“Why should I accept sorrow? That is merely another superficial activity of the mind. I don’t want to accept sorrow, or to attenuate it, or to run away from it. I want to understand sorrow.” Jiddu Krishnamurti
According to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), human beings care about certain things more than others (they have “values”), but part of the human condition is that they don’t behave in line with these values. Steven Hayes (ACT’s founder) et al. identify “experiential avoidance” as the biggest obstacle to value-based living: the kicker about values is that where you care, you can hurt, very easily. And according to the mind, analogous to when you have a splinter in your thumb, what’s the best way to stop hurting? Well, just get rid of your pain: stop caring, numb the pain, stop doing things you love if the “good” doesn’t outweigh the “bad.”
ACT gives us a fairly accurate image of the human problem. It also proposes a solution: acceptance of pain, and commitment to values-driven action. The rest (all the strange experiential exercises) is merely there to help you on your journey.
Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) was an Indian philosopher who proposed a radical way of living to the world. He wanted us to see the danger of division: national, religious, political, economical. He proposed no method (“Don’t ask how,” he once chided one of his listeners), but a radical, choiceness attention in which the clear seeing of mental content (fear, division, possessiveness, etc.) without what he termed “the observer,” a static centre from which we evaluate mental content, that would give rise to “right action.” Man lives in the past (and the projected future), but never now; ideas about God, The Nation, the Me, images of my loved ones, all that is “the old.” The problems of living? All that is new and fresh, and to attempt to deal with the new and fresh (the problems of daily living) in terms of the old (“who I was yesterday,” “God”) gives birth to conflict. Man has lived this way for millennia. Not through books, he says, only through observation and action, might we find a fresh way of living.
Seen through Jiddu’s eyes, to have and to apply an idea about “acceptance” is a mental trick: a game to make the pain go away. ACT is pronounced “act,” “not ay-see-tee.” For ACT is no religious doctrine; it is a pragmatic way of living. Turn it into an “-ism,” a ritual, you’ve missed the point: engaging in bizarre experiential exercises through the lens of the old just brings a new, strange dimension into your suffering. ACT won’t give you an easy answer to ancient questions about the meaning of life. My problems are right there before me, and I have to act, not hide. If you see “ACT,” kill it! Live afresh and without corruption between word and deed: do what needs doing, and only then will you understand sorrow.