How to Accept What We Really Don’t Want to Accept

Right now there’s something going on in my life that’s very difficult, something that I definitely don’t want as part of my life. I don’t want this to be my reality and yet it’s clear that all of my wishing it weren’t so has done nothing to make it not true. As is always the case: Fight with reality, reality wins.

And so it occurred to me (brilliantly) that this might be an auspicious time to practice acceptance, right now when I hate this particular reality.  And also, that it might be a good time to better understand what it means when we say (usually too nonchalantly) just accept what is, be with it, don’t fight it and all the other expressions we have for this very challenging and mysterious process.

When investigating an idea or practice, I like to start with what the thing is not. In this case, what are the myths and misconceptions about acceptance that get in the way of our being able to do it?

Myth #1: We’re okay with what’s happening. We can agree with it.

The biggest misunderstanding about acceptance is that it means that we’re okay with the thing we’re accepting, that we’ve somehow gotten comfortable and on board with this situation we don’t want.

Reality: Acceptance does not require that we’re okay with what we’re accepting.  It does not imply that we now want what we don’t want.  It does not include feeling good or peaceful about what we’re accepting.  It does not mean we now agree with it.

Myth #2: Acceptance means we stop trying to change it.

We believe that accepting what is is synonymous with agreeing to be passive, giving up on change, surrendering all efforts to make things different.  Acceptance is saying we agree that this situation will go on forever.  It’s deciding to pull the covers over our head.

Reality: Acceptance does not mean suspending efforts to change what is.  It does not imply that we’re giving up on reality becoming different.  Acceptance is all about now and has nothing to do with the future.  Furthermore, acceptance is not an act of passivity, but rather an act of wisdom, of agreeing to start our efforts from where we actually are and considering what actually is.

Myth #3: Acceptance is failure.

In our culture, acceptance is for the meek, for losers. It’s what we do when we’ve failed at doing everything else. We see acceptance as a choice-less choice, a disempowering and depressing end to a battle lost.

Reality: Acceptance is not an act of failure. It can, with the right understanding, be experienced as an act of courage. It is for those who have the strength to face the truth and stop denying it.  It can be, in fact, a first step in a process of genuine success and movement.

So if not the myths, then what is this thing we call acceptance?  What does it really mean to accept what is or stop fighting with reality?  And, is it ever really possible (I mean really possible) to accept what is when we so don’t want what is?

To begin with, I want to throw out the word acceptance because it carries so much misunderstanding with it. Rather than asking can I accept this? I prefer, Can I relax with this? Or, can I be with this as it is? Or, can I agree that this is the way it is right now? These pointers feel more workable given what we associate with acceptance. Because the fact is, something inside us will never fully accept or get okay with what we don’t want, and that part of us needs to be included in this process too.

To relax with what is means that we also relax with the part of ourselves that’s screaming “no” to the situation. It means that we make space for the not wanting in us.  So we accept the situation and also the fierce rejection of it at the same time.  We don’t ask ourselves to get rid of the resistance; that resistance is our friend.  It’s there to protect us from what we don’t want.  So we accept and allow the negative situation and also, the hating of it.

Secondly, acceptance is about acknowledging that this particular situation is indeed happening.  It’s not saying that we like it, agree with it or will stop trying to change it, it simply means that we’re accepting that it’s actually what’s so. The primary element of acceptance is opening to reality as it is, not how we feel about it, just that it actually is this way.

In my case, with the situation I have going on, I’m practicing relaxing with the reality that I don’t have an answer to this difficult situation.  I am accepting that this situation is what is and I hate it and I want it to be different and I don’t know right now how to make that happen.  All of that is true; the practice of acceptance right now is about letting all that be so, whatever is true, and still being able to breathe deeply.

What’s comical is that our refusal to accept what is involves a fight against what already is. What we’re fighting against is already here. We refuse to allow what’s already been allowed.  Seen in this light, our refusal to accept reality has a kind of insanity to it.

