Learn to accept your pain

In today’s society, where we can often feel alone, with little guidance to help us with our problems, we can learn new ways to deal with our pain.

photo credit: Diana Mehrez via photopin cc
photo credit: Diana Mehrez via photopin cc

There can be no question: the psychological dangers through which earlier generations were guided by the symbols and spiritual exercises of their mythological and religious inheritance, we today (in so far as we are unbelievers, or, if believers, in so far as our inherited beliefs fail to represent the real problems of contemporary life) must face alone, or, at best, with only tentative, impromptu, and not often very effective guidance. This is our problem as modern, “enlightened” individuals, for whom all gods and devils have been rationalized out of existence. Nevertheless, in the multitude of myths and legends that have been preserved to us, or collected from the ends of the earth, we may yet see delineated something of our still human course. To hear and profit, however, one may have to submit somehow to purgation and surrender. And that is part of our problem: just how to do that. “Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden of Bliss without such trials as came to those who passed away before you?”

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

When we encounter painful content within ourselves, we want to do what we always do: fix it up and sort it out so that we can get rid of it. The truth of the matter (as you have likely experienced) is that our internal lives are not at all like external events. For one thing, humans live in history, and time moves in only one direction, not two. Psychological pain has a history and, at least in that aspect, it is not a matter of getting rid of it. It is more a matter of how we deal with it and move forward.

The “acceptance” in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is based on the notion that, as a rule, trying to get rid of your pain only amplifies it, entangles you further in it, and transforms it into something traumatic. Meanwhile, living your life is pushed to the side. The alternative we will teach in this book is a bit dangerous to say out loud because right now it is likely to be misunderstood, but the alternative is to accept it. Acceptance, in the sense it is used here, is not nihilistic self-defeat; neither is it tolerating and putting up with your pain. It is very, very different than that. Those heavy, sad, dark forms of “acceptance” are almost the exact opposite of the active, vital embrace of the moment that we mean.

Steven Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy.

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Jump that threshold

When confronted with the unknown, you don’t have to continue with your old way of life. Take the bold step, like a mythological hero, and cross the threshold into a new way of living.

Jump that threshold
photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Life is asking you a question. The question was once mumbled, misunderstood, or nearly inaudible. It’s not surprising that you haven’t answered yes, but, unfortunately, failing to answer or answering no have nearly the same results, and they have those results whether you know that you are being asked a question or not.

It’s time to begin to jump. Answering yes to the life question, no matter how narrowly it’s cast, is such a jump. It is a jump into the unknown. It is a jump into a world in which getting rid of or managing your own history is no longer required in order to begin to live the life you truly want to live. It is a world of self-acceptance, openness, ambiguity of content, and clarity of purpose. It is a world of psychological flexibility, in which you let go of the struggle, give up and live, less concerned about being right than being alive.

You do not have to say yes. Life will accept either answer. There is, however, a cost to silence or to saying no. Indeed, you’ve been experiencing those costs. Your pain is your biggest ally here. Have you suffered enough? Have you?

We don’t want to scare you. You don’t have to begin by jumping from the Empire State Building. You can jump off a sheet of paper, or a thin paperback book. But if you are going to start, you must start.

Steven C. Hayes and Spencer Smith. Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy.

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

The responsibility to be yourself

When you take responsibility – the ability to respond – you can stop blaming others and finally become the creative, innovative person you have always been.

The responsibility to be yourself
photo credit: mariateresa toledo via photopin cc

If the first requirement of an adult is that he should take to himself responsibility for his failures, for his life, and for his doing, within the context of the actual conditions of the world in which he dwells, then it is simply an elementary psychological fact that no one will ever develop to this state who is continually thinking of what a great thing he would have been had only the conditions of his life been different: his parents less indifferent to his needs, society less oppressive, or the universe otherwise arranged. The first requirement of any society is that its adult membership should realize and represent the fact that it is they who constitute its life and being. And the first function of the rites of puberty, accordingly, must be to establish in the individual a system of sentiments that will be appropriate to the society in which he is to live, and on which that society itself must depend for its existence.

