Mindful Awareness teaches us the art of acceptance. Emotional reactions to our circumstances are natural, but that doesn’t mean that we have to respond to these emotions. The mindful skill of acceptance teaches us that we can experience these emotions without engaging in cycles of behavior that lead us to negative consequences. Acceptance teaches us that we are not our thoughts, and that we are not our emotions. At any time we can choose which thoughts and emotions we wish to respond to.
Facilitator Notes for Session 2: Radical Acceptance
Read the Session 2 Course Materials, try the exercises listed in the chapter and try them at least once yourself prior to facilitating the group. Practice facilitating at least one mindful meditation with a friend or co-facilitator prior to doing it with your group (you may download several recordings of mindful meditations at www.mindfulecotherapy.org in the Resources section). For your own guided meditation, you may create your own script or use the one included in the materials in Session 2. If creating your own script, try not to deviate too far from the central idea of being in the present moment.
Practice presenting the materials in this session alone before facilitating the session so you will have a good idea of how long it will take you, given your own speaking and presentation style, to go over critical materials. Adjust by adding or leaving out materials as needed, but do not cut key concepts or Priority 1 exercises and activities if at all possible.
(Key concepts are those concepts that are foundational principles of Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy, and must be covered in the session): Acceptance; True Self; Radical Acceptance; Crystal Ball Thinking; Basic Mindful Meditation; acceptance vs. change; radical acceptance of True Self
(Secondary concepts are those concepts that are not foundational, but that are important if the facilitator can work them into the session – otherwise students will read about them on their own in the reading assignments): “If we are victims of our circumstances, we will always be victims. But if we are victims of our beliefs about our circumstances, then we are always free to change our beliefs;” observing and describing thought cycles; mindful acceptance; Naming Ceremony
As an icebreaker exercise, ask participants to discuss their experiences with the first session. If homework was assigned (e.g. exercises from the workbook that there wasn’t time for at the previous session), ask if there were any questions about the materials and have students share their experiences in completing the activities. Try not to spend more than ten minutes or so on this portion of the session.
DISTRIBUTE GROUP RULES
Distribute the group rules that were decided upon at Session 1. If you prefer not to distribute them in paper format, you may also email them to participants prior to Session 2.
SESSION 2 OUTLINE
Discuss the concept of acceptance.
Definition of acceptance: The mindful skill of acceptance teaches us that we can experience thoughts and emotions without engaging in cycles of behavior that lead us to negative consequences. Acceptance teaches us that we are not our thoughts, and that we are not our emotions. At any time we can choose which thoughts and emotions we wish to respond to.
2.1 Things That Cause Me Stress
Discuss the concept of stress. You may wish to use the Cloudy Day analogy to discuss stress: “If I never expected to have a cloudy day, this would be an unrealistic expectation because cloudy days are a natural part of the weather. Likewise, if I expect never to have stress in my life, that’s an unrealistic expectation because stress is a natural part of life.” At this point in the session I usually ask the group for a show of hands: “How many people here today have never had a stressful day in their entire lives?”
This is usually good for a chuckle from the group, and illustrates the Cloudy Day analogy that stress is like a cloudy day. Both are natural occurrences.
Definition of stress: When things we care about don’t go the way we expected.
If we didn’t care about anything, we’d never have stress about anything. The positive side of stress is that it lets us know there are things we care about.
This discussion on stress is a prelude to completing the next exercise: Things That Cause Me Stress.
Exercise: Things That Cause Me Stress – PRIORITY = 1
If using the workbook with your group, encourage students not to read ahead prior to completing this exercise. Students are asked to list some everyday things that cause them stress. After they have done this portion of the exercise, have them go back and write a “P” beside anything that has to do with events that happened in the past, and an “F” beside anything that has to do with events that may or may not happen in the future.
If your students are like most people, there won’t be many items on the list that don’t have an F or a P beside them. The point to this exercise is that very few things that cause us stress are happening in the present moment. This means that we can use the present moment to choose what to believe about the past or the future.
Sometimes you will get students who say that they’re being bothered in the present moment by thoughts and feelings about past or future events. That’s perfectly okay, as it wonderfully illustrates the point of this exercise. If they’re bothered in the present moment by stressful thoughts and feelings, they haven’t yet learned how to select what to believe about those thoughts and feelings, which are just thoughts and feelings, and not any real danger. The next section will begin to teach them how to deal with stressful thoughts and feelings in the present moment.
2.2 Escaping Stress in the Present
One way to achieve radical acceptance of the things that stress us out is to realize that if we are victims of our circumstances, then we cannot control our lives. This is because we cannot control what goes on outside of ourselves. We cannot control what other people do, and we can rarely control what life throws at us. So if we are victims of our circumstances, we will always be victims. But if we are victims of our beliefs about our circumstances, then we are always free to change our beliefs. Doing so frees us from the tyranny of the past and the anxiety of the future.
