“We will discover the nature of our particular genius when we stop trying to conform to our own or to other peoples’ models, learn to be ourselves, and allow our natural channel to open.” – Shakti Gawain
Ever since my last appointment with Dr. Zzzz, I’ve been thinking about the concept of self-acceptance. When I read the The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, self-acceptance was the chapter I was the least interested in, the chapter I wanted to gloss over the most… and ironically, it was the chapter I needed to pay the most attention to (it’s always like that, isn’t it?).
The philosophy group I belong to decided to read Radical Acceptance (which Dr. Zzzz had recommended). Most of us had a copy on our bookshelves already but had not read it. I reluctantly opened the pages… and then found myself totally engrossed in the book. It’s very well written… and it feels like it was written just for me. Sigh.
Tara Brach defines Radical Acceptance as the cultivation of mindfulness and compassion. “For so many of us, feelings of deficiency are right around the corner. It doesn’t take much – just hearing of someone else’s accomplishments, being criticized, getting into an argument, making a mistake at work – to make us feel that we are not okay.”
I know this is certainly true for me. I can be feeling great one minute, and then some incident will happen and all my self-doubts come crushing in.
“Convinced that we are not good enough, we can never relax. We stay on guard, monitoring ourselves for shortcomings. When we inevitably find them, we feel even more insecure and undeserving. We have to try even harder. The irony of all of this is… where do we think we are going anyway?”"…We must overcome our flaws by controlling our bodies, controlling our emotions, controlling our natural surroundings, controlling other people. And we must strive tirelessly – working, acquiring, consuming, achieving, e-mailing, over-committing and rushing – in a never-ending quest to prove ourselves once and for all.”
There are many things, Tara Brach points out, that we do to “manage the pain of inadequacy”:
* Embark on one self-improvement project after another – Rather than relaxing and enjoying who we are and what we’re doing, we are comparing ourselves with an ideal and trying to make up for the difference.
* Hold back and play it safe rather than risking failure – Playing it safe requires that we avoid risky situations – which covers pretty much all of life.
* Withdraw from our experience of the present moment – We pull away from the raw feelings of fear and shame by incessantly telling ourselves stories about what is happening in our life. [...] Living in the future creates the illusion that we are managing our life and steels us against personal failure.
* Keep busy – Staying occupied is a socially sanctioned way of remaining distant from our pain. How often do we hear that someone who has just lost a dear one is “doing a good job at keeping busy”?
* Become our own worst critics – Staying on top of what is wrong with us gives us the sense that we are controlling our impulses, disguising our weaknesses and possibly improving our character.
* Focus on other people’s faults – Every time we hide a defeat we reinforce the fear that we are insufficient. When we strive to impress or outdo others, we strengthen the underlying belief that we are not enough as we are.
Whenever we reject a part of our being, we are confirming to ourselves our fundamental unworthiness.When we learn to face and feel the fear and shame we habitually avoid, we begin to awaken from trance. We free ourselves to respond to our circumstances in ways that bring genuine peace and happiness.
So what do we do?
The first step, is to identify the beliefs that we have that make us feel unworthy (“Do I accept my body as it is? Do I judge myself for not being intelligent/interesting/funny enough? Am I ashamed of feeling jealous?” etc). Throughout the day, start to become aware (without judging) of how you relate to yourself and your behaviors. Notice what your inner critic is saying to you.
Learn to recognize the thoughts you are having. When the inner-critic starts battling with you, don’t engage. Recognize the voice simply as a passing thought. Just allow the thought and its associated feelings to move through you. Notice what your body does in reaction to your thoughts.
Then… learn to “pause”.
What if we were to intentionally stop our mental computations and our rushing around and, for a minute or two, simply pause and notice our inner experience? A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving toward any goal. In a pause, we simply discontinue whatever we are doing – thinking, talking, walking, writing, planning, worrying, eating – and become wholeheartedly present, attentive and, often, physically still. A pause is, by nature, time limited. We resume our activities but we do so with increased presence and more ability to make choices.
I’ve decided to choose several times during the day to practice pausing. Every morning, I wake up and make a cup of tea (it’s one of my favorite morning rituals) and sit down at my computer. Before engaging with my computer, I sit and observe what is happening in my body. There’s nothing for me to “do” except listen. There are several more times during the day where I make tea, and every time I sit back down to begin working, I pause and listen.
The book describes some common misunderstandings about radical acceptance:
* It is not resignation.
* It does not mean defining ourselves by our limitations. It is not an excuse for withdrawal.
* It is not self-indulgence.
* It does not make us passive.
* It doesn’t mean accepting a “self”.
So accepting everything means that we are aware of what is happening in our body and mind in any given moment, without trying to control or judge or pull away. It does not mean putting up with harmful behavior. It means feeling sorrow and pain without resisting. It means feeling desire or dislike for someone without judging ourselves for the feeling or being driven to act on it. Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is Radical Acceptance.
It’s been interesting for me to really begin to pay attention to all the things that are happening in my body throughout the day. I didn’t realize how disconnected I could be – or how quickly disconnected I could become. Scheduled pauses gives me an opportunity to check in with myself several times throughout the day – while at the same time, allowing me to practice for emotionally intense moments where a pause has the potential to make all the difference.
If any of you have any experience with these techniques, I would love to hear about them.
“I must learn to love the fool in me—the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my fool.”- Theodore Rubin