Acceptance

Acting in line with your values, even on the rough days.

This month's text on values, by Maria: 

It’s a rainy Wednesday morning, the weather suited for my current mood. I am on my way to work to meet a handful of patients and I do not feel the slightest bit motivated.
The morning has started in the worst possible way: Before 8 am I have managed to come in conflict with both my partner and my two children. There's been yelling, blaming, nagging, endless discussions that don’t seem to lead anywhere. I have bitter thoughts in my head, and for a while it all seems hopeless. When landing in my seat on the bus, I wish the ride would never end -- but in 20 minutes I need to take on my professional glasses and show my patient, a person in a great deal of suffering, my engagement and empathic concern.

Something in the back of my head keeps nagging me. It says “Maria, this won’t lead to any good, the mistake is already made, settle with how you can repair what is broken and forgive yourself. Do something to distract you, use your time wisely!” I want to tell that annoying voice to shut up, put on sad music and pout. Instead I sigh, resign. By now,I know the voice is right. I pick up my phone, tell my partner I am sorry for acting out my stress on him. Ask him for forgiveness and to kiss the kids for me until I’m home again. I put on my compassion-app and listen to a guided meditation. It brings me calm, remind me of what loving-kindness and compassion can give me.

I come to think about the first patient of the day. A woman my age who is so hard on herself, never gives herself a break. I feel for her, want to help her see the benefit from being compassionate towards herself. I wish she could see what it has done for me. I put my hands up to my chest, try to get in contact with my compassionate voice in my head and tell myself  “What you did this morning was not great, but it was human. You were under a lot of stress and you have a hard time handling stress in the mornings. Choose to forgive yourself and let it not take over the whole day. Let yourself be of great use to your patients and colleagues and take care of yourself so that you can come home feeling content and with a lot of hugs in your back-pack.”

I start to wonder how I just a few moments ago could think about my work as horrible when really it is chosen with great care and is deeply meaningful to me. I wonder how my head could twist into thinking why I have chosen to have a family when there is nothing better in the world than to look into my children's eyes and feel their hands all over my face. I choose to not blame myself for these thoughts, they are merely thoughts, and they are human. This afternoon I will make up for the morning, I promise myself that.

Oh, good, I almost missed my stop sitting here with my head up in the clouds. During those steps to the office in the cold rain my mind has taken a new turn. I look forward to seeing that patient of mine and hopefully give her a way to let go of that self-criticism. I look forward to the meeting where we will plan for the future and I look forward to coming home to my family. The day might be hard, but being in contact with who I want to be and what I find meaningful makes it easier to get through the day even with draining energy. In the meeting with my first patient, I get to talk about compassion. When we do an exercise I remind myself about that this is something I need as well as the patient. In the meeting with my second patient, I get to talk about values and ACT and I get a reminder about who I want to be. After work, the kids are cranky and my partner and I are tired. I manage to remind myself about this morning; that is not who I want to be. After the circus of an everyday evening with two children, I lie next to my son. My mind starts to drift away to work and things that stress me. My son brings me back with his questions and needs. I remember to be thankful for it instead of annoyed like a was yesterday; that is not who I want to be. He gives me a big hug and snuggles into my arms and I just have to wait for him to fall asleep. Another day with disappointments, challenges, compassion and gratefulness has passed. 

Headstuck! A first step to reflect upon your values.

If you're following us on instagram (@yomi_psychology) you know that this month's theme is Values, which we'll dive deeper into as the month progresses. But to give you a first taste, do watch the video below, and reflect on where your own head might be stuck?

 

Feminism from a mindful perspective

We haven't figured out how to change the author of the blog posts yet, so suffice to say that this post is written by Maria, not Frida as it says above. Enjoy!

My interest for feminism started early in life and I have never had a problem with calling myself a feminist or to fight for equality. But as for many of us, the teenage version of me saw everything from a more black or white perspective than I do nowadays. Life makes you humble and wise. Unfortunately, it also tends to make us more lazy, less engaged and more hopeless with time. Going through my university education, trying out partner relationships and having children made me for years feel ashamed of not being as hardcore in my everyday life as I in my values had stated to be. It made my question if I could really call myself a feminist at all. I have never lost my interest for feminism, but one might say that the problems seemed so big I partly lost my hope.