When we practice acceptance, we’re just saying one thing: yes, this is happening. That’s it.  And paradoxically, that yes then frees us up to start changing the situation or changing ourselves in relation to it. As a good friend said, the situation will change or you will change, but change will happen. We waste so much energy fighting with the fact that this situation is actually happening that we don’t apply our most useful energy and intention to what we want or can do about it.  We’re stuck in an argument with the universe or whomever, that this is not supposed to be happening, all of which is energy down the drain. The fact is, it is this way, and acceptance allows us at least to begin doing whatever we need to do from where we are.

Acceptance is a profound and powerful step in our growth and development. It requires the immense courage to be honest about where we are. And it requires the fierce willingness to actually feel what’s true, which can be excruciating, but is far more useful than avoiding such feelings by denying what we already know or arguing that the truth shouldn’t be the truth.  Relaxing with what is puts an end to the futile and draining argument that is this is not the way it’s supposed to be and gets on with the business of living life on life’s terms.

When we accept what is, which includes our guttural “no” to it, we give ourselves permission to join our life, to experience the present moment as it is. We allow ourselves to stop fighting with reality, which is exhausting and useless. It’s counterintuitive and yet supremely wise; when we’re willing to say yes to this thing we don’t want, yes, this is the way it is whether I want it or not, something primal in us deeply relaxes. We can exhale; the hoax we’ve been conducting is up at last. The funny thing is, we’ve always known what’s true and it’s only us we’ve been trying to trick in our non-acceptance. To accept what is offers us permission to finally be authentic with ourselves, to fully be in our own company. When we can say I accept that this is the way it is — even if I hate it and don’t know what to do about it — then we can at least be in the truth, which ultimately, is the most empowering, brave, and self-loving place from which to create our life.

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Why Paying Attention to This Moment Creates Your Best Future


Living in the present moment — it’s the practice at the heart of all mindfulness teachings, and the essence of well-being. But what is it, this thing we call being present? I’m not sure we all share the same answers for what it means, or if it even matters that we do. What does matter, however, is that we know what being present means for ourselves, in a visceral, practical, and non-conceptual way. And perhaps too, that we have a sense of why we even want to be in the present moment, why it’s something we want to set as an intention for our lives.

I believe there’s something inherent in all human beings, something that longs to not feel separate from everyone and everything else, not feel separate from life. At a deep level, we want to heal our fundamental aloneness. When we’re fully present, we feel connected to life and everything in it. We are part of the moment, inside it. So too, there exists a drive within us to directly experience life, freshly, to know our experience more intimately than we can through any idea, concept, memoryor fantasy. We crave the flow experience, to be fully absorbed into an activity, when the doer merges into the doing and the separation between doer and doing evaporates, when all notions of time disappear. We have a longing to lose our separate self so that we can be inside life, of life, part of life. We want, ultimately, to return home to a state we seem to remember at a psychic level, a state of oneness before the me who’s in charge of managing life was formed.

On a more immediate level, we want to be in the present moment because its alternative, the experience of not being present, of being distracted and somewhere else while life is happening, feels unsatisfying. Not being present leaves us feeling empty, unfulfilled, and unreal—like ghosts in our own lives, like we’d gone missing for the whole adventure that is our life. Profound regret appears for so many when they realize that they’ve missed out on their life, that while they were physically present they were never really here, never fully paying attention to the experience at hand. Not being present is like winning a ticket to the most amazing adventure ever created and choosing not to attend. We want to be present so that we can be in life, in the game while this amazing opportunity is here.

Being in the present moment, at its core, includes a few fundamental practices. Most it all, it involves experiencing what’s happening in our senses right now. It’s feeling what our body is feeling, inside and out, seeing what we’re seeing, smelling what we’re smelling, tasting what we’re tasting, and hearing what we’re hearing, as it’s happening now. It means living this moment as a direct sensorial experience, experiencing the feelings and sensations through our body and not our mind’s interpretation of them. Being present means not being engaged in thinking about our past, not projecting our thoughts onto the future, and not engaging in our thoughts about what’s happening right now. It means paying attention to this moment as it’s arising through our senses, without judgment or commentary.

