Which Track Are You On, Acceptance Or Resistance?

In my previous article –“Accept or Perish!” I tried at my best to reflect on the power of acceptance. Though seems apprehensible and noteworthy, it is partly easier said than done! In fact, it is easier to “talk” about acceptance, whereas highly demanding to literally take the course of actions towards getting over with a situation. It is most frustrating when we live in between acceptance and resistance; while cognitively willing to accept, we subconsciously resist to what is challenging us. My mere intention is to open a window, for living an accountable and in charge life; where we may realize that “Not all storms come to disrupt our life, (but) some come to clear our path.” So, it is up to us whether we choose between two distinct tracks –the track of resistance or the track of acceptance, which each leads us to different directions. Once we decide on which to take, the rest is easy!

To begin with, let’s acknowledge ourselves with the fact that, every little thing that we newly experience or attempt doing, at first, is difficult! Naturally, with each try of ‘baby steps’, we accumulate new learning and experiences. The acquired knowledge leads to simpler practice, and finally, “practice makes perfect!” The task gets as easy as “piece of cake!” This is applicable for every little piece of task we have: a student’s math problem, a skilled employee’s novice working technique, or a conventional person’s shift in thoughts! Nonetheless, it is pivotal to understand the whats, whys, and hows, so as to choose… So, let’s see where those two tracks –resistance and acceptance, take us.

Please think of a situation that has been challenging you for some time; that you have either resolved it somehow, or it is still on hold waiting to get resolved. I call this a stimulus that demands your reaction or response. In other words, it is your attitude towards the challenging situation. Please recall your attitude. Which track have you taken, an automatic reaction of resisting or a conscious response of accepting? They are quite distinct from one another. Each leads to a totally different direction. To experience the difference, I invite you to a tiny exercise: If you are in a sitting position, get up and stand in front of a wall, keeping one-step distant. Lift your dominant arm –if you are right handed, then your right arm– and place your palm against the wall. Let your palm touch the wall, feel the cold and texture, and its stillness. Now give pressure onto the wall, pressing it with force. Pay attention to the sensations you feel in your palm, arm, and shoulder. Observe whatever there is when you press lightly; or a little more strongly; and perhaps forcefully… How does it feel; does the wall stand still, or does it feel as though it pushes back?

How can it push back? It’s just a wall, standing still!” you must be wondering. Please; pause for a moment and pay attention to the sensations on your palm, arm, and shoulder; and try to mindfully sense a slight feeling of push-back from the wall. The stronger you press, the more you’d feel its force; when you press lighter, it would feel less resisting back to you; and when letting it go (not pressing at all, but slightly touching), you would simply have no sense of pressure on your shoulder, arm, or palm. You have literally reciprocated a degree of force with a non-living standing wall! What does this all mean, especially in relation to our attitude in the face of a stimulus?

What happens when we adopt a resisting attitude? The stimulus that we are trying to stop, ignore, or push away resists and pushes back; with equal to higher degree of force. You may feel the sensations on your upper arm and shoulder when observing the wall’s resistance; even slightly more strongly compared to your resistance. After letting the pressure go, although the force is no longer present, the effect would still remain! This is because, we are less mindful of momentary sensations or events, therefore we feel the effect hours or even days after our reaction. What else occurs when we take the track of resistance? Through automatic reaction of judging, labeling, or categorizing as good-bad, right-wrong, etc., we get into the loop of negative emotions, where we choose to ignore the factual reality, and try to stop it from intervening our life. We may find ourselves making up stories that temporarily ease the situation, however distorting our perception of the reality. This path leads us to lose our ability of managing our resources –thought, emotions, observations, clarity, etc. In a sense, we shut down, and narrow down our functioning within a closed system, where minimum interaction occurs with the external environment.

Let’s find out what occurs when we take the track of acceptance… The whole process of functioning leads to an entirely opposite direction, where the individual adopts a conscious response. In this path, through observation, receptive open awareness, curiosity for exploration, and non-judgmental attitude, we free ourselves from the loop of negative emotions, guiding towards ‘neutral’ area, where we feel willing to deal with the situation, and have the power to take charge. We feel accountable of our actions and their consequences; because we take deliberate course of action and behavior, where we carefully observe and consciously manage our resources –thought, emotions, observations, clarity, etc. Here we build healthy relationships with others and ourselves –that is, broadening our functioning within an open system.

