In 2010, I went to a 10-day meditation retreat in Thailand where I learned how meditation can lead to acceptance. The introductory meditation was held outside in a courtyard at dusk. We sat for 15 minutes while the mosquito bit us. At the end of those 15 minutes, the head monk asked one stiff and uncomfortable looking man how he felt. He replied that he felt “great!”
Then the monk asked me how I felt. I replied that I felt angry about the mosquito biting me. To my surprise the monk defended the mosquito, asking: if it is our practice to exercise compassion towards all sentient beings, must we not also have compassion for the mosquito? Doesn’t the mosquito deserve a meal? He then assigned all of us to do at least one meditation per day outside, with the mosquito, to exercise acceptance.
On each of the next 9 days at dusk I went back out into the courtyard to do my daily mosquito meditation. I would grit my teeth and observe the tickle, burn and eventual itch of the bites. My breath was forced and strained. I was angry at the mosquito but I thought I was practicing acceptance.
I began to realize that I was not practicing acceptance in that courtyard, I was practicing tolerance. I began to realize that I wasn’t really meditating. I was just waiting for it to be over. For days I pushed through my daily mosquito meditation, but I just wanted to be anywhere but there.
Then, on the 7th day, unexpectedly, I found myself resigned to the situation and experienced a few moments of acceptance. My patience had paid off! With perseverance and patience, I learned, acceptance would come.
I thought I had attained some higher level of meditating forever, but without warning it passed and I again started counting the minutes until I could leave the mosquito.
Acceptance is acknowledging that something is happening, often something that we don’t like, and then not trying to change it. Put differently, acceptance is not attaching to the outcome of a situation
The two practices, tolerance and patience, are excellent tools to get through uncomfortable situations. Taking tolerance and patience into our hearts and meditation practice helps us find true acceptance, wherever we are.