self awareness

Acceptance (Part II)

 

I introduced the basic approach to acceptance (and a short example of how to do it) in my previous post. I want to stress here that this practice isn’t easy. You’re attempting to retrain your mind out of default patterns of thinking, which it’s been carrying out automatically for years. Think of it as well-trodden roads or pathways in the mind. Acceptance practice is actually creating new roads, new mental pathways, and it takes a little time to adjust.

 

This practice can be applied in every day modern life to enhance peacefulness and calm, and cultivate emotional intelligence and maturity. And it’s also part of a rigorous spiritual discipline designed to bring your entire ego into conscious awareness. (In the latter case, it’s seen more as a temporary tool that gets you to a particular level of spiritual development rather than as a permanent mode of being.). It’s only a question of how far you take it.

 

And so one of the major critiques of acceptance (as it’s come into the West via the mindfulness movement) is that it will turn all of us into sheep. I heard this critique a lot in the corporate arena when mindfulness programs were suggested as part of employee enrichment. If you teach people about acceptance, you are encouraging passivity and conformity; you could be condoning and perpetuating abusive dynamics.

 

We are a culture of doers, fighters, changers, and carried out to its logical end, this practice would mean that you just accept everything, allow everything, never complain, never set limits, never hold people accountable, and never take any corrective action.

 

If you just accept everything, you would basically become totally apathetic to the world around you. You would allow all kinds of bad things to happen and you wouldn’t do anything about them. Something that doesn’t really jive with our “I’m gonna change the world. I’m gonna make a difference” mentality.

 

This is a valid concern. I worried about this too in the beginning.

 

It would seem this way – if you just allow everything, then you’d never do anything about anything. You’d lose all motivation to change anything or work towards anything. If you just allowed everything to be what it is, worked internally to come to peace and contentment, then nothing would ever get done. You would be complacent and unmoved. You would allow evil and injustice to reign. You would end up homeless, penniless, on the street with a shopping cart. Your life, and the world at large, would go quickly down the drain…

 

But, in practice, the result is actually quite shockingly different.

 

Acceptance looks like a passive state, but in reality it brings something entirely new into this world. That peace, a subtle energy vibration, is consciousness. -Eckhart Tolle

 

I’ve taken this practice to the extreme over the last few years as part of my spiritual discipline. And what happens over time is that you come to a place of emotional equanimity about everything. You don’t have many emotional responses to things the way you did before. You are, in essence, undoing the source of your emotional triggers. And what you reach is a sort of peaceful, consistent state of contentment without any effort. (You’re not repressing or denying any emotional responses – you actually don’t have them.). What grows within you though is courage, emotional fortitude, and a sense of your own integrity and self-respect.

 

Emotional reactivity, whether it’s expressed or suppressed, wastes both physical and spiritual energy. It’s the reason that all spiritual traditions ask you to work on maintaining emotional equilibrium and stability. Different traditions go about this in different ways. In my view, you can’t maintain emotional stability by force or control. You have to go to the roots of where the reaction comes from – the subconscious belief system. In effect, if you undo the source of the trigger, if you address/heal that particular piece of your psyche, then the next time you are confronted with that particular stimulus, you won’t have a reaction. You’ll observe what’s happening, but you won’t feel an emotional response in the body. (This is huge when it first happens for people – they can’t believe the difference!). And as you have less and less reactions, you are actually conserving physical and spiritual energy. You are becoming stronger and more fortified.

 

Someone might say something disrespectful, and you may not like it or appreciate being spoken to that way, but your emotional body doesn’t respond. There is no racing heart, no fight or flight, no boiling blood, just a calm clarity that allows you to say “hey, I don’t like being spoken to that way, please stop it.” Which is an interpersonal skill most people are too uncomfortable to cultivate these day.

 

Acceptance doesn’t turn you into a sheep; quite the opposite. It actually helps strengthen you sense of self, while your emotional body remains at rest most of the time. You will still like and dislike things. You will set boundaries with people (lots of them, more so than ever perhaps). You will still go to work, and pay your bills, and shop for groceries, you’ll just do all of it calmly and peacefully, without the emotional roller-coasters all the time.