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson explains this mechanism through the Broaden-and-Build theory. The theory claims that negative emotions or challenging situations may block and narrow the thought and action capacity of the person. This causes to quick and decisive moves, where these actions or ‘reactions’ may carry immediate benefit or loss. However, in state of positive emotions, or feeling of confidence, person’s thought and action processing is broadened. The thoughts and actions the mind generates are widened with more potential outcomes; the broadened state allows individuals to grow the capacity to generate more alternative thoughts and actions, and maintain more enduring psychological, physical, intellectual, and social resources. To summarize, while the track of resistance narrows and blocks our capacity of thought and action, the track of acceptance generates an infrastructure to broadening and building it. So, whatever present moment has for us, it is better to accept and then act, for a positive transformation and well-being.

Acceptance involves two major concepts: ‘let go’ and ‘let be’; that may also be associated with forgive and forget. Let’s imagine two scenarios. Scenario 1: You are driving in the rush hour. Despite checking the routes, you have deliberately taken the one with heavy traffic. Feeling frustrated of your wrong choice, you get angry with yourself and wish you hadn’t taken that last turn! Perhaps, swept away into the negative emotions with “if only I hadn’t taken that turn!!!” and judging or scolding yourself until you arrive your destination. What is it that you have done to deserve such self-treatment? You had chosen among many alternatives and went on with your choice! It’s unfortunate that your pick turned out to be a wrong one! It could have been the opposite. Meanwhile, this doesn’t change the fact that, once you have picked one choice, you let the other alternatives go. So, you had already let them go! Why now, is it so difficult to let the negative emotion of wrong decision-making go? Aren’t we, allowed to make mistakes, and to forgive ourselves? Who prevents us from doing that? It is us who will ban or allow ourselves from forgiving and accepting. Bottom line; acceptance is directly related with forgiving and letting go!

Scenario 2: You are again driving in the rush hour; have taken your usual route. Unfortunately, you are ‘stuck’ in traffic for more than an hour, at the exact same spot! Unable to move to any direction, you feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and want to break free. You have nothing to do, and need to wait until traffic clears. It is an undesired situation, where you seem in the wrong place at the wrong time; however not! Your presence there has nothing to do with any wrong decision or choice you have taken. It means that you have nothing (choice, decision, or action) to let go. You simply need to accept the fact that you are supposed to be there at that particular moment! Instead of struggling against it, why can’t you let it be? Eckhart Tolle says that we should be accepting what present moment contains, as if we had chosen it; always work with it, and not against; because there lays the opportunity of a miraculous transformation. So, just for once, have a pause and let the situation be! Surrender to what there is! This will allow all thoughts, ideas, and resources you may need come to you. So, if you cannot let it go -you certainly would if you could- then just let be!

I will now leave you with a practical tool to help you with the process of acceptance, against a stimulus. It is a simple 5-step process: pause, inhale, notice, articulate, and respond (PINAR).

  1. When faced with a challenging situation –the stimulus, simply give yourself a short moment of pause, put all thoughts, movement, or emotions on hold for a slight moment (P).
  2. This pause will give you an opportunity to back away one step from a potential drama. Once you are ‘out of the box’, take a few breaths, inhaling fresh air into your body and exhaling toxic thoughts, feelings, labels, judgments, conclusions, and even intentions (I).
  3. Once you let some toxic out, allow yourself to neutrally notice and observe what the present situation offers you. Allowing yourself to notice brings the awareness on what there is within yourself (emotions, bodily sensations, thoughts, expectations, intentions, attitude etc.) and within the situation. At this stage, all you need is to notice, observe, and take whatever comes (N).
  4. Now it is time to articulate your observations, reflecting on them through your questioning, reasoning, and target setting. As a result of your articulation, you formulate new insights towards deliberate actions. You are more aware of what your intention is, and you are more in control of the consequences of the move you are about to take (A).
  5. At this final step, instead of a reaction, you are ready to take your action within a conscious, auto-control, and responsive attitude. It is up to you whether you take the track of acceptance or resistance (R).

