I’ve already written about why acceptance is essential, but the subject bears deeper exploration because acceptance is not only an essential principle, but also an essential practice AND panacea.
I want to consider self-acceptance in particular, because that, for me, has to be the foundation upon which all other forms of acceptance rest.
Can you say that you wholeheartedly accept who you are (including your thoughts and feelings)?
Sit for a few moments and contemplate that question. What thoughts invade your mind?
Affirm: I completely accept myself and all of my experiences.
Do you feel at ease with that affirmation? Does it bring a sigh of contentment, or does it make you feel uncomfortable, tense?
‘Who wants to feel sad, angry or afraid?’ you might ask, and you’d be right. But sadness, anger and fear are part of the deal we shake on when we’re born upon this earth. Shoving our emotions where we think they won’t bother us doesn’t work; in fact it has the opposite effect. Repressed feelings and emotions can fester like an infected wound, oozing pus into your psyche. And that’s neither pleasant nor healthy.
Wellbeing is better served by taking a mindful approach and allowing your feelings all that they require – expression. Take sadness, for example; your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you, or someone you love dies. Naturally, you’re upset. If you don’t acknowledge this, you’ll sweep your pain into a corner of your heart expecting it to stay out of your way. But your pain will not be ignored, so it will mope and do whatever it can to get your attention. The best you can hope for is recurring misery, the worst… well, there’s a school of thought that says physical illness starts on an emotional level, and I’m not going to argue with that.
Lung cancer killed my dad. In Your Body Speaks Your Mind, Deb Shapiro suggests that ‘the lungs are […] a place of sadness, of unexpressed grief and tears, often accumulated over a long period of time’. My dad was heartbroken when he and my mum divorced, especially when my mum moved us all 200 miles away. He never processed his grief; I’m convinced that it played a part in him developing cancer.
My mum left my dad for my step-dad, himself a married man with two adored sons. Sadly, their relationships all but broke down because the sons, like my dad, were left behind when we departed from Manchester. Bailey succumbed to cancer of the blood a few years after my dad died. In You Can Heal Your Life Louise Hay claims that ‘our blood represents joy’; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a man who denied what clearly brought him joy paid a hefty price for that.
Repressed sadness can also lead to anger, and we’re all aware of how destructive anger can be. This is not to say that anger shouldn’t be given appropriate expression. I once met a woman whose mantra was ‘anger is bad’; she would not allow herself to admit to feeling any anger whatsoever. Surely, depending on what causes the anger, it’s a permissible emotion? In certain circumstances, for example those involving injustice and abuse, anger is, in my book, an acceptable response, as long as it is vented in a non-violent way. I can’t help wondering about the health of my acquaintance who bottled up her anger; she was already miserable when I knew her.
Many books have been written on how to accept our emotions: Beating Anger, by Mike Fisher and Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, by Susan Jeffers, are two I can recommend. I dealt with my own fear only when I decided to welcome its existence rather than keep pushing it away and refusing to fully acknowledge it. Over a period of time, and after a lot of mindfulness practice, I came to realise that being with fear, leaning right into it, dispels it.
The trick is to be gentle with yourself; don’t try to force the issue. Have the willingness, as Abraham Maslow suggests, to let whatever is be. It’s all just part of the human condition, and if we’re not here to experience being human, then what are we here for?
In Tarot in the Spirit of Zen: The Game of Life, Osho says:
Accept yourself, allow your unconscious to be revealed to you. This is how each human being is. By knowing it, you become a different kind of human being. By accepting it, cherishing it, you bring a revolution to your life.
Melody Beattie, in The Language of Letting Go, refers to the practice of acceptance as miraculous and magic. Why? Because it is liberating to be able to fully acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses. I should know – fear used to rule my life in the form of a debilitating anxiety disorder. By embracing it and letting it be I have proved to myself that acceptance is transformational. But you don’t have to take my word for it – try it for yourself, and see!