Acceptance: : Embrace yourself willingly

January 16, 2024

Acceptance: : Embrace yourself willingly

"Embrace Yourself."

In seeking information related to mental health, one often encounters statements like this. Struggling and confused, I think, 'Good gracious, who doesn't know that? What I want to know is, how the heck are we supposed to do that?' It's a natural reaction. Just as advising someone, 'Go attend Harvard University,' doesn't suddenly make it a possibility. To embrace oneself, one needs to first understand exactly what acceptance is. In this article, we shall delve into understanding what this acceptance is.

To start, there's an intriguing story. Cognitive therapy, initially devised for depression, exhibits superior effects for pain alleviation. Particularly, it has shown significant impact on chronic pain, such as backaches or arthritis. Why might this be? It's because cognitive therapy reprocesses the way our brain experiences the sensation that we call pain. Have you ever pondered pain? Where does pain exist? My cellphone exists in my hand, but where does pain exist? In fact, it does not exist as an absolute entity. Pain is a feeling that our brain experiences, not an absolute existing subject. Therefore, when something goes wrong in the brain, we may not feel pain at all. In reality, pain is just a psychological event occurring in our mind.

Here's an amusing experiment. After reading this article, you will, at some point, experience pain. Maybe you stub your toe, drop your phone on your face, or trip on the street. Our reaction is always the same; it hurts, it's bothersome. In such a moment remember this story: pain is just a psychological event occurring in your mind. Think of pain and yourself as separate entities. Look at pain from a distance. And observe carefully. What does this sensation called pain feel like? The sensation of throbbing feet, or aching bones; do not resist, instead willingly experience it. Even though it may sound irrational, try to feel it with a grateful heart. While it may be difficult to comprehend at first, doing so can alleviate a considerable amount of discomfort caused by pain. While we cannot erase pain, by acknowledging it as a psychological event occurring in our minds and willingly experiencing it, we can lessen the distress caused by it.

The same goes for our emotions. Depression, anxiety, lethargy, self-loathing. These feelings are not absolute existences with physical forms; they are merely psychological events that arise within our minds. This is not to belittle someone's experience by saying, 'Depression? All of it is fake. It's just an illusion.' However, if we truly view the negative thoughts and feelings that arise in our minds as mere psychological events, perhaps we are unable to prevent their emergence, but we can avoid leading an afflicted life due to them. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is choice.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is part of the third wave of cognitive therapy, often uses the analogy of 'escaping from a swamp' for this process. Imagine this: You are stuck in a swamp. It's considerably deep. Panicked, you flail around. But that only sinks you faster. The moment you try to lift one leg, the other leg is sucked in deeper as weight shifts to it. Now, what will you do? There's one solution. Lie down so that your entire body is making contact with the swamp. It isn't pleasant and it's scary. One might feel the slimy swamp against their head. It might feel like this would be the end. But that's the only way out. Embrace the swamp, willingly experience it, and accept it. That's the beginning of escape.

Accepting yourself doesn't mean to tolerate and endure the unsatisfactory and unwilling experiences, the discomfort, in anticipation of a better day. It's about acknowledging and accepting that this is who I am, that these thoughts and emotions arise in my mind, and to even more actively experience and observe them. This is the beginning of acceptance toward the psychological events, and consequently the beginning of change.

If you can willingly lie down in the swamp with an open mind, perhaps you can steer your life in a new direction - toward a life that you truly value.

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