In the modern Western world, moreover, there is an additional complication; for we ask of the adult something still more than that he should accept without personal criticism and judgment the habits and inherited customs of his local social group. We ask and we are expecting, rather, that he should develop what Sigmund Freud has called his “reality function”: that faculty of the independently observant, freely thinking individual who can evaluate without preconceptions the possibilities of his environment and of himself within it, criticizing and creating, not simply reproducing inherited patterns of thought and action, but becoming himself an innovating center, an active, creative center of the life process.

Joseph Campbell. Myths to Live By (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell).

In [one example, a] person realized over time that having or not having a job was his response-ability#, even though his father had hit him and then abandoned the family. This man explained that deep inside he had struggled with whether or not he was to blame for hanging in there for so long and not standing up to his father. He had put all this adult responsibility on the child he was then. Staying stuck in this cycle of blame was interfering with his ability to be effective now. The discussion on focusing on response-ability instead of blame allowed him to feel more empowered to take control of his life. It became an issue of letting go of being right so that he could build a stable life for his family, something he valued.

Who would you be now if you could let go of the struggle with judgment, blame, being right (or wrong), and all the other passengers on your bus? What if you begin to have compassion and acceptance for yourself? For many trauma survivors, the first step in this direction is to begin to identify a sense of self—the you who has always been present.

Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello. Finding life beyond trauma: using acceptance and commitment therapy to heal from post-traumatic stress and trauma-related problems.

# The root of the word responsibility is actually “response-ability” or the ability to respond (Hayes, Strosahl, and Wilson 1999). This ability is something that can empower people to take control over their lives.


* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Learn not to refuse your call

We can make excuses for not doing the things we really want and end up missing out on life’s adventures. Don’t resist and yes more often.

learn not to refuse your call
photo credit: eflon via photopin cc

The myths and folk tales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interest. The future is regarded not in terms of an unremitting scries of deaths and births, but as though one’s present system of ideals, virtues, goals, and advantages were to be fixed and made secure. King Minos retained the divine bull, when the sacrifice would have signified submission to the will of the god of his society; for he preferred what he conceived to be his economic advantage. Thus he failed to advance into the liferole that he had assumed—and we have seen with what calamitous effect. The divinity itself became his terror; for, obviously, if one is oneself one’s god, then God himself, the will of God, the power that would destroy one’s egocentric system, becomes a monster.

One is harassed, both day and night, by the divine being that is the image of the living self within the locked labyrinth of one’s own disoriented psyche. The ways to the gates have all been lost: there is no exit. One can only cling, like Satan, furiously, to oneself and be in hell; or else break, and be annihilate at last, in God.

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The Buddhist tradition describes three poisons of the mind—greed, aversion, and ignorance. We developed this task for Zen students who seem particularly afflicted by aversion, those who habitually resist anything asked of them and what comes forward in life. Their initial and unconscious response to anything asked of them is “no,” expressed either in body language or out loud. Sometimes the no is expressed as “yes, but . . . ,” and sometimes it is cloaked in reasonable language, but it is still a consistent and persistent pattern of opposition.

People who are stuck in aversion often make major life decisions based not upon moving toward a positive goal but rather upon moving away from something they perceive to be negative. They are reactive rather than proactive. “My parents didn’t pay their bills on time and our electricity got turned off. I’m going to become an accountant,” instead of “I want to become an accountant because I love numbers.”

When monks enter training at Japanese Soto Zen monasteries, they are told that the only acceptable response to anything they are asked to do in the first year of training is, “Hai! (Yes!).” This is powerful training. It cuts through layers of apparent maturity, down to the defiant two-year-old and/or teenager within.

Not expressing opposition helps us to let go of self-centered views and see that our personal opinion is actually not so important after all. It’s surprising how often our disagreement with another person is actually unimportant and only serves to increase our distress and the suffering of those around us. Saying yes can be energizing, since habitual resistance is a persistent drain on our life energy.

