How To Practice Acceptance In A Time of Expectation
There once was a Chinese farmer who bought a beautiful horse at a local auction. That same night, it ran away. A neighbor shook his head and said to the farmer, “That’s bad news.” In reply, the farmer said, “Good news, bad news, who can really say?” The next day, the horse came back and brought another horse with it. “What good news,” the neighbor chimed in. The farmer shrugged and responded, “Good news, bad news, who can really say?” As a gift, he gave the second horse to his son.
The son went out to ride his new horse and was thrown, badly breaking his leg. “I’m so sorry for your bad news,” said the neighbor with concern. “Good news, bad news, who can really say?” the farmer replied. A week later, the emperor’s army came and took every able-bodied young man in the village to fight in a war. But because of his broken leg, the farmer’s son was spared. Although millennia-old, this Taoist parable is timeless—and perhaps even more relevant in today’s modern world where expectation seems to exceed acceptance.
In every sphere of our existence lies expectation. Whether it’s within our career, our relationships, politics, family dynamics, the holidays, and even within ourselves—expectation is ubiquitous. And when those expectations aren’t met, feelings such as depression, anxiety, and disappointment can set in.
Eastern Philosophy of Acceptance
This letdown that follows unmet expectations is nothing new. Buddha himself said that the root of suffering comes from having wants that can’t be satisfied. This teaching—which is the second of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths—was created to acknowledge and, through mindfulness acceptance, end human suffering. Taoism, often practiced with Buddhism, teaches that the path to discovering the Tao or “truth” is through accepting yourself—without trying to figure out or resolve any conflicts that come your way.
How can we, like the Chinese farmer, live life with that unwavering acceptance? Modern psychology is now tapping into these Eastern philosophies through Mindfulness-Based Intervention—a practice enveloping several therapies that focus on staying in the present moment (not revisiting the past nor drifting into the unknown future) and viewing your current circumstances in a non-judgmental way.
The effects of Mindfulness-Based Intervention are being studied across the board. Data suggest that mindfulness strategies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help college students manage distress and academic concerns. Further, according to a study published in Clinical Psychology Review, mindfulness therapies have been seen to improve stress levels and reduce depression and anxiety among mothers of autistic children. Additionally, researchers at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth are currently pursuing a clinical trial that examines Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in comparison to Behavioral Weight Loss among obese women who suffer from depression.
Everyday Mindfulness Acceptance: To Each His Own
It’s always important to seek out therapy when needed, but what can practicing mindfulness acceptance look like on a daily basis? For me, finding mindfulness acceptance is just as much of a feeling as it is a state of mind. Let me explain in hopes that my experience will help you discover what works for you.
When I lived in Valencia, Spain, for a summer, I frequented a beach on the Mediterranean called la Playa de la Malvarrosa. At that time of year, the waves were soft and round—but big. Bigger than me, anyway. I remember looking around and watching as people either defiantly dove into the waves or ducked and allowed the waves to wash over their heads.
I, on the other hand, decided to let go and float on my back, letting the waves carry me. That feeling of peaceful surrender was unlike anything I’d ever felt. And now, when I find myself wanting to confront a challenge or duck for cover, I bring myself back to that moment of calm.
Accepting What Is and What’s to Come
Acceptance is not about being defeated or giving up. It’s about calmly acknowledging where you are so that you can discover and manage—from a place of patience and steady wisdom—where it is your life is moving next. That’s the thing about life—it’s always changing. Take solace in this impermanence. How you’re feeling today and what’s happening in this moment can and will change in the next. We are ever-evolving beings that, when presented with a challenge, or as I’d like to call them opportunities for growth, can look at a situation and recognize that life is offering a teachable moment.
Much of what we fear is simply the unknown, but mindful acceptance and patience make up the spirit of life and will guide us step by step. So when something seemingly challenging presents itself, take a deep breath, acknowledge what is happening, and say, “This may be good, this may be bad, who can really say?”
And there in the uncertainty lies the beauty of endless possibility.
Alicia Armeli is a Freelance Writer, Editor, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering in her community. Visit her at http://www.aliciaarmeli.com
- Levin, M., Haeger, J., Pierce, B., & Twohig, M. (2016). Web-based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for mental health problems in college students: A randomized controlled trial. Behavior Modification, pii: 0145445516659645. http://bmo.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/07/19/0145445516659645.abstract
- Da Paz, N., & Wallander, J. (2016). Interventions that target improvements in mental health for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders: A narrative review. Clinical Psychology Review, 51: 1-14. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2016.10.006. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027273581530101X
- US National Institutes of Health. (2016). Health At Every Size and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy vs. Behavioral Weight Loss for Obesity and Depression in Women. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02501239
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