Self-Acceptance: As You Are and As You May Be

Your mindful awareness of yourself will reveal many things: thoughts, feelings, images, urges, memories, plans, values, beliefs, nightmares and daydreams. They are all waiting for you just behind your eyes. In working to accept our mental world we are really practicing acceptance of the self. This is a skill that can only be honed over long spans of time.

Our challenge is to be who we are, letting go of any childish fantasy of becoming someone else, as if we could just swap masks with another at a masquerade. No, we are only given one role to play upon this stage. We can live inauthentically, or we can fully commit to the life we have been dealt.

Try, now, to accept yourself exactly as you are. As a thought experiment, consider what it would mean if there was no more hope of improvement. No way to lose 10 pounds. No new skills. No promotion. No fashion make-over. No new high score. Just you. As if you were, essentially, the person that you were going to be for all your remaining days. Could you embrace being that person? Is this life you have currently good-enough?

Difficult? This thought experiment brings us to a paradox: Self-acceptance must be unconditional, and yet, it is nearly impossible to conceive of the self as not changing. As long as we are ourselves, we will have some capacity to change and grow. In other words, awareness of the self also includes awareness of the power of the self to change. Acceptance of the self requires us to reckon with how we will use this power.

This paradox, as we will soon see, is the twisting force that creates the bend in the spiral path.

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The Observing Self

You are not your thoughts and you are not your emotions. You are the being that experiences thoughts and emotions. But much of these experiences are passive—they just seem to happen. And anything that just happens—that you are not in control of—is not you. You are the being that makes choices, that sets goals, and that acts. These actions are the work of the true self.

Spend a few moments just letting your thoughts come and go. Just sit quietly and let what happens happen. There is no need to direct. No need to produce any particular kind of mental state. This is not about being empty, or calm, or at peace. It’s just about being open and willing to experience what is there. If it helps, try to adopt a stance of curiosity towards your thoughts. Avoid judging the thoughts as good or bad, interesting or dull. They are just thoughts, and there are plenty more where they came from.

This may seem simple, but it will not always be so. Our thoughts have a way of overwhelming us especially when we are in the throes of anger or anxiety. At such times, we may feel virtually certain of things that later will seem trivial or ridiculous. In every case, we will benefit from creating distance between our observing mind and the thoughts we are having. When we lose that distance, we can seem to become defined by our thoughts and emotions. This will always be a reduction in what we are, and we are no better off for the loss.

This state in which our self and that which we are experiencing seem to merge, is the state we wish to avoid. We can strive not to lose the distance between the observer and the observed. So as you go through your day today, continually reflect on what originates from your true self, and what does not. Explore your experiences. Reflect on what you think and feel. But in doing so do not get lost in this abyss. Thoughts and feelings are not necessarily treasures to be discovered. They may be fool’s gold. It is our actions, decisions, strategies, goals, projects, and chosen values that we should cherish above all the other products of our mind.

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Read more about Mindfulness here. 

Trail Guide: Taking Stock

Every journey has a starting point. For us, our starting point is often home. Home. Such a simple word. “Home”  will be our metaphor—a stand in for acceptance of where we are in our process of change.

Home is where we make our start. Maybe you like where you live. Maybe you are content there. Maybe not. But before you can change, you have to know where you will be setting out from. When you look at a map is not your first instinct to find where you are? Therefore, the first part of any journey is to be where you are. Not just to be there, but to be there with curiosity and acceptance. We cannot accept any journey without such acceptance of where we will make our start. We do not have to love that starting point. We do not have to even like it at all. But we must acknowledge where we are.

Let’s take stock of that place now. Look around you. Just notice. Avoid the temptation to judge. It comes so easily, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to. You can learn to see things differently. Learn to notice the small seemingly insignificant details of ordinary life. Here are some questions that might help you with this process.

What do you hear right now?
What do you see that is blue? Or red?
Or Green?
Where is the source of light coming from?
How is light shaped or created in your space?
How does light cast its shadows?
How does the light change the color of your surroundings?
How does light fall on you?
How does your world smell? What objects are in reach?
Pick one up or lay your hand upon it. How does it feel? Is it rough? Smooth? Heavy? Think about where this object came from. How was it made?
Was it made by human beings?
Was it made by an artist? A craftsman?
Forged through time and nature? How did it come to be here?

Your world is complex it’s full or rich details and lush textures. The world is enough to hold your attention if you wish to lavish your attention on it.

And now let us peel this metaphor back. How much more complex are you than your surroundings? You’ll find layers of thoughts, feelings, sensations, postures, urges, memories, dreams, values, regrets, and fears. These layers flow backward into time. You are the font of experience. Your first challenge is to let your experience unfold and just be aware of it. Accept the thoughts as they come. Notice the feelings. Again apply your curiosity and accept what you find there. Resist the temptation to judge. Resist the tendency to be like a gardener pulling weeds or an editor correcting text. Just take a few more moments and accept whatever comes without condemnation or praise. Just let it be.

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Gratitude Journaling

Here is another excerpt from The Invisible Toolbox: Coping Skills for Everyday Resilience–a book I wrote to catalogue the my helpful techniques for responding to depression, anger, anxiety and unwanted urges.

Gratitude Journaling

Effectiveness: 2017-07-30 03.21.28 pm

Difficulty: Easy

Use In Response To: Depression, Anger, or Urges

Basic Idea: Regularly reflect on those aspects of your life that you are grateful for.

Description: Life can be like a treadmill sometimes—the more you accomplish, the more there is left to accomplish. The more you get, the more you want. For example, let’s say you have a functioning car but you would like a new car. While you are in the state of wanting the new car, you believe the new car will make you happy (“And it has heated seats!”). And when you get it, it does make you happy…for a short time. But as you come to get used to having the car, you can’t imagine how you once got by without it (or how your backside ever went without being toasted like a bagel). So instead of it being a positive thing that brings you happiness, you become accustomed to it and it no longer produces the pleasure it once did. If this pattern continues, your life might come to consist of going from one short-lived pleasure to another, with you never being more than momentarily satisfied.

The antidote to this problem is gratitude—wanting what you’ve already got. This is accomplished by thinking about the good things you have and, more importantly, the people you love but with the understanding that you are very fortunate to have these blessings in your life at all. Reflect on how their presence is so much better than their absence. Other things you might want to think about are the physical comforts of your home and conveniences, cherished possessions, means of transportation, access to clean water, your health, etc.

To use this as a coping skill, you would combat negative thoughts and emotions by forcing yourself to think about what you are most grateful for right in that moment. You can also do this as a regular practice by writing down three things that you are grateful for in a journal each night before you go to sleep.

Try it now: Think about your life and identify the three things or people that you are most grateful for.

Variations On Gratitude Journaling:

  1. What three things that happened today are you most grateful for?
  2. What three people outside your family are you most grateful to have in your life?
  3. What three events that occurred within your lifetime are you most grateful for?
  4. Who are the people that you are most grateful to have met?
  5. What three possessions are you most grateful for?
  6. What three experiences are you most grateful to have had?
  7. What three places are you most grateful to have visited?
  8. What are the three characteristics of yourself that you are most grateful for?
  9. What three books (or movies) are you most grateful to have experienced?
  10. What three challenges are you most grateful to have faced?

For more Coping Skills check out my free eBook here.