The art of Mindful Acceptance can best be described as the Art of Letting Go. Once you have done everything in your power to solve a problem, you have done all you can, so at that point worry and stress is counterproductive. Note that letting go of the stress and anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean letting go of the problem itself. For example, suppose you have a car payment coming up, and you don’t have the money to pay it. This would naturally cause you anxiety. If, after brainstorming for solutions, you find that you still don’t have the money to pay the car payment, then at that point you’ve done all you can do. So at that point, you let go of the anxiety associated with the problem. That doesn’t mean that you let go of car payments altogether. You’ll make the payment when you can. In this instance, letting go just means that you won’t worry about not being able to make the payment. The energy you might have used worrying about the situation could be put to better use in trying to come up with solutions.
Facilitator Notes for Session 4: Letting Go
Read the Session 4 Course Materials, review the exercises listed in the chapter and try them at least once yourself prior to facilitating the group.
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): Letting Go; Needs vs. Wants; The questions of Intention: 1. What am I trying to accomplish in this situation? 2. Does what I’m about to do or say reflect that intention?; hiding in material possessions, riding the wave
(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): The Seesaw; valuing people instead of possessions; the Cloudy Day analogy
As an icebreaker exercise, ask participants to discuss their experiences with Letting Go, after defining the concept for the class. If they have had any experiences where they have had difficulty letting go of something that has been bothering them, ask fellow students to offer suggestions on how to help them let go of the anxiety. Keep the focus on Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy and try to link the discussion to various “letting go” skills from the Session 4 materials if possible.
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.
SESSION 4 OUTLINE
4.0 The Bare Necessities
For this discussion on the bare necessities, have students return to Section 2.1 Things That Stress Me Out, and look at the list they wrote. Now ask them how many of those things had to do with something other than an immediate need of food, clothing, shelter or love. The idea of the bare necessities is that a great deal of our stress and anxiety comes from trying to keep up with and accumulate more and more possessions and material goods. If we learn to let go of the need for more “stuff” we can eliminate a lot of anxiety from our lives.
EXERCISE: Wants vs. Needs PRIORITY 1
Do this exercise in class if at all possible. If not possible due to time constraints, make sure to assign it as homework.
The basic necessities for any human being are food, clothing, shelter, and love. Explain this, then have students list their needs and their wants. A “need” for purposes of this exercise is something the person could not survive without. A “want” is something it would be nice to have, but that is not absolutely essential for survival.
Inevitably when I do this exercise, there are students who list “wants” as “needs.” For example, I’ve had people say that they “need” their cell phone in order to survive because it helps them stay in touch with family, etc. I generally let them go ahead and list it as a need, then during the conversation after the exercise, ask them to explain how their lives and/or their survival might be threatened if they didn’t have the cell phone. Gently guide them, but don’t force the issue. If they truly believe they would die without their cell phones, then let them continue to believe that. The idea of letting go of what they can is more important than the idea that they can’t let go of their cell phones.
Once they’ve determined just how much they can survive without, link it to the idea of letting go as described in this section.
4.1 Alone in the Woods
A key concept from this section is the idea that happiness isn’t about our relationship to possessions. It’s about our relationship to ourselves and to others. Point out that “others” in this sense also included all wildlife, flora and fauna, on the planet.
This section states, “The key (to letting go) is to ask ourselves openly and honestly how much of what we do in our lives is based on fulfilling our basic needs, and how much of what occupies our time has to do with chasing our wants and desires.”
At this point I usually ask the class how much of their time during the week is spent on meeting the tasks of fulfilling their basic needs, and how much of their time during the week is spent on chasing their wants and desires. I do so by asking them to put a percentage on each.
4.2 Letting Go: The Seesaw
If you happen to be fortunate enough to be able to conduct your workshops in a setting that has a playground with a seesaw, you can take this opportunity to give an actual demonstration or the principle of letting go by getting off the seesaw. Otherwise, you may just discuss it with your students.
The idea behind the seesaw is that relationships are reciprocal; what one person does influences and affects what the other person does. But if one person “gets off the seesaw” as described in the section, they’ve let go of a problem interaction by refusing to participate in it. Instead, they may choose to redirect the energy of the situation by asking the Questions of Intention: 1. What am I trying to accomplish in this situation? 2. Does what I’m about to do or say reflect that intention?