 

The difference here is that when you do set limits or hold people accountable for stuff, you don’t do it in a frenzy of emotional reactivity. As Rudolf Steiner explains you do it with the same emotional tone as if you were advocating for someone else who has been hurt or offended, rationally and dispassionately.

 

You discuss your feelings with complete calm. It’s not a passionate dramatic fight, where you say all kinds of things that you later regret. You aren’t abusive or hurtful to the other person. You don’t escalate the conflict. You don’t lash out. There is no angry retort or sense of vengeance – you don’t want to “get him back” for what he said. Because you aren’t really affected by what this person has said.

 

You know that whatever they’re doing is their own stuff. You don’t take it personally – meaning you don’t interpret the words or actions of others as a reflection of your self-worth. You accept that this is what is being said to you in this moment, over which you have no control (try as you might, you really can’t control other people), and you have a peaceful, firm, yet compassionate response to the offending person. You can choose to respond, how to respond, or not to respond at all.

 

With emotional equanimity comes actual freedom of choice, and self-control.

 

But what about the passionate action for change? What about making the world a better place? What about standing up to injustice?

 

Well, what I’ve been shown over the last few months is that those things don’t go away. You don’t become apathetic to the world. This kind of emotional equanimity allows you to move through life, and do lots and lots of things, without being depleted by the toxic nature of other people or the situations around you. It allows you to retain an internal stillness, that keeps you from wasting physical and spiritual energy in emotional reactivity. It allows you to take lots and lots of inspired action (for good), time and time again, without fear of risk or failure. It allows you to make peace, the right way. And it allows you to stand up to people (who are behaving badly) without fear. It gives you to courage to do whatever is in your integrity to do.

 

(Another important inquiry to do first though, is to look at what within you is motivating you to change the world. An honest look inward will surprise you. You will find that a lot of that is your own unhealed material projected outward. My facebook friend Lila Haris explains this beautifully here).

 

This doesn’t mean you never get angry or upset. There are certainly situations where you have an appropriate response, but it’s a lot less often, a lot less dramatic, and it lasts for a much shorter time. You may feel sad, or hurt, or upset if a situation calls for it, but with acceptance you’ve cut short a lot of the unnecessary suffering. And you’re one step closer to forgiveness. If you choose to use anger – it isn’t abusive. It’s not meant to hurt the other person. And you are not swept up in the emotions; you use it carefully, with control, like you would a fine instrument. The anger doesn’t control you, you control it.

 

It is true that anger and passion have fueled lots of beneficial social movements. It is undeniable that lots of rights and liberties have been fought for, and secured, through the emotional force of people who have been wronged. And their anger, and pain, and rage is then catalyzed into social action. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need all of that unruly passion to make a difference. (I would argue that that’s a dangerous way to go about seeking social justice).

 

All of our greatest leaders taught us that, and you can see it now, in action, with the wise leadership at Standing Rock. To sustain the fight against injustice you need emotional resilience. You need calm cool resolve that doesn’t deplete you, physically or spiritually. Far from turning you into a sheep or a doormat, acceptance gives you the emotional resilience of a marathoner, rather than a sprinter, to fight the good fight (whatever that means for you).

 

Acceptance doesn’t lead to apathy, as the criticism suggests. You are still motivated to do things (often very motivated), but you do them with a different kind of energy. You stand up for what’s right, and you take action against injustice, but you do it with internal peace. A peace that doesn’t deplete you, so you have more energy to continue standing up and to continue taking action.

 

Authenticity

Authentic people are endlessly fascinating. Not because they are especially intelligent, or funny, or charming. Theirs is a different sort of attractiveness.

Authentic people allow the creative energy of the universe to flow through them unencumbered; and they express it freely, without a moment’s hesitation. Humbly, they know they are merely a vessel or conduit for whatever wants to be expressed; and really nothing more. They rarely take personal credit for what flows through them. They are not arrogant in their manner, but at best, quietly self-assured.  (more…)

What does it mean to honor someone’s feelings?