Having my son 5 years ago made me relate to this issue in a new way. After his birth I soon realized that what I had been told was true. The expectations on a little boy was different from those on a little girl, and many mistook my son for a girl when I chose to dress him in pink and keep his long, dark beautiful hair. I didn’t mind that people mistook him for a girl, but I did mind that they didn’t question their own prejudices. 10 months ago I had a daughter and experienced the same thing, but the other way around. It was starting to make me more irritated than anything else. My fighting spirit was given fire again and I started reading more inspiring literature and listening to feminist podcasts. I started being more hardcore again in my everyday life; being bolder with my statements, being less humble and more demanding. Once again, as in my teenage years, it seemed to make me frustrated and tired, which reduced my motivation once again.

One night, I chose to sit down with my partner and talk to him. I talked about the two perspectives in me and how they made me feel fragmented. One side of me wants to be this tough, sharp and fearless woman. One side of me wants to be this mindful, humble and compassionate person. Slowly, during our discussion, I started to see a vision where these two sides could meet. I could make certain demands of my environment, but still be humble and patient about the fact that change takes time. I could bring the discussion up, make feminism an interesting and important subject in my home, at my workplace and in my relationships, but do it from an inspiring, strengthening perspective.

I know this might be debated. Men should do this, we shouldn’t have to motivate them and so on. I think so too. But to rage on every man in my life will not make me feel more equal, will not make me happier and will not make them see the benefits of walking in the direction of creating a better world for my children to live in - so I really think we have to be smarter than that.

Of course this is still something that I think about every single day of my life and I am nowhere near satisfied but I have a plan that I follow where I both have a path that I am motivated to walk on, but still an acceptance that every piece is not in it’s right place quite yet.
So, may the compassionate fight continue!

 

Exposing yourself to your emotions – how we do it in YOMI  

Unpleasant things are, as the word indicates, mainly unpleasant and unpleasantness is usually something we like to avoid. Which is fine enough, except when we can’t. For example when it comes to our emotions.

There are things in life we have much control over and then there are things we’d like to think that we control, but that we in all honesty don’t. Our emotions fall into the latter category. Or to be more specific; our emotions are something we can regulate and approach in different way, but that they’re hard to avoid altogether.

One of the basis in YOMI is the assumption that we can’t avoid suffering, but we can find ways of dealing with emotional as well as physical pain, and we can gird ourselves with tools to approach the unpleasantness that life offers – potentially reducing the length of our suffering. In behavioral therapy the concept of exposure is one of the most powerful methods we use to help people deal with things they are afraid of. If you're scared of spiders, we expose you to spiders, it you're scared of riding in an elevator we expose you to riding in an elevator. And in the YOMI practice we use the same principle of exposure, but apply it primarily on our inner states, practicing to stay with whatever inner sensations, may it be thoughts, emotions or physical reactions, arise during our practice.

Say for example that I’m in a YOMI class, in a challenging yoga posture (perhaps “Saddle”, which you can see below) and I know that I will be in this posture for at least a few minutes. My first impulses might be to get out, to change the posture or to give up. Thoughts that arise might be “this is so uncomfortable”, “how long will we stay here for?” and “I hate this, I hate myself”. Emotions that show up might be fear (of what’s going on in the body in the position) and anger (at being in the class at all, or at myself for not being as advanced in my practice as I would’ve liked to be).

In our everyday life we often act on our initial impulses in order to avoid the unpleasant emotions and thoughts. “If I get out of the position I won’t have to feel scared or upset”. This will give us a temporary relief, but in the long run it might make us more afraid of feeling unpleasant feelings. Which might make us avoid even more situations where unpleasantness might arise. Which might make our lives more limited. And so on and so on.

And since emotions arise within us they’re hard to avoid, no matter how much we may try.

Life sometimes offer unpleasantness, pain and sadness, we may as well prepare ourselves the best we can. One way of doing this is by practicing exposure to our own emotions. Staying with them, breathing through them and observing them without reacting to them. In this example staying put in the position, letting whatever arises arise, allowing for it to be there, giving it space, reminding ourselves that all emotional states are temporary, that they all change eventually even without our meddling. On the contrary, they usually change quicker if we don’t meddle in too much. This non-meddling, non-reactive, non-judging approach to our emotions is something that intellectually might make sense, but that practically requires continuous practice and courage. And that is exactly why we’re here - to help you practice through it.  

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Why we will never tell you to “just be positive”.

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 Not to ruin the mood for anyone, but we have to be honest about one thing when it comes to YOMI: we’re not preachers of a happy-go-lucky attitude, and certainly not of a ”just think positive” one. To be honest, there is an abundance of various life coaches, mindfulness entrepreneurs and health profiles that try to sell the message that it’s up to you to change your thoughts, and that your life will be amazing once you do.

