Accept - then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” -- Eckhart Tolle
In the above diagram, we see two arrows crossing one another, forming an “X” shape. On the left we find four words that are similar to one another but the opposite of the four words on the right. Think of these two lists as representing two “channels” or viewpoints, one of which is open, welcoming and receptive while the other is closed, attacking or rejecting.
This mindfulness tool is meant to illustrate a simple point. We can view ourselves or others through either channel or filter but we cannot be on both channels at once. It is my contention that we cannot understand and blame ourselves at the same time. We cannot judge and accept others at the same time. It seems impossible to experience deep compassion and empathy for ourselves or others while we are being judgmental, critical and blaming. If we are on the arrow or “see-saw” that is high on the right side, we could say we are viewing reality with an open mind and heart. We are accepting ourselves and others as we and they are and we are seeking to understand, not judge. We are viewing ourselves and others with compassion and empathy, not judgment, criticism and blame. And if we are high on the blame side, we will be low on acceptance.
When we are mindful, we mind our minds. We are aware of awareness. We see how we see. We identify with the observer or noticer, not the thinker or evaluator. Krishnamurti once said, “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” When
we observe without judging, we operate from a curious, accepting and open mind. This orientation allows us to learn and understand what is before us. When we slip into the evaluative, comparative or critical mind, we are on a different channel. In this mind, we will often resist or oppose reality with “should” thoughts. While this is understandable, it seldom “works.” And for most of us, our default setting is this judgmental mind. It is our “reality.”
When we are unhappy, anxious, sad, depressed, angry, frustrated or resentful, we are in the judgmental mind. We have something we don’t want or we want something we don’t have. We are unable to accept what we are unable to control or change. We are on the judgment track. If our ultimate aim is to experience peace in the present moment, we need to get on the road or arrow that will take us there. When we accept reality, including ourselves and others, as it is, was or might become (not as we think it should or must be), we give up our resistance. We allow it. This does not mean we are celebrating or approving. It merely means we are accepting or acknowledging the fact that certain things happened and our reality is what it is in the present. We view reality without our story about it and come to realize that the more we accept and understand, the more our life “works.”
All we control is our attention and actions here and now. That is it. We control what we pay attention to, how we pay attention to it and what we do. We choose to accept and understand or we choose to judge and blame. Notice what works. Notice which one helps.
And notice that all we “have” is this moment. What does it mean to “have” this moment? It means that this is all that exists for us. We can pause from reading this right now and notice what is happening, and depending on the depth of our awareness, we may notice that our experience of this moment is mediated by a “friend” or “constant companion,” our own thinking or self-talking mind. This mind decides, if we give it the freedom, how we experience the moment. It decides if we are accepting and allowing this moment to be as it is or if we are attacking it in some way; judging, blaming or criticizing it to some degree.
I sometimes suggest to people that reality is “neutral.” By that I mean, stuff happens. It isn’t essentially good or bad. Or right or wrong. For example, our Earth existed without humans for 4.5 billion years. That is a long time. Did anything good or bad happen during all that time? Anything right or wrong? The only way to answer that is with the human mind that didn’t exist until fairly recently. When asked such a question, the mind takes a side, adopts an arbitrary position or assumes a point-of-view and then makes up a set of rules or decides that some values are more important than others. Without the language-based, concept-driven, biased mind, questions of rightness, wrongness, goodness or badness make no sense.
It is only when humans arrived on the scene that we find judgment. We “ate of the tree of good and evil” and created duality and separation in place of unity and wholeness. Before we evolved, species came and went without celebration or sorrow. None of it was “personal” because no persons existed. When we walk through the woods or through a meadow or along a deserted beach, all we see is nature. If we are open to seeing what is before us, we get a glorious glimpse of this neutral, natural, impersonal, perfect reality. We could judge it. It could be too cold or too hot for us. Or, in our opinion, it is too cloudy, sunny or windy. Maybe there aren’t enough birds and bunnies or there are too many bugs but all those judgments are just thoughts that we choose to believe. They aren’t necessarily or fundamentally true or real just because we think and believe them. We are in a sense, making up a reality that suits us. It is a kind of fiction or lie we make up and believe.
