The Art of Acceptance

Greetings all and happy fall, unofficially.  I’m still celebrating the end of summer myself, but with the appearance of the full harvest moon, one can’t help but start to prepare for autumn.

With the changing seasons afoot, I’ve decided it’s the perfect time to talk about a powerful little word called acceptance.  We have to accept all kinds of things every day as part of life.  We accept going to school and work.  We accept paying bills and taxes.  And late at night in the quiet of our beds we even accept that death will come for us some day.  Actually, that last one is tricky.  Do we really accept it or do we spend our time avoiding it and pretending it isn’t going to happen?

A couple of months ago I started a meditation practice.  More on the specifics of that in a later post!  One of the cornerstones of mindfulness besides staying in the present moment, breathing deeply, and sitting in silence, is the idea of acceptance for all that is.  Now don’t freak out!  Luckily, it doesn’t mean accepting your current situation forever.  But it does mean surrendering to the moment and accepting it just as it is.  For me, that sometimes means accepting that I didn’t sleep well the night before and have a long day ahead of me.

To be honest, I couldn’t wrap my head around this concept at first.  What do you mean accept it?  That sounds like giving up.  That sounds like accepting hurt and pain and doing nothing about it.  On the contrary, it’s the opposite.  When we accept our current situation, we’re guaranteed to feel empowered.  We put ourselves back in the driver seat of our lives.  We allow our feelings of pain to take a passenger seat on the journey, but we do not let them drive.  Essentially, we may experience pain, but we don’t have to suffer.  And that’s a big difference.

“[Acceptance] simply means that you are acknowledging reality,” said psychotherapist Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, RSW in an article on radical acceptance published in Spirituality & Health. “You are acknowledging what happened or what’s currently happening. Because fighting reality only intensifies our emotional reaction,” she said.

And there’s more.  When you take the time to accept something, you gain the power to transform its energy.  Think of yourself as an alchemist, if you will 😉  It may not happen today or tomorrow, but your situation will change, guaranteed.  In fact, I bet if you think back, you can come up with some examples from your life.

I’ve been a runner for most of my life, but recently I had to accept that maybe my running days were over.  I’ve been experiencing heel pain, even when I walk, so running was quickly out of the question.  I started swimming instead, but still missed running.  Then I went to see a foot doctor.  I fully expected the worst and even worried about needing surgery, but as it turned out, I have over-developed calves, from running, and needed to work on specific stretches for my heel as well as exercises to help strengthen my other leg muscles.  Then the real surprise.  I was told I could still run.  After I had already given it up.  Just as I was beginning to enjoy my new activity of swimming.  Say what?  In the aftermath, I’ve decided to go for balance, running less and incorporating other enjoyable forms of exercise.  But the lesson is clear.  Things do change.  Often for the better.  But first you have to accept the way they are.

And I know what you’re thinking.  What about when they don’t change?  I came across a great quote recently by Lucille Ball.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

This resonated with me and I hope it also sparks something in you.

If you’re still grappling with the concept and need something more tangible, try this exercise:

Step 1: Imagine your pain in detail.  Give it a color.  Rank it on a scale from 1-10.  Does it have hard or soft edges?  Where does it reside in the body?  Is it flat or is it 3-D?

Step 2: Focus on your body now.  Start with your toes.  Wiggle them.  Relax your feet.  Move through each part of your body, slowly relaxing it, all the way up to your head.  Release your thoughts and even let your brain relax.  Breathe in and let go.

Step 3: Close your eyes and breathe deeply.  Focus on the present moment.  Imagine your heart is open, filled with empty space.  Imagine only the space.  Then imagine your pain AND the space.  Keep this up.

Step 4: After an increment of time, say 10 min. or more, wiggle your fingers and toes, and then open your eyes.  Now think about your pain again.  Imagine its color, size, intensity, etc.  Has your pain changed?  Does it feel different?  Even if it feels the same, how has your relationship to the pain changed?

Wait another hour and check in with your pain again.  You might be surprised how different you feel!

If you’re interested in more, check out an audio version of a specific dissolving pain exercise here.

Acceptance isn’t easy.  It takes time.  It’s an evolutionary process.  But when we begin to make space in our lives for acceptance, we open a doorway for all kinds of miracles to shine through.

 

 

 

 

 

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Learn to Monitor Your Heart with Mindfulness

If you need to run, I’ll run with you.