While being present means not being engaged in thinking, it’s important to mention that being present does not require the absence of thought. Being in the present moment doesn’t mean the mind stops producing thoughts, and thoughts in and of themselves are not a problem for presence. Thoughts happen, they keep coming no matter how present we are. Sometimes the thoughts quiet down and more spaces appear between them, sometimes no space appears. It’s not something we can control. To be present with thoughts involves being aware of the fact that thoughts are appearing, but (and here’s the big but) without identifying with those thoughts. In other words, noticing the presence of thoughts without getting involved in their stories or content, without going down the rabbit hole into which they beckon. Being in the present moment means directly experiencing what’s arising in the body, in the senses, which also includes paying attention to what’s happening in the mind.

Simultaneously, living in the present moment involves experiencing whatever’s happening right now without an agenda for where this now needs to lead us. Being present, fully, is turning our attention to right now without trying to build this moment into a potential future, an outcome we think will be good.

Many of us (myself included) struggle with this subtler and less discussed aspect of presence. Deep within us, perhaps from conditioning, perhaps wired into our DNA, perhaps both, there exists a drive to make something with our moments, to move our now-s in a positive direction that will create what we want. As we’re living this moment, a part of us (not always conscious) is relating to now as a stepping stone in the larger path that is our life. We live in a linear frame, with the present moment inextricably linked to an imagined future. This linear frame emits a subtle, sometimes imperceptible energy, but nonetheless, its energy keeps us at a slight distance from life; we’re still doing something with life, making something out of it that will benefit us, moving the separate I forward. With our now perpetually linked to a future then, we cannot trust that it’s safe to truly let go and surrender entirely into this moment, as its own destination.

To be fully in the present moment is to show up for this moment without demanding or expecting that it become or lead to anything else. So too, it’s to be here without using this moment to promote any particular identity, demonstrate that we are or aren’t something we imagine. To be fully present is to relate to each now as a kind of vertical eternity, each moment complete and whole, a hologram of everything; it is to release the idea of now as a point in a linear and finite line from a past to a future, with now serving as an usher between those two points. To live with profound presence is to trust that life will be enough and we will be enough if we simply show up for it one moment at a time. It’s to believe that like a necklace of pearls, life can be well-lived as a series of present moments strung together. The shift into this sort of presence is about letting go of the idea that we are the directors of our life, that we need to use life to achieve a particular agenda, that life is here to move us along or us to move it along.

Living fully present is surrendering to this now, completely, and believing that we do not need to use this moment to achieve a destination of our own strategizing.  But rather, that we can simply show up for life one moment at a time, and trust that just showing up, on its own, will be enough to lead us where we need to go, which ultimately and paradoxically is back to now.

When we pay attention to our senses without judgment, interpretation, or agenda, and refrain from engaging in thinking, we start to experience, at a gut, heart and mind level, that simply taking care of our now-s, one now at a time, showing up for this moment again and again, is in fact the most skillful and successful means for taking care of our then-s, and ending up in a future that we want.  It’s actually a lot easier and less effortful than we’re conditioned to believe. Counter to everything we’re taught, the best way to create a joyful life, a good life, is to pay attention to this moment and then the next and then the next. . . We can only learn this truth through practice, but attending to now is all we ever really need to do.

Practices for Being Present

  1. Take a few minutes each day to drop out of your mind and into your body. Feel the experience of right now as it’s happening in your senses. Experience what it feels like to be alive in this moment in your body. Like a photograph syncing up with its frame, allow your attention to sync into frame with your body. Sense the felt experience of returning your attention to your own physical being.  Feel the sense of relief, calm, joy, or whatever arises as you bring your body your full attention, presence, and intimate company.  Feel the “Aaah yes, I’m here with you, I’m home.
  2. As you go through your day, notice the subtle drive to live the present moment as a means to an end, to be doing something with the moment. See if you can drop that agenda, let go of where this moment should go or what this moment should do energy. Practice surrendering into now, without any thought or plan for a future.  Play with living in this moment as if there really is nowhere else to get to, no next, no future.  Give yourself permission throughout the day to require only one thing from yourself, that you show up for this now. Approach it as an experiment, field work for knowing whether taking care of your present moment, and only your present moment, can be enough, and can in fact generate a good life.
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Living In The Question: When Not Knowing Is The Answer

