How Accepting "The Now" Is Different From Passivity
Acceptance is a key concept of living in the present. Mindfulness encourages fully accepting your internal and external world: Acceptance of the situation, your thoughts, and your feelings. In other words, by being mindful and present you are accepting “the now”.
But what does “acceptance'' really entail?
Well, it’s hard to describe. To accept the present moment is to truly understand and know within your being that everything is as it is. There is no need to label this moment as good, bad, scary, exciting, or any of the other labels we automatically give our experiences. Those labels are all thoughts we create, which is not presence, not acceptance.
Trying to explain this is difficult because there is nothing “to do” in order to accept where you are. People usually seek step-by-step directions on how to achieve progress. The problem is that seeking progress and “doing” is not conducive to acceptance or presence. Without progress, the same people are left feeling passive in the therapy process or in life.
A client learning mindfulness will ask: “what if someone else has done something to me that is not okay with me? Am I just supposed to accept it and move on?” This is sometimes followed by “I don’t want to be passive or apathetic. I don’t want to let things slide that are not okay with me.”
Mindfulness doesn’t mean passivity. Yes, it encourages you to accept the situation as it is. This looks like saying to yourself “this is what’s happening right now” rather than “I hate that this is happening right now”.
This slight difference allows you to be in a state of acceptance before CHOOSING how you respond. If you reject the situation right away, you are more likely to react with emotion and this oftentimes makes the situation worse. In contrast, if you accept the situation first, you can think through the appropriate solution or response with a clear mind.
Using the example above, if someone says something that offends you, a reactive response would be yelling back at them that they are disrespectful or a terrible person. This likely will escalate the situation and does nothing to actually solve the issue that you have with the comment in the first place. This is neither acceptance or passivity.
Now let’s look at both a passive and a mindful response:
Passive response: Push your feelings away, pretend you didn’t hear and walk away.
Mindful response: Recognize the situation as it is, without rejecting it. Become aware of what feelings the situation has triggered in you.
Distance yourself from the center of the situation and ask yourself:
Are you the real target of the offensive comment?
What does the situation look like in the other person’s shoes?
What could the other person be thinking?
Make sure to approach these questions mindfully, meaning objectively without attachment.
Now you can choose your response:
Are you still offended by the comment?
If yes, then formulate a response in which you can express this without assuming the worst in the other person.
“I don’t know if this was your intent, but what you said offended me.”
This response will at the very least, express your true feelings, and at best, spark a conversation in which both parties can learn from.
Does the comment no longer bother you?
Then you can choose to walk away.
Again, this is not passivity if you have truly recognized your emotions rather than pushing them away. Accepting the situation allows you to choose a response that will effectively express your feelings and in turn allow possible solutions to arise.
What about situations where you don’t feel safe?
There are times when you need a reaction, rather than response to keep you safe. In these moments, your body takes over, sending signals to flight, flight, or freeze. Times when your life is in danger you are actually forced into the present moment, your body responding before your mind catches up. Trust your body's intuition. Self-preservation is it’s top priority.
Note: We can lose touch with our intuition if we’ve experienced trauma in the past. The “alarm systems” in our bodies can become highly sensitive and cause us to react with fear in non life-threatening situations. This is where trauma processing is helpful and often necessary.
Acceptance does not mean passivity or compliancy. You may find that acceptance leads to less frustration and irritation over “the little things” but this should not be confused with apathy. If you do not reject the present moment, you no longer wish it to go away and find that these feelings of frustration or irritation are less intense and more tolerable.
Feeling passive or apathetic? Schedule a free consultation today to start the journey towards acceptance!