Unconditional Friendliness: Accepting Others
“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”
–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Last week I promised to write more about some of the skills of mindful communication. Over the last week, I’ve been thinking about where I wanted to start. They all speak to me and probably to many of us who want to live a more mindful life. I finally decided to explore the skill of Unconditional Friendliness this week. Specifically, I find the idea of accepting others to be an ongoing struggle. Whether it is a family member who doesn’t keep a promise or friend who overreacts to something I said, or a President who continually makes outrageous tweets, Jim and I often talk about what people do that pushes our buttons. I suspect that accepting others is something most of us sometimes wrestle with.
So what is acceptance? Noah Rasheta addresses a mindful view of acceptance in his Letting Go, Mindful living, Parenting Podcast:
“Acceptance is like sitting in a field, looking up at the sky and watching the clouds go by. There is no resistance to the moment to moment experience, there is only observation and acceptance. It would be silly to watch the clouds and be upset that they are not forming into the specific shapes we want. And yet, that’s exactly what we do in life. I like to compare the experience of being alive to the experience of playing a game of Tetris. If you’ve played Tetris, you know that the whole point of the game is to wait and see what shape will appear next, and then you have to work with it to position it in the best way possible…in order to continue playing the game…isn’t that the very game of life? Imagine for a minute that you’re watching someone play Tetris…and every time a new shape appears, they go into a tantrum and yell and scream at the game and say “THAT IS NOT THE SHAPE I WAS EXPECTING”…” “THAT IS NOT THE SHAPE I WANTED”. HOW SILLY WOULD THAT BE? But isn’t that exactly how we tend to play the game of life?” https://secularbuddhism.com/acceptance-vs-resignation/
When we accept someone, we recognize the thoughts and feelings we have, acknowledge them and here’s the hard part – we don’t try to control the experience. I find that I often try to control the experience with thoughts like, “I didn’t expect that.” or “That is not what I wanted him to say.” or “I don’t deserve the way he is treating me.” The accompanying feelings may be anger, frustration, or fear. These kinds of thoughts are reactions, not acceptance. When we accept the other person, we are making a choice of how to respond, breaking the cycle of habitual reactivity. Mindfulness reminds us to accept each present moment. When we do that we obtain freedom from reactivity.
I think it’s important to note that acceptance is our “experience” in the moment; it is not our action or behavior in response to the other person. When we accept whatever the other person throws at us (think of it as a tennis match!) we are more capable of responding wisely. Acceptance is what frees us to choose a response. By the way, Rasheta notes that acceptance is not resignation or giving up. Resignation is an action. We may choose resignation as a response but it is just one of many choices of actions we may make. The key is to stay with our inner experience so that, over time, we can take a breath and respond with something other than our “typical conditioned reactivity.” (Rasheta)
The good news for those of us over sixty is that acceptance tends to increase with age. According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, acceptance was found to mediate between the physical and mental challenges of aging and specific negative emotions, especially anger and anxiety. The authors stressed the importance of understanding what acceptance is not:
- Acceptance does not mean avoiding painful feelings.
- Acceptance is not the same as resignation.
- Acceptance is not the same as optimism.
- Acceptance is a step beyond initial feelings.
- One can accept emotions without accepting the circumstances that led to those emotions.
Shallcross, A. J., Ford, B. Q., Floerke, V. A., & Mauss, I. B. (2013). “Getting better with age: The relationship between age, acceptance, and negative affect”: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(4), 718-719. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0034225
Mindfulness is a way of accepting each moment, ourselves and one another. Accepting others takes practice but strengthening our relationships is worth the effort.
By Robert Frost
When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, ‘Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night be too dark for me to see
Into the future. Let what will be, be.