I have a group of friends from Madrid who decided to take on reading Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Being so much into meditation/psychology/wellbeing I was sad I would be missing out. Fortunately, Ángel (the organizer) posted some of the questions that would be discussed, and I couldn’t help but answer from my experience, since I haven’t bought the book yet (working on a tight budget at this time!). Here’s the Q&A:

One goal of mindfulness is to be aware of our thoughts, emotions and urges. What is the advantage of this?

I have a friend who gets in a horrible mood when she gets hungry. The problem is, she doesn’t know when she is hungry (not a very mindful person). To her boyfriend, it’s obvious what is going on because he sees everything from the outside (say, they had breakfast a long time ago and this is not normal behavior) so he hurries to get her something to eat.

This friend has already burned bridges because she gets into conflict with her coworkers (her boyfriend doesn’t work with her, unfortunately). Should she be more mindful, she’d notice her her hunger, her cranky state, and realize that her perception of the conflict is influenced by her state.

This is just an anecdote that comes to mind when I think about someone who is particularly unaware of their inner state.

Another important ingredient of ACT - acceptance and commitment therapy, the approach described in the book - is the recommendation that we accept our thoughts, feelings and urges (behavioural predispositions). What would the advantage of this be?

Acceptance is a crucial component of religions, spiritual paths, and psychological (inner) work.

I was searching for a quote of a nun (Mother Theresa, perhaps?) which said something along the lines of “If God accepts me, why should I accept myself?”, instead I came across this quote from an anonymous minister which I think illustrates the case quite well:

I spent I good part of my life responding to the devastating demands to myself… My whole life was spent trying to do enough and to achieve enough to convince others that I was worthy of their love and acceptance. Then it came, through much searching and struggling: I am a child of God. This is the pivotal point of awareness and growth. God loves me unconditionally. The more I yield myself to God, the more I experience his love. And the more we experience his love, the more we accept ourselves and accept others as they are. And, the more we love others, the more they love us. It becomes an endless cycle of acceptance, which makes for growth and fulfillment.

Carl Rogers, well known humanistic psychologist, in his book On Becoming a Person:

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change. I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience—we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come almost unnoticed.

I personally think it’s idle to theorize why acceptance has such a profound effect. To understand it, it must be put into practice. But a pre-requisite for acceptance is mindfulness, you are not able to catch yourself in inner conflict (non-acceptance) if you are not aware of your thoughts.

What is the ultimate goal of controlling your behavior?

When I was a kid my sister used to taunt me so that I would hit her, then she would go crying with dad, and dad would console her and then come over to scold me. That was always her plan!

If you do not control yourself, then other people will control you!

*Are we less ourselves if we control our tendencies, and distance ourselves from our thoughts and emotions? *

I feel a lot of spiritual people fall into this trap: since (they’ve been told) the highest emotion is the lack of emotion (serenity), they want to remain calm all the time. So you try to joke with them and they smile politely, you tease them and they smile politely, you poke their eyes and they smile politely…

I once read an anecdote about Ramana Maharshi, an Indian saint (I call him saint because of the equivocal connotations of guru), where some hecklers entered the meditation hall. Ramana Maharshi’s way was quite silent and serene, so his disciples were amazed to see him turn into a lion and scream at them (the hecklers hurriedly left), and then they saw him fall immediately into a state of serenity.

You can see the same effect in animals: a dog might get into a big fight with another dog, and (if unhurt) five minutes later it’s playing and the incident is utterly forgotten. The aggression might have had a reason at the time (say, establishing hierarchy), and it does not arise aggression or anger in it afterwards.

Emotions exist because they are useful [insert made up evolutionary theory here], but their window of usefulness is limited. What would you think if you had a dog who’d just be sitting there, and suddenly starting growling because he’s reviving that fight he had a week ago? Damn crazy dog!

What is the big mind?

Awareness of thought

How much should we buy into our thoughts or judge our thoughts, ourselves, other people?

How much should we buy into our thoughts? Most thought is crazy chatter, but sometimes reason shines through. Reason, I think, is experienced differently, like a path where you are making progress and eventually you reach a destination. We should not buy into idle thought, but we should buy into reason.

How much should we judge our thoughts? We shouldn’t. One day I looked at a black guy in Lavapies and I thought “Oh this nigger is gonna sell me some trinkets” and I thought to myself “Oh don’t think nigger, that’s racist” and then my mind goes “nigger nigger nigger”. He approaches me and I don’t want to look at him in the eye because I’m such a racist person. Well, mission accomplished, I didn’t give the guy my attention or my presence simply because he was black. Being aware of the thought, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. Should I have thought “heh, I thought nigger, now let’s be nice cause I’m not racist”, the result would have been entirely different.

How much should we judge other people’s thoughts? Well, if you can’t trust your own mental blabbering, why should you trust others? Yet I can’t help but notice that, in the case of others, I tend to confuse reason for mental blabbering. Should a friend say “Oh that nigger is gonna sell us some trinkets” I’d surely consider it a sign of racism.

The bible offers guidance: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”. That is: don’t listen to what people say, look at what they do, and what has resulted in their life from their actions.