Remember, “practice makes perfect” is always possible through baby steps… The only reminder we need is to Pause! Once we are able to remember a slight momentary pause, at times of adversity, struggle, or challenge, the rest follows…

Enjoy each try; enjoy the learning; and enjoy life!


Accept or Perish!…

There are times when we are so deeply consumed with our issues, we forget the little detail that the universe surrounding us is vast, and we are so very small. Reflecting on its vastness, compared to our tiny being, our lives –joys and sorrows, success and concerns, certainties and confusions, or solutions and conflicts, can all seem utterly insignificant. Within this cosmic perspective, what we experience may seem totally insignificant; however from an individual perspective, it is our reality that we cannot ignore. What a dilemma! In one hand is our insignificance in the face of the universe; on the other, there is the reality of our being. What can we do? Is there a balance? Is there a way where we can be significant despite our size in the universe? Yes, there is! Accept!


To accept whatever is, and whatever may be… That is, whether good or bad, big or small, pleasant or unpleasant, success or failure, accepting whatever there is in our reality. Acceptance gives us a moment of free breath and feeds us with new energy to move on. It creates an infrastructure to generating new alternatives; producing constructive choices; bringing healthy decision-making into the reality. Accepting, in essence, is stepping one step back from the reality, gaining clarity of vision and strategy, and stepping a few steps forward for firmer and more desired way of action taking. The counter attitude to acceptance is resistance, where we resist breathing, thinking, and trying to stop whatever there is.


You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”    – Jon Kabat-Zinn


In between these backward-forward steps, there are a few fundamental principles involved: intention, attitude and receptiveness. In previous articles, I have discussed how intention and attitude determine our course of life at any particular move or action (click for articles: How Would You Want to Lead Your Life? Accidentally or Intentionally… & Show Me Your Attitude, I’ll Show You The Way!); and how a receptive attention and awareness brings joy and marvels into our life (Attention to ‘Attention’). While intention guides us with the direction (goal/objective), attitude guides us within the process, and receptiveness brings us clear detailed vision. It is our choice whether to be judgmental, resistant, or accepting the reality at hand. We can either go on struggling with the waves/storms in our life, through resisting or ignoring their existence; or learn to find ways for survival by accepting the blunt fact of their presence! Thus, intention and a non-judgmental, receptive accepting attitude go hand in hand.


So what is acceptance? It is a concept derived from the word “accept” that has a much broader sense that it actually reveals. Etymologically it roots to the Latin word acceptare (accipere) that means “take something to oneself”, “take or receive willingly”, or “get or receive without effort.” Giving a little more thought, in a context where there is acceptance, there is naturally receptiveness! Hence, acceptance involves acts of receiving in return to giving; where in deep sense it as well involves many other related attitudes: forgive, forget, understand, empathize, embrace, let go, and let be!


Let’s think of the simplest example of acceptance. Imagine a beautiful gift that you receive. It is beyond your thought –in size, value, or fit. You are dazzled with delight! You love it! What would you do? Accept it with gratitude; say “Thank you!”; perhaps reciprocate with a kind gesture of sending flowers. Now I invite to think of a situation that a genuine friend complements you on how well you balance your work and personal life, that you create strong connections with people around you, and you maintain a positive outlook towards life. How would you respond? You would probably accept them all, with open heart! This time I invite you to consider your supervisor/manager at work, the teacher at school, the not-so-friendly neighbor next door, or the distant family relative giving you a “strong” feedback telling you that you do not balance your work and personal life well; you do not create strong connections with people around you, and you do not maintain a positive outlook towards life… What would your reaction be? Would you open heartedly accept them all; even ask for more?!


Your acceptance would probably not be as easy as in the first case. Why? Of course the feedback giver has a lot to do with your response. In general, within a deep authentic relationship, we have a more accepting attitude towards the feedback we receive. Nonetheless, does it really matter where it comes from; or the content –whether positive or negative? In fact it doesn’t, at all! There are many people who struggle with receiving positive or negative feedback; specifically on how good they look, how beautiful they are in a particular outfit, or how nice is their new style. Instead of simply saying a genuine “Thank you…” they try to find justifications to their positive look. It is mostly due to lack of self-awareness and self-acknowledgement. I know it, because I used to be one! Therefore, it is not about our response towards feedback, but it is our capacity in embracing ourselves as we are, accepting ourselves with our highs and lows, success and flaws, together with our insecurities and ultimately being whole. Brian Tracy says that the greatest gift we can give others is our unconditional love and acceptance; and I add that before expecting others giving us that gift, we can give it to ourselves: unconditionally accepting and loving ourselves!


