The Souk: Training Ground for Acceptance and Commitment

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The Souk: Training Ground for Acceptance and Commitment

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As a consultant and psychologist, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see much of the world, and strolling the souks in Middle Eastern countries is one of my favorite things to do while abroad. Walking around open-air markets in the Gulf Region is an amazing experience. The storefronts are crowded with huge burlap sacks brimming with seeds, spices, and herbs.   The scents are so pungent that the first time I went to a souk in Dubai, my eyes started tearing. I have no allergies or sensitivities, but the fragrances are penetrating.

The souks also gleam with neon lights and shiny objects. The front windows are crammed with gold, baubles, electronics, and souvenirs. You can buy many unique items in the souk. It’s exhilarating to be there.

But there’s something I don’t love about the souks. The vendors abound and their energy is inexhaustible. The salesmen trying to sell you hats, jewelry, fabric, trinkets, and shisha pipes continually accost you. They are relentless throughout your entire trip through those exotic alleyways.

Well, I’m fortunate enough to have been brought up in the New York metropolitan area, so I am fairly street smart. And I was trained by the late, great Albert Ellis – one of the pioneers of cognitive-behavioral therapy – so I’ve been through quite a bit of training in my Life. I’m not about to fork over any of my hard-earned dirham to a vendor just because he’s in my face and hassling me.

AND – It’s still annoying… so I came up with a remedy! One day, I simply popped in my ear-buds. When I did that, I had the best of both worlds. I saw, smelled, and felt the souk, but only heard the pleasant sounds of my favorite music. It was funny to watch the faces of the vendors trying to sell me something and then see them realize there was no way I’d be buying anything from them because I couldn’t even hear them. Some of the men simply just stopped mid-sentence while talking to me. I could see the abrupt change in their expressions when they realized I wasn’t listening. For a little while, I felt victorious.

And then I realized something: I was avoiding living Life on Life’s terms. I was not absorbing the culture or interacting with the world. I was numbing myself from the experience. Yes, some of the authentic experience was annoying, but it was a real, genuine experience nonetheless. I thought my ear-bud idea was a great buffer from the irritating sales pitches, but it also robbed me of the realness of the souk.                                                                      

I took the buds out, and smiled at every merchant who approached. Their aggravating pitches were absorbed – even accepted – and I simply committed to acting kindly to each one of them while keeping my wallet safely in my pocket while I embraced the unfolding of it all.

People who are mentally healthy are able to embrace their experiences. A marquee concept in valued living is being willing to accept Life’s experiences while doing the activities that you care about.  That is what acceptance and commitment is all about.

Acceptance is the willingness to actively experience your personal realities (ex. emotions, sensations, and urges) without trying to avoid them no matter how uncomfortable.  Commitment is engaging in action in the direction of what you care about, even in the presence of obstacles (Moran, 2013).  Putting both of these ingredients together gives you the recipe for living a full, abundant, psychologically healthy Life.

Whether you walk around Middle Eastern souks, suburban streets, or just the day-to-day path of your Life, see if you can embrace a little more of what you might have previously avoided, and dedicate your behavior toward following through on what is meaningful and vital.  This approach could open up a whole new world for you… or just a little bit more value from your old world.

This content was originally published here.

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