In other words, if your intention is to have a productive and loving relationship with another person, are your words and actions supporting that intention, or doing just the opposite? What would it take to get off the seesaw by letting go of unproductive interactions?
If someone can’t get enough alcohol or drugs, we consider that person to be an addict. If someone can’t get enough food and eats until they’re morbidly obese, we think that person has an eating disorder. If someone hoards household items or pets, we say that person has a hoarding disorder. However; if a person hoards more money than they could ever need, we just consider that person to be a wise investor or a wealthy business person. Could it be that people who need to accumulate excessive amounts of material possessions are suffering from some sort of disorder themselves?
Hiding in material possessions allows us to avoid dealing with our own personal issues. Such a reliance on material possessions in an effort to avoid dealing with one’s own emotions could technically be classified as an addiction, because such a person is using possessions as a way of numbing emotional pains and difficulties.
The three criteria for any addiction are withdrawal, tolerance, and loss of control. When applied to material possessions, these criteria might look like this:
Withdrawal: The person gets irritable or even angry when prevented from indulging in his “drug of choice,” material possessions. Such a person might react badly or even with anger when asked to stop buying so many things.
Tolerance: A person with an alcohol problem needs more and more alcohol to get the same “buzz” over time because they’ve built up a tolerance. A person with an addiction to material possessions might find that no matter how much money or “stuff” they accumulate, it’s never enough.
Loss of Control: In substance abuse, loss of control often manifests when a person goes to the bar to have “one drink,” then winds up sitting at the bar at closing time because they couldn’t control their addictive behavior. With material possessions, such a loss of control might manifest with the person constantly buying more and more items or accumulating more and more wealth, and not being able to stop themselves, even if it’s detrimental to their family relationships (“He never spends enough time with me!”) or their social or occupational functioning (“Joe doesn’t play golf anymore, he’s always working”).
If time permits, you might ask the class to discuss whether or not they think that material possessions could become an addiction.
4.4 Change is Inevitable: A Tale of Two Friends
After sharing the Tale of Two Friends, I generally also share the Cloudy Day analogy: Suppose every day when I left my house I expected it to be sunny and warm outside. This is not a realistic expectation because clouds and rain are a natural part of the weather. Likewise, if I expect never to be depressed or stressed out, that’s not a realistic expectation, because being stressed or depressed is a natural occurrence among human beings. I usually ask the class if any of them knows anyone who has never been stressed out or depressed a day in their lives. This is usually good for a chuckle, because there is nobody who has never been depressed or stressed out.
4.5 Everything Changes – Ride the Wave
Experiential avoidance means trying to avoid unpleasant experiences by telling ourselves not to think about them. The problem with telling ourselves not to think about unpleasant experiences is that telling ourselves not to think about them, is thinking about them!
The more we tell ourselves to stop having stressful thoughts, the more stressed out we become when we find we can’t stop having stressful thoughts. Riding the wave is one way to sit quietly with the stressful and/or depressing thoughts until they subside on their own. When we sit quietly in being mode with our stressful thoughts we are not trying to avoid them.
4.6 Mindful Openness: Mindfully Letting Go
Mindful openness is about gaining a sense of perspective on any problems that may be stressing us out in the present moment. As you read this, think about what you were worrying about on this exact day six months ago. Do you have difficulty remembering? Most people do. Likewise, six months to the day from this exact date, do you think you’re going to remember what you’re stressed out about today?
When reviewing this with your students, it’s important not to minimize what they may be feeling in the present moment. If you have students who are stressed out or depressed don’t try to engage in telling them to “snap out of it” or “stop worrying about it.” If they do so, they are back to the experiential avoidance we discussed in the previous section.
Instead, validate their feelings while gently reminding them that “this too shall pass.” They can sit with the feeling until it passes if they desire. In doing so, they are not avoiding the experience of the feeling. And if they’re able to see the bigger picture, and focus on what they might be feeling six months from now, they can take comfort in the fact that their current emotional state, however painful it might be, is a temporary one.
Have students read the Session 5 materials prior to the next session; have them complete any exercises from Session 4 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.