I’m sharing my latest card creation in celebration of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the meditation practice of becoming more aware of your thoughts and learning to stay in the present moment.  You focus on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations but without judgement, as if you’re observing them rather than experiencing them.

One particular technique involves body awareness where you notice the physical sensations you’re experiencing throughout your body, like muscle tension or heart palpitations.  Instead of freaking out or trying to force yourself to stop experiencing these sensations, you simply allow them to happen while observing them in great detail.  You may find that the less you fight them or beat yourself up for having them, the quicker they go away.

If you are prone to panic attacks, this exercise can be particularly useful.

So the next time you notice your heart racing, just let it.  Better yet, get out your running shoes and follow it along.  Pretty soon, you’ll both be too tired to continue.  If you let it calm down on its own, so will you!

 

Out of My Mind: A Lesson in Mindfulness

The other day I came across some photographs taken on an old cell phone.  This treasure was one of them.  It’s a photo of my first brain painting, which was a gift to an artist friend.  She and I were having a discussion about “growing old” (whatever that means) and death.  I thought perhaps a meditation on illness and the body/organs through art might bring out the humor of the situation.  We often expect art to be aesthetically pleasing.  As a culture, we have a certain idea of what is beautiful, namely youth and perfection.  But what makes art beautiful and people beautiful are the imperfections.

When deciding on a title for this piece, a lot of different ideas came to mind: I’m Coming Out!, Departure, and The Final Frontier.  After I came up with the current title, Out of My Mind, I had to pause for a moment to consider its implications:  This phrase literally refers to the mental state of being “crazy.”  But what does it really mean to be crazy anyway?  It has such a negative connotation…just like disease and death…and art that is not “beautiful.”  I realized that this title was then quite fitting for this piece which honors the beauty in illness and imperfection.

Actually, the zen practice of “mindfulness” requires being in the present moment and stepping out of your thoughts.  Letting them pass by you like swimming fish.  You can notice them, but you don’t become consumed by them.  One of my favorite mantras comes from my yoga teacher.  Practice saying, “I am not a body.  I am not a mind,” as you breath in and out.  Do that a few times and see how different you feel about yourself and your current situation.  It’s guaranteed to lower your stress levels.  And if you’re an artist like me, it’s a great method to use when you notice you’re stuck in your work.  Mindfulness implies mental focus, but it is just the opposite.  Often when we think we’re stuck in our writing or art, we’re simply too close to it or overly focused on the minutia of it.

So let’s all practice stepping out of our minds.  Take my advice.  Get a little bit crazy!  Enjoy the view from the final frontier.  It’s beautiful out here 🙂

To read more about my brain paintings, click here.

Just Zoo It! Sketching at the Toledo Zoo


Early this summer, I asked an illustrator friend, Deborah Marcero, to join me on a trip to the Toledo zoo. But instead of just viewing the animals as typical spectators, our mission was to view them for the purpose of sketching them. We tried to pay attention to their details and isolate their movements. It’s actually a good practice in mindfulness. And certainly easier said than done! Sure, we could draw a sleeping tiger or rhino, but what about a hungry elephant or hippo constantly on the move? Often it turned into an exercise in contour drawing.  We also jotted down field notes for each animal.

The most interesting part to me is how we became specimens in our own habitat.  We were the “roaming sketch artists” on display.  Parents would point us out to their children saying, “See Johnny, wouldn’t you like to do something like that?”  Kids were more subtle in their approach, often sidling up to us shyly with open mouths and wide eyes.  “I like your drawings,” they said.  Even staff members stopped to take a look and offer tidbits of information about each animal like how an elephant walks on its toes and has more than 100,000 muscles in its trunk!

Our adventures reminded me of another sketching duo, Thomas Kinkade (“The Painter of Light”) and James Gurney (Dinotopia author), who “sketched their way across America” and shared their experiences in an illustrated book called The Artist’s Guide to Sketching

tail flick
ear twitch
paw against wall
one eye open
so S-L-E-E-P-Y

flippers flipping
over each other like oars

mouth open to keep cool
or simply awaiting dinner

shuffle, turn, swim
shuffle, turn, swim
life moves
S-L-O-W-L-Y
down here

ears flapping
trunks dancing
walking on toes
like prima ballerinas

horns are like hair
point up, point down
resting without a care
their wrinkles build
character

Holy Moly!
That one’s huge!

hair sticks up
tails hang down
what are YOU
looking at?