If we are “negative,” we might notice that we are “against” something in our experience. We might be against another person or ourselves, or a memory or story from our past or something we imagine in the future. We might notice that we are in active resistance to something. We might find we are engaged in a kind of argument with reality as we commit ourselves to be in opposition to it. We create tension as we struggle. We might define this process as dealing with “a problem” but does this “problem” exist outside our minds?
In our minds, thoughts are alive and well. They never stop. Thinking seems to be a constant for most humans. We imagine we are in control of our thoughts, but this is only partly true. Much of this depends on how conscious, mindful or aware we are. At this moment, the past and future do not exist. They only “exist” as convenient, mental constructs that distract us from what is vibrantly and brilliantly alive within and around us. Meanwhile, what sees or notices this? In the midst of constant change, something about us is constant, durable and unchanging. When we look beneath or behind the thinking, judging, blaming, resisting, critical mind, we find our deeper, truer self, just accepting reality; allowing it to be as it is.
So how do we make all of this more concrete and less abstract? Simple. Write the word “Acceptance” on a piece of paper. Tape it to your mirror, refrigerator or dashboard. And then live your life. Do your day. Go about your business and when you encounter the word, become it; use it as a stimulus or reminder to pay attention to what is in the present moment. How do you feel? What thoughts are rising and falling away? What emotions are triggered by what thoughts? Where are you on the see-saw? Judging or allowing?
Seek to remain aware of your position on “the arrow.” When we find ourselves judging, we will likely judge ourselves for judging. We will blame or criticize ourselves for being critical and blaming. This is normal. We can ask ourselves, “What is the problem here?” And, “Is it true?” Breathe. Relax. Accept. Repeat, “And that’s ok,” like a kind of mantra. Let the past be just that: the past. We can separate our memories from our stories. Let them be. Accept them. Notice all the “should” and “but” thoughts. How does it feel to let them go?
In the midst of this, hold yourself kindly. Refuse to take a side for a moment. Consider that we are all doing the best we can from our point-of-view. Each of us is somewhat lost in our own dream. Each of us is on the same, long journey toward awakening. Each of us makes our own mistakes. Each of us eventually learns. It is why we are here. The path that led us here is strewn with necessary loss and failure like random rocks and scattered leaves. And yet here we are still in the game, still trudging along, struggling with our personal puzzles.
Notice how we cannot turn off judgment. It has a mind of its own. We assume our judgmental thoughts are expressed from our core identity but is that true? Or are these unvetted utterances actually the impulsive products of a mindless, automatic program that runs independently within our mind? Notice how easy it is to grab onto resentments and regrets and make them a part of us. This is a choice. It isn’t good or bad or right or wrong. It’s just a choice. How does it help? How does it hurt? How long do we want to be here, learning this lesson? How does it feel to give it up and see it from another perspective? Notice how blame only makes sense when we attach ourselves to partial truths, slivers of the real, stories that depend on a particular point-of-view that ignores alternative perspectives.
What is separating us from deep joy right now where we sit or stand? What thoughts in our mind are interfering? What story do we need to believe to justify our judgments of self or other? Where is love in the midst of our fear? Where is truth in the midst of our sadness? What do we really need that we don’t already have? Where does peace go when we don’t feel it? Does it go anywhere? Does it not remain right here, patiently waiting for us to rediscover it? What if we could live without this tension, resistance and fear?
What if right here was exactly where we need to be, doing what we need to do, learning what we need to learn? What would happen if we trusted ourselves and the universe and lived that way? What happens when we look for the good in ourselves and others and help others to see it in themselves? What happens when enough of us figure this out together? What kind of world happens when we decide to make it wonderful, one breath at a time? Beyond all these words lies something precious and true inside of me and you. See it now.