We are obsessed with knowing.  We demand  answers to all our questions and confusions, answers to even the as-yet unanswerable.  And, we demand that we find answers quickly, to save us from having to sit in the unknown.  We’re taught from the earliest age that not knowing is bad, we’re bad, or at least not as good if we don’t know.   When I was young, I remember turning away from certain careers because I couldn’t figure out how to do them before I had started doing them.  We feel shameand inadequacy for not knowing, revealing a vulnerability that, while natural and legitimate, still makes us feel weak or defective, anxious for exposing our ignorance.  We expect ourselves to know before we’ve even learned or experienced much of anything.  As a result, we fake knowing, come up with answers that we haven’t earned and don’t really know, and thus end up feeling like and being imposters in our own lives.

Most of us learn early, as young children, that we’re supposed to know—supposed to be on top of life, understand it, control it, make it go our way.  We’re supposed to have a plan and if we don’t, there’s something wrong with us; we need to work and try harder.  When we don’t know, we feel vulnerable and unprepared; we’re failing at be one step ahead of life.

When we know the answers we feel safe and most importantly, in control.  We have a plan, an idea, a certainty of mind. We are in charge.  We’re most content when the mind is leading the way forward with a plan of action, a plan of its own making and certainty.

Furthermore, having the answers allows us to dodge out on the present moment, which is another one of our favorite pursuits.  When we know the answers, have it all wrapped up if you will, we no longer have to be in the present moment; we don’t have to remain open to the ever-changing conditions and experiences that might guide our way.  Once we know, we can turn away from now; our path is paved even if life changes that path or us as we go.  We’re sticking with the plan; we’ve got the map so we can throw away the path.  Knowing allows us to stop paying attention to what’s actually happening, the place where we actually are.  Paying attention, staying fluid, is not needed because our mind has decided what is so and what will be.  Thankfully, we’re done with now.

Most of the answers we come up with, particularly the ones that we rush into before really knowing, come from the mind, not the heart, gut, experience, or our deepest wisdom.  We think our way into knowing.  And, we feel more comfortable when the mind, the thinker, is in charge; we are most comfortable when we are a separate entity, a little head doing life.  From its throne, the mind comes up with the answers and then steers our body and spirit around according to its plan, regardless of whether its plan matches our deeper truth.

What we’re really afraid of is to be in life, in step with it and not a step ahead of it, trying to control the way (as if we could).  We’re afraid to leave life open, unresolved, to let life reveal its answers as we go, to be present in our life and not outside it, managing it, controlling it.  We’re afraid to be vulnerable and not in charge, to surrender to the mystery of what we can’t yet know and may never know.  When we live in the questions and stop trying to know what we don’t know, we’re choosing to pay attention to what’s happening now, our experience, and the choices we want to make given these truths.  We’re agreeing to discover rather than know, based on what’s actually arising—not our predetermined idea of it; we’re forming a handshake with our experience, relaxing the reins and letting life show us the way.  When we stop trying to know everything, we’re reassigning the CEO role in our life—from the mind to life itself, the truth, our experience, not the mind—whatever you want to call it, which can only tell us what we need to know as we go, and only if we will humble ourselves and listen.  Living in the question, in essence, involves a shift from knowing to listening.

It turns out that the questions are a place we can indeed inhabit.  We don’t know it, we’re taught not to know it, but we can in fact plant our feet right here in the not knowing. The first time someone suggested that I live with a question, I had no idea what that phrase meant, or perhaps more accurately, no idea how to embody that sentiment.  Living meant knowing and so if I didn’t want to disappear or live with extreme anxiety, I had to solve the questions that were unsolved.  Living and questions were contradictory.  I needed sure ground, which for a younger me meant known ground.  Known, not just for what was happening in the present moment, but known as to where I was headed, what was happening and to be done with what was happening.