Even though we are all equipped with the competence of unconditional love and acceptance, why is it that we cannot accept ourselves, others and things around us as they are? From the mindfulness perspective, where acceptance is directly related with attention, awareness, receptiveness, intention, and attitude, we have the tendency to label most stimuli as good or bad, with a judgmental attitude that resists whatever is coming. In fact we do so for the sake of protecting ourselves from the bad. Just like any double-sided sword, while we attempt to block ourselves from the negative, at the same degree we sterilize ourselves from the positive. Remember, everything comes in dualities, once we shut to one; we shut ourselves to the other! Simpler to say, labeling and having a deterministic conclusion, we eliminate the possibility towards a positive tendency. In other words, once we do not free ourselves from labeling in any way, we prevent our attention and awareness to be receptive enough to catch the stimuli that may help us generate potential alternatives, choices and marvels of what life has to offer. Literally, we shut our eyes, ears, and sensory skills to all the wonders of life.


On the other hand, when we are able to accept, we come to a point of surrendering, where we no more resist or struggle. At that very moment, because we are not resistant to whether good or bad, we become more receptive to the agents that we may make use of; we grow to be aware of their presence; we develop our mind to be aware of the potential they may bring in our life; and finally we are better able to set our course of actions towards our intention. So, while acceptance opens us new possibilities and ultimately chances for life; resistance and non-acceptance closes us doors, pathways, and ultimately takes us to the a dead-end route towards perishing. I am sure that knowing this simple fact may be valuable in choosing to accepting path rather than perishing!


P.S. This piece of article has attempted to touch and be a channel to understanding acceptance as a concept. Obviously, neither words nor articles are enough to deeply analyze its essence. It would take ages to thoroughly study and understand, perhaps through the Zen philosophy of the East –Mindfulness; the philosophical understanding of the Jewish traditions –Kabbalah (an ancient spiritual wisdom that seeks to understand and describe the divine living and being, guiding individuals and the world as a whole to improve); or through the mysticism within Islam –Sufism (seeks the Truth through experiencing the selflessness of the truth). Distinctively, Kabbalah, the word itself, etymologically means ‘receipt’ or ‘acceptance’, from the Hebrew root kabel (lekabel as verb). Against all backgrounds, it is obvious that all mystic philosophies seek for a better living and a healthier being of all kind. So as should we!


Show Me Your Attitude, I’ll Show You The Way!

Yin-Yang is a fascinating symbol in the Chinese philosophy, describing how the opposite forces –i.e. black-white, dark-light, hot-cold, good-bad, etc. are interconnected, complementary, and interdependent. They go hand-in-hand. In fact, their relation with one another intensifies and gives rise to each force. We may sense heat, through the presence of cold. We may perceive light, if only darkness is present. The darker it is, the stronger we are able to identify the light. The presence of these opposite forces, as in the yin-yang, is called dualities. We are surrounded within dualities, where an impeccable balance exists.

Despite the marvelous balance in life, we tend to lose, or simply are unaware of its presence. Have you wondered why? First, we better clarify what balance is. Semantically balance is; (1) an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady; or (2) a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportion. Our sense of balance or imbalance is very much linked to our capacity in managing our internal resources –such as self-awareness, self-confidence, self-regulation, autonomy, authenticity, hope, resilience, (self) compassion, gratitude, etc. In cases where we fail equal or proportionate allocation of energy, time, weight, attention, or significance to elements around us, we gradually lose our strength in managing these resources that actually are vital for our optimum functioning and well-being.

What makes us maintain or lose our balance? Think of each event we encounter or experience, people we converse with, or a feeling or thought we have. What do we do? We automatically evaluate and conclude with a judgment. We evaluate and judge all that is around us. We have a particular attitude towards the phenomena in our life –mostly positive or negative, and sometimes neutral.

