When Dharma teacher Jack Kornfield was asked, “what was the aim of a spiritual life?”
He stopped and thought for a moment and then said, “Part of it is self acceptance…maybe all of it.”
When I look back at my childhood, I see my family the four of us spinning in a trancelike whirling dervish exploding our pain like shrapnel.
Unprocessed pain will always claw its way out from beneath the surface. We can try to numb it, hide it, or control it, but eventually it will emerge through our behaviors hurling itself at anything in it’s path.
Healing from trauma has been slowly and painfully picking the shrapnel out of my heart and body, examining it, then putting it down to allow the scars to heal. It’s difficult and painstakingly messy work, and I know that my healing means the cycle stops here and I can stop the spinning. My god I want to stop spinning.
I’ve learned – and am learning – how to break down the barriers and beliefs that have kept me from loving and accepting myself. Like all the ways I internalized shame, believed I wasn’t enough, and denied myself love.
For me, that started with self-compassion which I learned through Mindfulness practice.
If this a new term to you, self-compassion is extending to yourself the same care and kindness that you would to a good friend.
Dr. Kristen Neff (her work is awesome, Google her!) describes self-compassion as having 3 components:
- Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment: Being warm and understanding to ourselves when we suffer, fail, feel inadequate instead of beating ourselves up for it.
- Common humanity vs. Isolation: Understanding that suffering and personal inadequacy is a part of the shared human experience we all go through and that you’re not alone in it.
- Mindfulness vs. Over-identification: Learning how to be aware of our feelings with openness and clarity without over-identifying with them.
Self-compassion is not something that has come easily to me. As a child I proudly proclaimed that I was a perfectionist and was ruthlessly hard on myself to perform and exceed expectations whether it was to be the top student in math or to never let anyone down.
These expectations became how I saw myself, my identity. So if I didn’t meet those expectations I was a worthless loser.
And guess what?
It didn’t take long for me to stop being able to meet those expectations. At around age 13 my family life imploded. I dove into a depression, and the cycle of making expectations I couldn’t meet and then hating myself for it spiraled me even deeper into hopelessness.
Yoga and Mindfulness taught me how to see things clearly without a story about it, hold space to process difficult emotions, and acceptance (which transforms into love) of myself.
I believe that the most important lesson I’m continuing to learn (because I need to learn things many times – I’m stubborn like that), is acceptance. Learning how to accept life as it is without a story or meaning behind it, which is so hard because our minds are meaning making machines!
and also accepting people (and myself) for who they are without constantly wishing they (or me) were different. Also hard because people are HARD sometimes.
Acceptance was a lesson I was sharing in Soul Strategy Sessions years ago, when one of the participants wanted more clarity on it. She said it sounded like you could just sit there and accept the world from your cave and that would be enough from her end.
But that’s not the case.
Acceptance means that you can see things clearly as they are, which you cannot do when you are constantly wishing they are different.
Acceptance is about respecting your limits and boundaries (and having others respect them too!), responding to your wants and desires instead of pretending you don’t have any, and seeing yourself as an imperfect human who is still deserving of love and belonging.
Learning to love and accept yourself is part of spiritual life…maybe it’s all of it.
Now I want to hear from you! In the comments tell me your thoughts on self-acceptance and your journey with it. Do you think it’s part, or all, of the spiritual path? I want to know!
PS. Don’t forget to forward this to someone who might need this today. We can be beacons guiding each other home to ourselves. <3