Thursday, June 24

Mindful Monday: Radical Acceptance, Part 2

Last Monday, I introduced the topic of radical acceptance from Dr. Marsha Linehan's Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Radical acceptance, in her words, is "complete and total. It's when you accept something from the depths of your soul. When you accept in your mind, in your heart, and even with your body... you've radically accepted something, you're not fighting it. It's when you stop fighting reality."* This concept, which has a strong mindfulness component, is becoming useful in working with my chronic worrying and anxiety and resistance to painful things in my life. 

Today, I’m going to paraphrase and condense Linehan's description of the three skills to deal better with sometimes-harsh reality: radical acceptance, turning the mind, and willingness. I was thrilled to find actual steps -- nearly a "how to" manual! -- for learning how to accept and surrender to hard reality, a process that has escaped me up till now.

Step 1: Radical Acceptance

Understand that reality is what it is. Accept it. Now, this is precisely the problem. What do you mean "accept it"? That's impossible! The problem is too upsetting, painful, hard, enraging, frightening, or shaming to accept!" The key to this step, however, is asking, "What is the reality that I'm denying? What I am I not accepting for what it is?" Say it aloud plainly without embellishment.

 Understand that the problem has a cause. When you accept that everything has a cause, reality is as it should be. That doesn't mean you like it or that it isn't painful. You don't even have to know for sure what caused the problem. Just accept that there was a cause. Practice saying, "Given the causes, everything is as it should be." Then start working with the tension in your body from head to toe, releasing the stress and strain, over and over, as long as it takes, whether that be minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months. Maybe even years. This is something you have to do again and again. Linehan suggests going outside at night, looking at the sky, and saying "yes" several times a night... even if you have tears streaming down your face.

Accept that life is worth living, even if it's sometimes devastating. Accept that you can build a life in the aftermath; otherwise, you won't. Linehan, as well as Buddhist teachers, says, "You can't change something you can't accept. If you don't face things as they are, you can't change them. Then change them.

Step 2: Turning the Mind

Notice that you're not accepting. Make an inner commitment to turn the mind toward acceptance. Do it again. How do you keep radically accepting, over and over? Turn your mind toward acceptance, time and again. You can accept or resist. Keep turning toward acceptance. Take the acceptance fork in the road.

Step 3: Willingness

Though it sounds a little "woo-woo," accept that you are part of a cosmic process and thus should be committed to active participation in it. Allow the world to be the way it is and agree to participate. Otherwise, you're fighting the rules of life. Willingness is about your stance in the world. Play the cards you get as skillfully as you can. If you're willful rather than willing, you forget the nature of life, refusing to be a part of it. That's essentially throwing a tantrum because you're saying no to reality.

When willfulness appears, notice and observe it. Identify and describe it. Radically accept it since it is there. Turn your mind toward acceptance and willingness to meet reality as it is. Try a "willing posture," such as opening your hands, holing them outward from your body, and relaxing. Know that you can survive your emotions, no matter how overwhelming they are. They aren't wrong, but they cause you to suffer when you don't radically accept them. Accept them and have ordinary pain rather than suffering.

Working these steps is about self-care. They're not easy. You have to do them over and over. Start small.



for Mindful Monday

© May 26, 2014, post, Donna Pierce
* Radical Acceptance, Dr. Marsha Linehan.
Photo credit: "Four solanum melongena seedlings" by Michael Bemmerl (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0-de via Wikimedia Commons.

#mindful #monday #findingGod



  • I guess the obvious question to ask is “Given radical acceptance, on what basis do I work for change?” How do I avoid saying, e.g., “Well, the Boko Haram sociopaths abducted 200+ young girls in Nigeria. That has a cause. So I accept it & no doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should”?

  • jrcowles, good question and one that is asked a lot in Buddhist circles. In your Boko Haram example, we may become outraged by this heinous act. What we don’t need when we see something outrageous is to re-act from outrage ourselves. It will cloud our minds. Yes, we’ll experience outrage — a natural human emotion — but we allow it to unfold in ourselves, investigating the physical sensations, thoughts, emotions, and the behaviors that want to be acted out. We come to see what is underneath the outrage, which is usually fear. As Tara Brach, a Buddhist author, said after the heinous crimes of 9/11, these feelings “left me raw and tender. It reminded me that under my anger and fear was caring about life. And it motivated me to act, not from an anger that focused on an enemy, but from caring.”

    When we react from fear, anger, or (self-)righteousness, we are deluded by our overwhelming emotions and the stories in our heads, resisting what is, resisting what happened even though the Boko Harum mass kidnapping had one or more causes and unfolded the way it “should” have, given those causal factors. When we resist — “this shouldn’t have happened!” — we’ll likely not perceive or act with clear minds. When you don’t see things clearly, you are less capable of finding their solution.This is how we get eye-for-an-eye retribution and war… or an ulcer.

    You accept what happened, no matter how horrendous. You allow reality to be what it is. In acceptance, there is peace. You cease to create unnecessary suffering to add to the natural pain. Instead, you sit through and then identify that your perceptions are from a limited point of view. You recognize the suffering that we all feel because we are human. None of this is easy. You have to do it over and over, accepting the pain of the situation in order to subtract the suffering. The old Einstein quote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them,” applies here.

    Then, you are better able to choose to act less from anger or fear than peace, steadfastness, and clarity. Pema Chodron’s book, “Practicing Peace in Times of War,” has an extended piece on this very topic, especially about how to respond and act. She talks about possible ways to respond from this stance way better than I could paraphrase it. I recommend it. You can see a little of it at,+injustice&source=bl&ots=E8pn7-5YVh&sig=Po83wvFLzNUFIHJ0rTlFthN_ZYo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ioCDU7e9NcjFoATX0IHIBg&ved=0CEwQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=Pema%20Chodron%2C%20injustice&f=false , though I don’t know how much of it you can read there without some pages being blanked out. Look at her thoughts starting around p. 23, though the whole book is on this very topic.

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