By Duane Toops
Recently I released the first part of a series looking at a book I received from The Tattooed Buddha, courtesy of Shambhala Publications, called From Mindfulness to Insight.
If you want to check out Part One you can find the podcast episode here and the article here. So, let’s recap just a little bit. One of the most helpful things within the book is the author’s working definitions of “mindfulness” and “Insight”.
Nairn, Choden, and Regan-Addis define mindfulness as “knowing what is happening while it is happening, without preference” and Insight as “recognizing what is happening, while it is happening, without preference” (7). The key distinction is between knowing and recognizing, that is, knowing the “awareness of what is arising in the mind in this moment” and recognizing or “becoming aware of the underlying processes that give rise to the activity we observe in the mind” (7).
But, central to both definitions is in being “without preference,” specifically in regards to our observations and our experiences of arising mental phenomena. The authors specify by saying, “what we mean by the phrase ‘without preference’ is that we accept all the elements of our present moment situation rather than rejecting some thoughts and feelings and choosing others.” (10)
In other words, the catalyst to both the practice of mindfulness and the cultivation of insight is acceptance.
In fact Nairn, Choden, and Regan-Addis explain that “Insight is more likely to occur within an emotional environment of acceptance.” (10)
As I was reading about this emphasis of acceptance, I couldn’t help but smirk. I’ll explain why. I’ve recently started interviewing guests on my podcast. The first two guests I had on the show both referenced this same idea of acceptance.
It feels like someone’s trying to tell me something…
“For me to be able to embrace the path I need it to be as all encompassing as possible …for me that is part of the acceptance, that is part of the practice…sometimes you set out with good intents and sometimes where you are going, you meant well, but sometimes things take a turn that you didn’t mean for them to. For me, I think a lot of what the practice is about is taking the lid off that garbage can and lets sit in it, and sort, and to me that’s how you create a better practice…I guess its about total acceptance.. that’s part of me accepting what is”.
Shortly after interviewing Jim Martin I had Stuart Carter from Simply Mindfulness on the show. Sure enough, near the end of our chat some of his parting thoughts were about…care to take a guess?…that’s right—acceptance.
He said that:
“What we spend most of our lives doing, is ‘doing.’ Doing anything in order to not feel that uncomfortable feeling. If you can feel that feeling and be with it and not try to distract from it, not try to escape from it, recognize it can’t kill, it can’t make you do anything. It feels deeply uncomfortable. It might feel really painful. It might even feel unbearable but, that feeling is your emotional body trying to talk to you…The moment we listen to it, is the moment we get better at it. We don’t feel better but, we’re better at feeling.”
Stuart goes on to say that if we should “Experience what we’re experiencing without trying to avoid it, eliminate it, change it, judge it, tell ourselves a story about it…but actually if we just sit and be with it we realize it has no power over us.”
The more I think about what Martin and Carter had to say, the more I think that they are both getting at the heart of this “without preference,” this “acceptance.”
In being without preference, in accepting what is, we are expressing an openness to what is around us, we are honing in on the honesty of where we are. We unfasten ourselves, and we allow ourselves to sit within a salient sense of surrender. We are yielding to the “yes” of all that arises.
Let’s be clear though, being without preference isn’t about being naive or grandiose. And, acceptance isn’t about passivity or indifference. Being without preference isn’t bullshitting yourself into believing that everything is fine when it isn’t or that you can pay your bills with wishes and stardust. Acceptance isn’t about succumbing to apathy and resignation.
The authors state, “When we use the term ‘acceptance’ here, we do not mean that we must like what arises in our mind; nor does it mean that it will never change and we must resign ourselves to a difficult state of affairs forever” (29). Similarly, Nairn, Choden, and Regan-Addis go on to say, “acceptance does not mean approving or condoning negative actions in the world at large” (29). Instead, “It means that we choose not to resist and fight with what arises within us because we realize that this just makes things worse” (29).
Maybe we could say that acceptance is about flexibility and fluidity.
Perhaps, it’s about plasticity and softness. Resistance is hard. Resistance is brittle. In the Tao it says that “A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind. The hard and stiff will be broken; the soft and supple will prevail…The weak overcomes the strong; the soft surpasses the hard.”
Acceptance isn’t naivety, passivity or apathy. Instead acceptance is simply an acknowledgment of temporality; a refusal to be mentally and emotionally broken by things that are temporal and ultimately impermanent.
It is a refusal to crack. It is a willingness to bend.
Nairn, Choden, and Regan-Addis specify, “What acceptance really means is that we face what is going on within us and we choose to see it clearly” (30). As such, we are encouraged “to surrender to whatever unfolds, as this opens up the possibility for seeing things in a completely different way from before” (15).
Insight springs from acceptance because in order to see differently, we first have to clearly see the way things really are.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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