Final words: Cultivate an internal attitude of “yes” to life and all it brings you. It will save you lots of energy.

Jan Chozen Bays. How to Train a Wild Elephant

Commitment and the call to adventure

The commitment part of acceptance and commitment therapy can mean taking a leap into the unknown, very much like the heroes of ancient myths, and even modern day stories.

Commitment and the call to adventureThe first stage of the mythological journey—which we have designated the ‘call to adventure’—signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from the pale of his society to a zone unknown…[a] fateful region of both treasure and danger.

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The job of the therapist is to create situations in which the clients engage in a leap of faith into a future that is unknown and—to the best they can tell—in the direction of their values. A leap of faith implies the willingness to have whatever happens when one makes that leap, to touch down wherever one lands.

Jason B. Luoma, Steven C. Hayes, and Robyn D. Walser. Learning ACT: An Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Skills-training Manual for Therapists.

How to achieve your true goal

Setting goals can guide us through the maze of modern life, but the process of working towards those goals can be more important than achieving them.

How to achieve your true goal
photo credit: t i g via photopin cc

It is only those who know neither an inner call nor an outer doctrine whose plight truly is desperate; that is to say, most of us today, in this labyrinth without and within the heart. Alas, where is the guide, that fond virgin, Ariadne, to supply the simple clue that will give us the courage to face the Minotaur, and the means to find our way to freedom when the monster has been met and slain?”

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Suppose you are out skiing, and when you got off the lift, you mention to the person who rode up the lift with you that you plan to ski down to the lodge where you’re going to meet up with some friends for lunch. “No problem” this person replies, and suddenly he waves to a helicopter above, that upon his signal, swoops you up and speedily deposits you at the ski lodge. You protest vigorously, but the pilot is incredulous. He says, “What’s your beef, my friend? It was you who said the objective was to get from the summit down to the lodge!”
The helicopter pilot would have a point if getting to the lodge were the only issue. If it is, flying down the slope achieves exactly what skiing down achieves. Both have you start at the top and end up at the lodge. The helicopter even has notable advantages: you don’t get cold, or tired, or wet, for example.

There is only one problem with this. The goal of getting to the lodge was meant to structure the process of skiing. That process was the true “goal.”

You have to value “down” over “up” or you can’t do downhill skiing. Aiming at a specific goal (the lodge) allows you to “orienteer” one way to go down the hill. But the true goal is just to ski, not reaching the goal (the lodge).

In precisely the same way, the true goal of goals is to orient you toward your values so you can live a valued life, moment by moment. A successful ACT patient put it this way toward the end of therapy: “I just want to do this because that’s what I want my life to be about. It’s not really about any outcome. I want to be alive until I’m dead.” Goals can help you do exactly that. But be careful! Your mind will often claim that the true goal is the goal itself (after all, evaluating outcomes is what this organ evolved to do), and it will suggest that you should cut corners (like violate your integrity, or ignore other valued aspects of your life) to get there. That defeats the whole purpose, and if you succumb to cutting corners, accomplishing your goals will only mock you.

Steven C. Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

The hero of your own adventure

Myths, fairy tales, and fables have influenced your life, and understanding these stories can give a better insight into who you are.

The hero of your own adventure
photo credit: Kevin_Morris via photopin cc

The bold and truly epoch-making writings of the psychoanalysts are indispensable to the student of mythology; for, whatever may be thought of the detailed and sometimes contradictory interpretations of specific cases and problems, Freud, Jung, and their followers have demonstrated irrefutably that the logic, the heroes, and the deeds of myth survive into modern times. In the absence of an effective general mythology, each of us has his private, unrecognized, rudimentary, yet secretly potent pantheon of dream. The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

‘As a human being, you are the central figure in the universal hero’s mythic journey, the fairy tale, the Arthurian quest. For men and women alike, this journey is the trajectory between birth and death, a human life lived. No one escapes the adventure. We only work with it differently.’
Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.