But I can also remember the first time a friend told me that he didn’t know but was living in the question.  Maybe it was a change in the verb or preposition he used, from live to living or with to in, or maybe (and more likely) it was my own evolution, the earned wisdom to know that I was not in control even if my mind told me I was.  But with the aliveness of the word living and the inclusiveness of the word in, an undeniable sense of relief descended upon me, like an injection of relaxation, of presence.  It felt like I had dropped through a trap door—into now, like I had been given permission to live here in what was true now, the not knowing now, and let the answers (if they came) reveal themselves to me.  It gave me permission to not have to go out and make the answers happen or manufacture them from my mind.  Living in the question meant that I could follow the truth as it unfolded.  With permission to be in the question, I was offered residence in this moment; I could give up my delusion of control and better yet, my responsibility for being in control.  Blessedly, I didn’t have to be in control.  All that living in the question meant was agreeing to be awake and aware, to be present and discover the answers as I went, and, to stay open to the answers changing.  Living in the question allows us to be in life, letting life guide us rather than our minds endlessly trying to steer life.  Living in the question allows us to open to the infinite mystery, life unfolding in its own way, with us as part of it, along for the ride…to open to being part of a larger universe which is not in our charge.

When we don’t know, not knowing is the truth, anything else is made up, a way to try and feel safe, to control what feels uncontrollable at the moment.  Living in the question, no matter how it feels, is living in the truth, which, once we get the hang of it, contains its own safety and trustworthiness.  The safety and trustworthiness of the truth is not, however, gauged by what we usually gauge safety by, namely, solidness, knowability, and contents we like.  But rather, the truth, the not knowing in this case, offers safety because of its inarguable-ness, its is-ness if you will; the safety of not knowing is unharmed by the fact that the situation is fluid, not solid, transforming and evolving, shifting beneath our feet.  Living in the question means planting our feet in moving ground, accepting that we’re in a process without a known outcome, that the process is the destination, for now.  In so doing, we’re also agreeing to be humble, to surrender our badge as master of the universe, to admit that we don’t have all the answers, that we await further clarity, to be offered by something larger than ourselves.  Living in the question, while not familiar perhaps, ultimately, proves to be the most alive, fresh, and real place we can hope to inhabit.  We thought courage meant knowing all the answers, but as it turns out, that answer itself was wrong.  Courage means being willing to not grab for a mind-made shore when we’re genuinely at sea, to not shut life down and out with answers, but to simply keep living, here, in our humble not knowing, awake in the mystery.  At the end of the day, our questions are our portals, the doorways through which we access now.

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Keep It Juicy Podcast: Mindful Relationships

Nancy will be talking MINDFUL RELATIONSHIPS on the        KEEP IT JUICY podcast.                                                                February 6, 2019

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Do You Have the Courage to Stop Doing?

From human doing to human being…how a little stillness can go a long way…

Our basic state of wellbeing is obscured because of the essential paradigm (or misunderstanding) we live by, namely, that we are human doings, not human beings.  We see ourselves, our value, as being the sum total of our experiences and accomplishments—what we’ve gotten done.  Many people grow up with parents who, in trying to do right by their kids, are constantly showing them how to improve themselves and find better ways to be productive.  On its face there’s nothing wrong with wanting to teach our kids to make things happen or be good at doing things, but children often grow up feeling that they are loved precisely because of their ability to do, accomplish, and succeed.  That if they were to stop being productive, they would cease to belong and be loved.

Our doings are what we believe we have to offer, what make people proud of us, love us, and even more fundamentally, what we think we are made of, the very substance of our being.  Who we are, our identity, is what we accomplish, what we can do and have done. We are good, lovable and important if we are productive; if we’re productive, we matter.  I have seen countless people living on the anxious treadmill of productivity, terrified to step off and pause—to stop doing—and thus risk losing their basic sense of worth.

If we even dare to think about stopping, stepping off the wheel of productivity, our mind tells us that we will be lazy, passive, taking the easy way out, getting nothing done, being worthless.  Boiled down, the mind convinces us that if we stop doing, we’re bad.  If we stop striving, we will end up with nothing—doing nothing, getting nothing, being nothing.  We are conditioned to believe that if we don’t whip ourselves into action, don’t demand continual accomplishment and forward movement, we will collapse into sloth and torpor as it’s the only other option to the wheel we’re trapped on.

We don’t trust that if we were to allow ourselves to stop, to be where we are without trying to get somewhere else, that our own organic desire to do, create and take action would naturally arise, that life would continue happening and we would continue being part of that flow. We have not been taught to trust what’s actually true, namely, that something in us longs to do and create; it doesn’t need to be threatened and corralled into productivity in order to save us from being bad or worthless.