Let’s clear this with a simple example: think of a thermometer that says it is +13 Celsius. Relatively, based on our experiences and contextual environment, we tend to come up with a positive or negative judgment. Through a process of evaluation we judgmentally conclude that it is hot or cold, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. However it doesn’t change the objective fact that it is +13 Celsius. Nevertheless, in more complex and emotionally charging situations –such as when involved in conflict of thought or a disagreement with someone or with own self, we may find ourselves fiercely reacting, or peacefully responding. The more emotionally triggered we are, the less we get to have a positive or neutral attitude.

So what is attitude? Semantically, it is a ‘settled way of thinking or feeling about something.’ Colloquially, it is how we respond –or at the verge of responding with feeling, thought, or behavior, to a phenomenon. We may create balance through adopting a particular way of attitude towards what we encounter in life -negative or positive; good or bad; beneficial or threatening; or neutral. The more we have negative attitude, the greater we grow to be off-balance. In fact, by nature, we are genetically hardwired towards a negative tendency –the so-called negativity bias. Our mind is highly skillful in spotting the negative –as threats, dangers, etc. to keep us safe, as well as prepare us for fight or flight. Despite our natural inclination, we have the ability to regulate and adopt a particular desired attitude, even at emotionally challenging situations.

So here comes the golden question: what sort of attitude are we to adopt, so as to maintain an impeccable balance in our life?

From a mindfulness perspective, Jon Kabat-Zinn emphasizes the importance of a non-judgmental attitude in a purposeful attention to the present moment experiences. Interestingly, during the process of a focused attention practice, we explore a lot of things -that we like, or do not like. We judge ourselves with a negative attitude, realizing that our attention has drifted away to thoughts. Similarly, we tend to praise ourselves for doing so well in the practice; nonetheless our attention has already drifted away –into a positive judgment! Either way, our mind and attention wanders, and it will always drift away into thoughts or stories. Neither positive nor negative judgment, but a neutral attitude facilitates our practice; through realizing that the mind goes off and we’ll bring it back. Just as in the +13 degrees Celsius example, our attitude towards the mind wandering, need to be an objective (neutral) one. Once we are able to adopt such attitude towards new explorations, new experiences, and new feelings, we may become more skillful in minding the positive.


Show me your attitude, I`ll show you the way!

So, our optimum functioning and well-being rely on our ability of regulating our behavior. And our actions and behaviors have direct link with our intention and attitude. In my previous article (How would you want to lead your life? Accidentally or Intentionally?), I tried my best to explain how our intention is the antecedent of our outcomes –or end result. It is manifested with our actions or behaviors. Likewise, our attitude defines the characteristics of our behaviors, determining the path towards our desired outcome.

If these concepts displayed on a linear path, it would start with intention, following attitude, then action or behavior, which all lead to outcome. [Intention -> Attitude -> Action/Behavior -> Outcome.] So, while our intention to reach an outcome has deterministic effect on our actions and end result, our attitude –linked to our behavior, has crucial impact on the quality of the end result.

A long story short, now that we know we are able to develop our skills in regulating our attitude, why shouldn’t we!!! This way we can facilitate our course of life, through adopting a desired attitude along the process of setting our intention and behavior towards our goals. We are built in with the ability to manage our perception and ourselves over what is happening around us. It is not what happens, but how we react to it that counts! So, meanwhile our mind keeps spotting the negatives –errors, failure, flaws, threats, etc., we are able to consciously choose to take a neutral attitude, by simply taking the phenomenon objectively and as it is. Such attitude is vital, as long as we do not let the mind entirely do its job, but take charge. This way we may create a great impeccable balance –opposed to a huge imbalance; where all phenomena will seem more pleasant, rather than depressing.

Let’s conclude with a practice –as practice makes perfect! In your next meditation practice, I invite you to particularly observe your attitude. At each inhale and exhale, focusing on your breath, observe your attitude and how it reacts/responds when your mind drifts away to thoughts, feelings, or stories. Ask yourself whether you are taking it compassionately (positively), or judgmentally (negatively); or may be just (neutrally) accepting the fact that it has wandered off, again! With each exploration (positive-negative-neutral), guide and train your mind in adopting a gentle, compassionate and if possible neutral attitude towards its acts.