Life Lessons From 14 Years of Practicing Self-Acceptance

The practice of true self acceptance and self love is something I’m constantly re-visiting, re-learning and re-discovering again and again. So, if it sounds like I’m repeating myself from earlier blogs, I likely am; the lessons are not easily learned. Today’s blog will focus on self-acceptance through awareness and learning how to pause. 

I’m 34 years old today. I’ve spent many of those years tolerating, sometimes even hating, myself. Many moments of my life, that should have been joyful, were tainted by what felt like a current of anxiety resting heavy on my heart. Endless mind chatter and overthinking, “stories” about what I wanted and what I should be doing, or how certain situations had or should have played out, kept me busy in my head.

It didn’t matter if I was on a dream vacation, making love to my wife, or spending time with my friends, it was a rare moment when I didn’t feel, at least to some extent, like I was experiencing life through a fog of unworthiness and self-loathing.

I felt like a terrible “Earth Student.” But, let’s face it, who really is a good one? No one rides for free on planet Earth; life is a struggle and we’re all going to incur some damage along the way. We all experience disappointment, pain, suffering, and hardship. From time to time, we all feel like we’re not good enough.

All these experiences helped develop an armour that would guard me from myself. But by this point, my tactics were only further draining my adrenal glands, greying my hair and putting my nervous system on constant alert. Moreover, the negative stories I told myself about myself were becoming more and more relentless.

I reached a point where I felt alone, stupid, selfish, insecure and deeply flawed. I even felt that life itself could not be trusted. I was so convinced of my own unworthiness that I would double down on my shit and was in constant search of more of my own failings, because, of course, there must be more shortcomings to pick apart and obsess over somewhere!

Yet, I didn’t know how to express what was going on until one day the realization smacked me over the head. It was as if the universe had come calling and said, “All right, you’re missing out; it’s time to wake up and start really living.” Up until that moment, despite my inner struggles, I thought I knew how to live — until I realized I wasn’t living at all. For years, a feeling that something “just wasn’t right” had been swelling in the core of being. Constantly, I was chasing work, money, Instagrams, you name it, because I was never content. I was never content because … I didn’t feel good enough about myself. The story I’d told myself was that if I didn’t achieve something or do something, I wasn’t good enough. For a long time, I believed the only solution was to try harder, meditate more, read more self-help material, add important things to my daily routine. At work I’d keep busy checking emails, taking on more projects, listening to podcasts…anything to keep the demons at bay.

I was not able to relax for even a weekend for fear that if I released that mother-fucking anxiety all my fears would come true and the world would reject me.

That was my experience. Have you experienced something similar? Have you ever felt separate from everyone and everything? Alone, lonely, bored, boring, stupid, or selfish? If so, I’m sure you’ve wondered how to stop this endless battle against yourself.

Self Acceptance

My experiences have taught me that the path out is through pausing — to have awareness of the stories we tell ourselves, the emotions we experience, and the concepts that created them. And then, literally accepting everything about ourselves and our lives and finally learn to let go…

AWARENESS

Although a beautiful gift in many respects, it is deeply unfortunate that we think we know so much. All this thinking creates the concepts we use to live our lives. Yet, these concepts are the byproduct of a sick society* — one that has misguided us into a deeply rooted belief that we are not good enough unless we make a certain amount of money, look a certain way, have certain things, accomplish certain things, know certain people, and follow a certain routine or trajectory…and on and on and on.

The concepts are a byproduct of our parents’ fears and insecurities and their struggle to separate from their frustrations and exhaustion (as parents) and act with unconditional love, compassion and understanding toward their children. This is passed on from generation to generation.

These concepts are the memories of our past experiences. They created thought patterns that cause us, unknowingly, to respond in the ways we do to the situations, people and circumstances of our lives.

To gain awareness is to wake up and realize that our noisy mind, and the concepts we create out of all those thoughts, is the source of our pain. With awareness, we begin to see that we are not those concepts; they just are, and we experience, process and become wrapped up in them mostly subconsciously.

Once we’re aware of the workings of our mind, we can then set it free. Setting those constraining concepts free begins with Acceptance.

ACCEPTANCE

Acceptance is the practice of accepting something for what it is — be it a thought, an emotion, or a circumstance in your life. Acceptance also means coming to terms with reality. For example: I am “really” feeling this fear; I “really” am broke this month; this relationship “really” is ending; I am “really” sad at this moment. Acceptance is not complacency (but I’ll get to that later…).

In order to become aware of the concepts and our reactions to them, we often need to pause and take a moment of silence to hear what’s rattling around in our heads. Meditation and breathwork are helpful for quieting the mind so we can become more aware. Focusing on writing, painting, music, and even playing sports, are also powerful ways to quiet the mind. Just sitting in a spot and quietly observing (not meditating specifically) the external world without “thinking” about anything, in particular, can work. Or, just take a brief moment to pause what you’re doing and take a deep, slow breath.

During all these activities, thoughts will keep coming and you’ll want to latch on to them. Each time you get caught by a thought — as if you were watching it on a screen — just observe it and let it go.

What comes up for you? I’ll bet there are plenty of thoughts you don’t want to think. In these moments, you get to put your truths on the table, so to speak. The truths I speak of are the thoughts about yourself and your reality — which you need to accept — bad, good or otherwise. Do you feel pain? Yes, put it on the table. Sorrow, anger, hatred, shame, guilt, whatever it is in this pause, allow the thought to be.