Linking our value and existence to perpetual doing keeps us in a state of fear, terrified to unhitch from the wagon of productivity, the drive to keep moving forward, not trusting who we will be or even if we will be when we unhitch.  In this modern paradigm, we see life itself as an act of doing, something we have to make happen, by continually doing and kicking the wheel of experience and what’s next.  Our life, as we experience it, is created through the accumulation of experiences we generate. Life is something we have to do something with, as in, What are you going to do with your life? As such, it feels as if doing is necessary to keep ourselves in actual existence.  Stillness, on the other hand—not getting somewhere, not getting something done, not being productive, is imagined as a kind of void or absence, a place where we don’t experience life.  The way we learn it, doing equals life.  Not doing, when the wheel stops, equals death, or non-existence.

We live as human doings in part because we’re not taught that just being is a something, a place, an experience of its own.  We’re not taught that our own presence, our being, is a destination, a place of value, a place to inhabit that has its own sensory aliveness.

From the time we’re very young we learn that our head or mind is where life happens, where the action is, where the pilot sits.  We award our mind with the throne of life, king/queen of all domains. Our body, on the other hand, we relate to as a functional object, a Sherpa that transports our head from one place to another, thanklessly facilitating the doing that the mind commands.  If not simply moving the mind around, the body is something we use as another agent of doing, to achieve excellence in sport or other such endeavors, thereby adding to the pile of accomplishments and experiences that make up our sense of worthiness.  In addition, our body is viewed as an entity that for the most part doesn’t exist other than to provide us with pleasure or pain.  The body is an object that appears out of oblivion only when directly stimulated, or when a disruption occurs and thus interrupts its basic invisibility, as is the case with illness, injury, and aging.

But the problem is that when we ignore the body and relate to it as a non-entity, a non-place, undeserving of our own attention except when absolutely necessary, we effectively sever access to our inherent un-produced sense of worth.  Disconnected from the body, we become untethered from a sense of fundamental mattering, not because of what we do, but just because we are. The body is the portal to experiencing our aliveness, one that precedes and outlives any and all accomplishment, an aliveness that remains constant even when we step off the wheel of doing.  It’s through the body that we directly experience a sure sense of our own wholeness, and the knowing that we are already everything we need to be, and we already matter.

When we drop out of the head and into the body, pouring our attention out of mind, without an agenda and without trying to make something happen that the mind is dictating, we immediately feel a sense of just being.  Inside the body, we experience the hum of life, an energy, something that’s happening on its own without our having to manage, control, force or do it.  Through meditation, body practice, or simply choosing to experience the body from the inside out, we can learn to ride the waves of the breath, sense the body breathing itself. The practice of just encountering what’s here that requires no effort, builds a trust in us, that there exists a life force bigger than us, an aliveness that we exist within and are made of, and perhaps most importantly in this context, for which we are not in charge.

Joining with the body and experiencing how it is right now, feeling what’s actually happening inside you, without writing a narrative about what’s happening, or constructing a story about what it says about you or anyone else, but just experiencing now as it is in your body, is a courageous and profoundly radical choice. When we make our body a destination, make the choice to inhabit the body with kindness and curiosity, in stillness, without demanding anything from it, or judging what we find, we can know a direct experience of being, a sensation of our own existence, which doesn’t require any action to create or maintain. It takes courage to leave the mind and drop into the body, a willingness to reject or doubt what the mind tells us will happen to us if we leave it for even a moment.  But for that courage, we are rewarded with a deep trust in and intimacy with our own being, and a knowing of its inherent worth.  Just the opposite of the idea of absence that the mind scares us with, what we find in the body, away from the mind, is presence.

In experiencing the sensations of the body, not noticing them from the head but allowing ourselves to actually feel them directly from inside the body, we discover that life is happening here, now, without our help.  And in fact, we don’t need to keep kicking the wheel, creating life.  Tuning into the hum of just being, we uncover a sense of wholeness and worth that is inherent, un-earned, un-manufactured, un-efforted, and utterly unrelated to accomplishment.  We discover a sense of our own value that just is, a gift of being alive.


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