceptance will allow you to see clearly what thoughts and actions are wholesome (those leading to the well-being of self and others) and to see what thoughts and actions are unwholesome (those leading to the suffering of self and others).  You do not move the boulder you work on it, turn it into something positive.

The Practice
You will have to practice the formal mindfulness practice to develop this ability. During your formal mindfulness practice “tag” judgmental thoughts that come to mind. You “tag” a thought just by taking note of it and giving it a label (this is judgmental).

Learn to be aware of your judgments of others and yourself, recognize them and dismiss them. Never think more or less of yourself.

When you experience a negative selfish emotion stop and ask yourself these questions.

  • What is the emotion am I feeling?
  • What exactly does this feel like?
  • When did it start?
  • What was the cause?
  • Why did I react with this emotion?
  • How could acceptance prevent the ______ I am feeling?
Food for Thoughts
  • Why is selfishness not seen as a social problem?
  • Why do we feel a need to categorize ourselves and others?
  • What is the cause of evil (intentionally inflecting pain and suffering on others)?