For now, forget why you have these feelings and just acknowledge them. We spend so much of our mental and physical energy denying or avoiding these feelings. Instead, invite them to lunch — or whatever feels like a safe place — to acknowledge them. The key is to acknowledge them. That’s the hard part because we’re told to ignore them our whole damn lives.

“Stop crying!” Dad says.

“Don’t worry!” Mom says.

“Just be happy!” Grandpa says.

“Behave better,” Teacher says.

“It doesn’t matter if people like you,” the counselor says.

But we DO feel worry as humans. We need to cry as humans. We can’t always be happy as humans. As a human, you need to be seen, heard, and loved. You are a feeling being — a living breathing vessel of endless thoughts, emotions, experiences and sensations.

So feel the pain and the sorrow. Stop resisting.

“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.” The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Acceptance, as meditation teacher Tara Brach says, “begins with accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives.”

She goes on: “Choosing to accept our human experience for all that it is. This brings us alive. Choosing to say yes to our fears, guilt and emotions, instead of hiding from them or masking them, is the path to being to touch with what is actually happening with a clear and kind intention.”

So, one session, one day, one moment at a time, be aware of your feelings and accept them for what they are. “Hold your shadow in front of you,” Robert Hilliker says. “It can only take you down from behind.”

Letting Go

LETTING GO

Now, back to complacency. Self-acceptance of our struggle does not equal complacency. Nor does allowing ourselves to pause and be vulnerable to our struggle equal complacency. In fact, it is the opposite; being vulnerable and not resisting these thoughts as they come is key to letting them go. Letting go is a paradoxical practice where often doing nothing is actually the answer. To borrow an example I’ve used before, if you’re snorkeling in shallow water, the more you struggle the more sand you kick up, and the harder it is to see. Relax.

So once you’ve become aware of the thoughts or feelings and have accepted them, you can now begin the journey of freeing yourself from them.

One very powerful way to do this is to say: These thoughts, emotions and/or experiences are the byproducts of the concepts I’ve learned. They are not me and they are not happening to me. They are happening through me. “I” am not depressed or anxious, I am experiencing depression or anxiety. The hate, the frustration, the judgement, the guilt, the shame are all “guests in the house of my mind.” They can be persistent as hell, but they are just guests — they are not me — and I can ask them to leave at any time.

As with any guests, we put up with them and listen patiently. What does your anger have to say today? We can begin to relate to these thoughts, understand them, but not take them on — much like how we can have a conversation with someone who is hurting or struggling or sad and not take on their sadness as if it were our own, but empathize and offer compassion. It’s not personal when it’s someone else’s “stuff” and it doesn’t have to be for ourselves either. Just like our friends, spouse or partner, our thoughts and emotions may just need to vent about something that has triggered them! Thoughts, themselves, are not the enemy; but, they most certainly are the story we get caught in.

BECOMING FREE

There is a story I once read about…

…an eagle who lived among chickens. The eagle, who did not fly, waddled around with the other chickens, clucking and eating grubs off the ground. One day, he saw a magnificent bird in the sky and asked his fellow chicken, “What bird is this?” “Why, an eagle,” said the other chicken, “The most magnificent bird of all.” At which point, the eagle went back to waddling and eating grubs off the ground.

And, another story about…

…a lion who lived among sheep. The lion acted like the sheep, lounging around and grazing the fields. Then one day, another lion came across the flock where the lion lived. He immediately went up to the lion and said, “Who do you think you are?” “I’m a sheep,” said the lion. “You most certainly are not,” said the other lion, who then took him to a pond and showed him his reflection. The lion realized who he was and they left together.

Are you like the eagle or the lion?

The point being, we are the concepts we believe. We are the concepts people in our lives reflect back to us and we are our own self-narratives … until we realize we are not. We can be free from our attachment to our struggle when we become aware of the concepts that have shaped us. We can accept what we are experiencing in the moment. This isn’t to say that the experiences that shape us don’t make us stronger or add to our character, but they can become the self-imposed boundary between mental freedom and being trapped in an endless mental struggle.

But this takes time. When we break an arm and put on a cast, our bone actually heals quite quickly. However, once the cast is off, the muscles around them, which have also been at rest and atrophied, can take much longer to regain the strength they had previously.

Much like muscles that have atrophies, it can take time to break free from your old patterns — even if you are aware and accepting of your thoughts and emotions.

During this process, don’t tell yourself you need to be happier or you should stop being emotional; don’t deny your thoughts or believe your experiences should be any different than they are. That type of thinking only perpetuates the mental struggle.

I confess that there is one reason I sometimes hesitate to write blogs like this or read or listen to a lot of self-help about how to perfect morning routines or be more efficient (which as you well know I’m guilty of writing about). Because, although they may provide wonderful guidance or ideas, they also act a double-edged sword — perpetuating feelings of not being good enough or doing good enough or piling on more “concepts” that we need to live by.

In all likelihood, not a damn thing that you have experienced in your life has allowed you to be unapologetically you. But, remember, you are fucking amazing just the way you are!

Thank you for reading,

Be well.

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