So wonderful writers such as Drs. Marsha Linehan and Tara Brach, have served to coin and disseminate the term “Radical Acceptance” to describe the view and approach of embracing painful situations and emotional experiences as opportunities for personal growth. While I fully endorse their views, I have come to use the term Radical Presence. Perhaps it is a trivial distinction on my part. But I prefer it for a couple of reasons.
The term “acceptance” may connote the ability to like something that is subjectively distasteful, and therefore create a sense of pressure to feel something that one simply does not feel. Now this is certainly not the intent behind the term “acceptance” but I have seen that that is how it is occasionally interpreted. And so, to be clear, the idea behind emotional mindfulness is not to come to necessarily like or enjoy any of the so called “dark emotions” wether it be anger, shame, fear, loneliness, helplesness or whatever. The main purpose of such approaches is to reduce the suffering imposed by such feeling states. However, it is essential to realize that the suffering is not inherent to the feelings themselves, but by our conditioned reactions and opposition to them that creates our resistance and avoidance to such feelings. And so we disengage our attention from difficult feelings which then compels us to engage in any one of a number of actions to further disengage difficult feelings (see the following post http://www.mindfulexposurebook.com/faces-of-control-avoiding-emotional-pain-pain/ ) which only compounds cycles of suffering. And so it is our job to maintain attention into whatever this moment holds….simply…to be present. One can ultimately learn that it is possible to break the cycles of emotional reactivity, and actually experience a sense of peace and equanimity, even while experiencing what is is typically described as a painful emotion! One can learn that emotions are not something to be controlled or feared. But to learn this, one must let themselves complete open up to the moment and whatever emotional experience that moment holds.
Ultimately, our emancipation from suffering is all about presence. Simply being here….wherever here is, and no mater what it contains. An enlightened person is assumably always present, while most of us are only occasionally present. And so ultimately, it is all about attention. Most of the time, we are simply gone….away from the moment…unconscious. And thus we act out reactively and with only minimal consciousness or presence. So radical presence means to pay attention, Now! And if this moment contains loneliness, then pay attention to loneliness, if it contains despair, then pay attention to despair, fully and wholeheartedly. We don’t have to like it. We need to give ourself permission to be uncomfortable if we are ever able to experience a measure of wholeness. If we just seek pleasure, then paradoxically we will be relegated to a life of emptiness and suffering.
So the question invariably arises, “OK, so I am paying attention to my feelings. Then what”. The answer is simple, “Then, nothing”. There is nothing to do, no better place to be, than right where you are. There is absolutely no need to run from the present since, as Eckhart Tolle repeatedly points out, there is only now, and it can never be otherwise. So my best advice, is starting several times a day to begin, close your eyes, sit or lie down, and simply watch whatever emotions arise. Anchor your mind into whatever part of your body at that moment harbors the feeling. Watch the thoughts that arise around the feelings but recognize that it is only a story. Don’t get stuck in the story but bring your attention continually back to the feeling. And simply see whatever happens. Do not attempt to control or guide the process. Just let it be. That is Radical Presence!!!
related posts: http://www.mindfulexposurebook.com/emotional-mindfulness/
So, it appears that the notion of Radical Presence will be the cornerstone of my next book that is currently underway. And so blog posts will be less frequent so that I can devote more time and attention to writing the book. I will still be available to answer quetions and comments posted on the blog.