Here’s why that won’t be the recipe for a large number of people, and why saying that we can control our own thoughts can be both guilt-inducing and counterproductive:

  • Ignoring thoughts don’t make them go away
  • People have spent centuries trying to get rid of unwanted thoughts and emotions, usually with the result of more suffering in the long run.
  • Worrying does in certain cases serve a purpose for us: experienced security, even if this security is imagined more than anything
  • If you’re a worrier thinking positive probably won’t make you feel good, it will probably make you feel terrified

So, do we think that everyone should just let the negativity, catastrophic thoughts flow freely? Not quite, but we do think that we should make space for whatever arises in us, both good and bad stuff – and practice how to take care of ourselves even in hard times.

Shortly here’s what we propose:

  • Accept that your brain will continue to produce thoughts for as long as you live. This is what our brain does and likes doing the most.
  • Just because thoughts are produced doesn’t mean that we need to place any value or emphasis on them.
  • There’s a difference between avoiding thoughts and acknowledging that they are there, but without reacting to them. Doing the latter is usually more beneficial for us.  
  • Sometimes life sucks, a lot of the times life is hard. It would be stranger if this didn’t affect us than if it does. This is perfectly fine – hurtful, but in order. When we allow ourselves to be with what is, even pain, it usually subsides after a while. All emotional states eventually pass and shift.  

When we in hard times intentionally shift our gaze to what’s still working, beautiful, desired, lovely in our lives we help our brains detect the small stuff that usually get hidden when disaster strikes. By helping our brains do just that we also help our minds widen their perspective by allowing positive and negative thoughts and emotions exist side by side. We help our minds become more flexible in seeing that things seldom are black and white, but that there’s always at least a ray of light in the darkest of times, as well as a streak of darkness in the lightest of times. And that this is perfectly well.

 

Inspirational tip: Brené Brown

One of our biggest sources of inspiration is the American researcher Brené Brown, who's spent many years studying what constitutes a meaningful life for people. Which led her to closer examine shame and vulnerability. 

Apart from having written several books that are worthy of reading, she has a few Ted talks that really shifts your perspective. Give yourself a treat and 20 minutes of getting inspired: 

On being good enough

You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.
— Brené Brown

When I went on parental leave I struggled for the first few months with the demands I had on myself to make the most of my time off from work and achieve as much as possible. Behold, seven months of not working! What a glorious opportunity to do all those things I never have time to do: sort through papers, organize the computer, read through all those scientific papers piled up, develop a new YOMI program, hell, develop two new YOMI programs, get back into shape, meditate, read all those books on the reading list, maybe even write a book. Because when will I ever again get the chance to have this many months off work ever again?

You know how plans can seem quite reasonable as long as they are just that: plans for a future you yet haven’t experienced. Enter: reality, everyday life and endless interruptions to the plan. External as well as internal interruptions; baby crying, mind wandering, facebook tempting, news feed upsetting. Sometimes it seems life is nothing more than a long line of interruptions to the plan. Annoying, irritating interruptions we wish to get rid of.

But perhaps the real issue here isn’t how to get rid of the interruptions, but rather how we deal with them. How we act towards ourselves when things don’t go as we had laid them out. And this is where the self observation can get both interesting and painful. How do I react when things don’t go as planned? How do I talk to myself when I lack focus or motivation? How do I talk to others who, perhaps unintentionally, interrupt?

It seems we often tend to blame ourselves, others or even life itself for the things that come in the way of our planned achievements. Like it’s some sort of failure that the plan that is life needs constant revision, rather than the plan being flexible to start with. Like we are failures when we don’t achieve all that we set out to do. Like we are insufficient if we’re not perfect. And with that the struggle goes on.

But if we shift the perspectives and acknowledge that we are imperfect to start with, but that this imperfection doesn’t make us any less worthy, doesn’t make us anything short of being good enough, maybe that’ll make it possible to start viewing the interruptions as a part of the plan, rather than obstacles to it. Perhaps it even enables us to make room for interruptions in the original plan. That it – the plan that is – and we ourselves are good enough without achievements, are good enough whilst just being. That the level of good enough should lie wherever we find ourselves every day. That just where we are, just where life is, is good enough. Wired for struggle but worthy of love and belonging.

Practicing acceptance – what my post partum body taught me

For the better part of my recent pregnancy I continued a regular yoga practice. Modified of course; a growing belly doesn’t allow for deep twists or backbends, prone positions or core engaging asanas. But continuously going into the well known postures, flowing through sun salutations and resting in a deep squat helped my body feel surprisingly strong and flexible, even with the extra weight and bump that naturally comes with carrying an extra person inside of you. That said, the longing for my regular, non-pregnancy, practice grew stronger as the pregnancy approached its final stages. Oh, to be able to lie on ones belly again! To do a proper head stand and wringe out in a deep twist.