Note also that the goal here is not to try to stop or suppress stressful thoughts. If I am having stressful thoughts, and my goal is to stop having stressful thoughts, then telling myself, “Stop having stressful thoughts!” is itself a stressful thought! Experiential avoidance is the tendency we all have at times to try to avoid stressful or depressing thoughts by telling ourselves not to think about it. It’s the psychological equivalent of trying to hold a beach ball underwater. The harder we try to push those thoughts beneath the surface, the more they push back and try to re-surface.
The goal here is not to try to stop stressful thoughts and feelings. The goal here is to allow ourselves to experience those stressful thoughts and feelings without having to believe they are true.
For example, suppose I have a thought, “I’m going to fail.”
If I choose to believe that this thought is true, that I’m going to fail, then it is highly likely that this thought will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I will act in ways that will lead me to fail. But what if I had the thought, “I’m going to fail,” and I just recognized it as a product of my mind? Since I am not my thoughts, I can choose to identify with that thought, or I can choose not to believe that thought. Sure, I might fail, but it’s also possible that I might not fail. Even if I do fail, at least it means that I made the effort instead of doing nothing.
If I allow myself to experience such thoughts and feelings without choosing to make them a part of my identity, I am escaping stress in the present by acknowledging those thoughts and feelings without identifying with them.
2.3 Crystal Ball Thinking
Props often come in handy when illustrating concepts from this program. If you can purchase a small crystal ball it may help to have one handy when discussing this concept. You may even use humor to illustrate the concept by handing your crystal ball to a group participant and asking them to gaze in it and tell you what another person in the group is thinking.
There are two types of crystal ball thinking: One is trying to predict the future and the other is trying to predict what others are thinking or feeling. Be sure to cover both types when illustrating the concept.
2.4 Mindful Acceptance
Mindful acceptance is the ability to set aside our expectations and assumptions about self and about others so that we may be more accepting of our own true selves and of the other people in our lives.
The concept may be illustrated by explaining the difference between “validating” and “condoning.” I can validate another person’s right to feel the way they feel without having to agree with their feelings or condone their behavior. For example, if someone is being verbally aggressive with me I can validate their right to feel upset without condoning abusive behaviors.
Mindful Acceptance is a key concept for most of the lessons to follow, so make sure all students have a good grasp of the concept before moving on.
2.5 A Basic Mindful Meditation
At this point conduct a basic mindful meditation with the group. You may create your own script for such a meditation if you are comfortable doing so, or you may just have participants close their eyes and focus on their breathing while you read the bullet points in this section of the book.
As you do the meditation, be mindful of the time. Try not to do the meditation for more than ten minutes so you will have time to cover the rest of the points in this session, but at the same time don’t try to rush through the exercise. It may help to practice facilitating such a meditation several times with friends or family members before trying it in a group for the first time.
2.6 Radical Acceptance
Radical acceptance is the idea of mindful acceptance taken to the next level. Ask your students to think about the last time they were stressed or depressed, and to ask themselves, “Was my stress or depression the result of the circumstances in which I found myself, or was it the result of what I believed about those circumstances?”
Radical acceptance means realizing that if our distressing thoughts and feelings are the result of our circumstances, then we will always be victims of our circumstances. But if our distressing thoughts and feelings are the result of what we believe about those circumstances, then we have the power to change our world.
Use the graphic in this section of the book to illustrate that wisdom comes from knowing what we can change and what we have to accept. You might also wish to stress that “acceptance” doesn’t mean we should accept situations that are abusive or unhealthy. In this case acceptance means that we may have to accept that it is time to end unhealthy or abusive relationships.
2.7 Radical Acceptance of True Self
I illustrate the concept of “True Self” by stating to students, “Everybody has a picture of how they would like to be, and a picture of how they actually see themselves. The closer these two pictures are, the less problems people have. The farther apart those two images are, the more problems a person is likely to have, because they’re constantly asking themselves, ‘Why can’t I be like this?’”
The image you have in your head of how you would like to be is the image you have of your True Self. People learn to accept their True Selves in one of two ways: 1. By moving their perception of themselves closer to their True Self image; or 2. By moving their True Self image closer to their perception of themselves.
Exercise: Radical Acceptance of True Self – PRIORITY = 1
Have students complete the Radical Acceptance of True Self exercise, and facilitate a discussion by going over each item on the list and have students volunteer responses. Since this material is deeply personal, don’t force students to participate if they don’t want to, but have everyone list some generic examples of how they might learn to accept their True Selves.
Have students read the Session 3 materials prior to the next session; have them complete any exercises from Session 2 that weren’t covered in the session itself; ask them to bring any questions about the materials or the exercises to the next session.
At the one-hour mark, invite group participants to stay for the discussion period. Point out that the thirty-minute post-session discussion period is optional. Note who stays for the discussion, and who leaves. Work at the next session to more actively engage those who leave.