Somewhat naively I thought that once the baby was on the outside, my body – and with that my practice – would go back to its normal ways, shape and strength.

Skip forward to two months post partum: where there was once abdominal muscles there’s now something vaguely resembling a core. What once was flexible now stiff from hours of breastfeeding in awkward positions. Post natal practice is something different than a pre pregnancy practice. A post partum body acts differently than a pre pregnancy body.

Discrepancy between expectations and reality offers a great, but often painful, opportunity to observe one’s reactions to obstacles, to not getting what you want. How we react to obstacles and setbacks varies, between individuals, but also between different situations. Some have a tendency to react with anger and irritation (“stupid body, why don’t you do as I tell you to?”), where others tend to react with worry (“what if I never will be able to go back to my old practice”), yet others with shame (“how embarrassing that I can’t perform even these simple asanas”).

While all of these reactions are common, normal and mostly automatic, they seldom serve us well. Serve us well in the sense that they help us continue on our desired path or foster our well-being.

When reality presents us with challenges, one of our most helpful tools is acceptance. Reminding ourselves that it is what it is, even though it may not be what we wished for. Acceptance to help us continue, starting where we actually are, rather than trying to work from where we wish we were.

In my case: accepting that my post partum body is exactly what it is; strong in some areas and weak in others. Changed by having carried and given birth to a child. Affected by not having practiced certain asanas for almost a year. This is what reality looks like right now, whether it seems fair, good or desired.

Because once we reach that acceptance and let go of our perceptions of how we wish things were, we have a better opportunity to start reacting to whatever we encounter with less anger, worry or shame and instead with more curiosity and even appreciation. Curios about the fact that we don’t quite know what awaits us on our path and appreciation for getting to experience what may come.

Practicing acceptance – life with a newborn

One of the pillars of mindfulness is ”beginner’s mind”; looking at things as if it were the first time we saw or experienced them. Not seldom is the comparison to how a child views the world made. We’re encouraged to learn from children and how they take on each day with a blissful beginner’s mind, simply because they are beginners at life.

Now, I do believe that we have a lot to learn from children and their ways about life, but I’ve more recently learned how being with a child is a full on acceptance boot camp.

Seven weeks ago I gave birth to my first child. Already when my water broke, three weeks early, I once again came face to face with the reality of not being able to plan life’s course of actions. I still had almost two weeks left at work, we hadn’t bought all the necessary stuff, hadn’t packed the hospital bag. And I was four days short of carrying the pregnancy to a full term, something I really had wished for and had my mind set on. But, for some reason that my brain failed to acknowledge, but my body – and baby! – seemed to understand, it was time to give birth and have life change tremendously. Lesson to be learned: don’t always trust your brain to know it all. There are so many things we cannot control, there are so many things that happen that we wish were different or that we wish we could plan for, but simply can’t.   

So this little person decided to come out, healthy and incredibly cute. Taking the acceptance boot camp to new levels in terms of not being able to control one’s every day life. Even writing this post has had to be postponed several times, due to him suddenly deciding not to sleep for that extra half hour after we’ve been on our daily walk. Or vomiting for the fourth time after a feeding, having me spend the afternoon wiping up sour milk and changing his (however adorable) clothes. Becoming a parent seems to be the grandest exposure exercise of letting go of control there is.   

Now, I could spend these first months of my newborn’s life fighting against the clock and my own arbitrary ideas on what I should accomplish, getting disappointed every time my daily plan fails since my baby’s needs still are so unpredictable. Well, not so much could spend, rather have spent. But after enough outbursts of irritation on my part I fortunately remembered to return to the pillars of mindfulness, especially those concerning acceptance and letting go.

Acceptance, as we often describe it within the field of psychology, is to be present with and endure one’s internal and external situation, without judgment or valuation. In short: to be with what is, whether you like it or not. And make your decisions based on what reality really looks like, rather than what you wish it would look like. Which in my case right now means that my days are and will continue to be somewhat unpredictable, filled with body fluids of various kinds, interrupted sleep and merely shorter periods of time to sit down by the computer to write. I can try to fight this, or I can practice acceptance, letting go of the idea that this will be something other than it is. And with that hopefully get a chance to also go into my beginner’s mind as I watch my baby exploring the world with what is nothing short of a true beginner’s mind.