To me, one of the hallmarks of love, is the ability to honor someone’s feelings. In every relationship, romantic or otherwise, feelings get hurt. They just do. On one side, or the other, or both, occasionally. Knowing how to handle these situations properly, makes or breaks most relationships.

Learning to honor someone’s feelings means cultivating the ability to listen, open-heartedly, when someone comes to you and says “this thing you did… it really hurt me.” And then learning how to respond properly, lovingly, by validating the other person’s feelings, and demonstrating that you care about them.  (more…)

Acceptance and tolerance are not the same thing

starry-endsPeople often confuse acceptance with tolerance.

To accept something does not mean to tolerate it. Acceptance is love. Tolerance is “to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.” Tolerance is to endure with forbearance. It carries a negative quality. Tolerance requires patience, causes frustration, and drains our vital energy. Inevitably, tolerating too much of something, ends in some kind of explosion when we “just can’t take it anymore!”  (more…)

Love is ruthless

My teacher, Gaya, used to repeat this to me all the time during our sessions; but like with most of her pearls of wisdom, I didn’t get it right away. It sounds nice. Sort of like “all’s fair in love and war” kinda thing, right? (I never understood exactly what that phrase meant either. Either way, not important. Back to where I was going…). So, love is ruthless. The more I thought about it, the less it made sense. In my view, at the time, love was soft, warm, accepting, gentle, and tender. It was all of these really beautiful, safe, sensitive, caring, protective ideas. Love was a respite. Love was ever-forgiving. Love was a warm comfortable blanket, surrounded by oversized down-filled pillows, on a really cold day. Right?

Nope, not so. Not even close.  (more…)

Life doesn’t happen to you; it happens for you.

Often times when some negative event befalls someone we know, we shake our heads in sympathy. “What a shame. Poor guy. He’s such a good person. How could this happen to him? He was always so kind and caring. Everyone loves him…” We make the mistake of thinking that this “bad” thing that happened is some kind of misfortune. A run of bad luck. Perhaps a mistake on the victim’s part even. But this kind of thinking traps us in suffering. It is how most people live, but it is not the right way to live.  (more…)

Life demands action

When I was in my pre-teen years, the powers that be in my family decided to enroll me in a beauty pageant. I will leave the debate about the wisdom of this decision for another post; suffice it to say it got me off the couch, away from the television, and taught me some amazing lessons. In true “tiger mom” fashion, we proceeded full force ahead; no expense was spared. For the talent portion of the competition, my mother choreographed a beautiful ballet, that conceptually involved me emerging from an imaginary oyster shell as a newly formed pearl. This particular choreography required me to dance on my toes (“en pointe” as it’s called).

The problem was that I was an amateur ballet dancer with nowhere near the technical mastery required for that caliber performance. “No problem. You can do it. I believe in you. We will find a way. We have six months to get you there.” For better or worse, my mother’s faith in my ability to do just about anything is infinite. (more…)

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.

This is such a beautiful quote by Anais Nin. Do you have any idea what it means? This quote distills the essence of projection into thirteen simple words. It is one of the most brilliant pieces of wisdom that, when understood completely, can liberate us from so much of our suffering.

We see the world through a sort of filter made up of all of the ideas and beliefs we created in childhood. When we started to observe the world as children, we learned how to earn love, acceptance, safety, and how to avoid pain. The beliefs we formed in childhood, created in innocence, are often very very false. If you dig into your psyche and root some of them out, you will see just how silly and ridiculous they are. It’s a kind of rule-book or belief system you created for yourself when you were four, five, six years old… These beliefs make up our ego structure which then guides the rest of our lives. You live your life today ruled by decisions you made about the world, and who you have to be, when you were a little kid. Sounds absurd right? 

(more…)

If you can’t joke about it, you have some work to do.

Have you ever found yourself in a social situation where someone makes an off-hand comment, a vaguely critical observation, that is so hurtful to you that you feel instantly shattered? One stupid sentence, and it feels like someone knocked all the wind out of you? Of course you have, we all have. It’s been happening since the dawn of time.

Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (commons.wikimedia.org)

Portrait of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (commons.wikimedia.org)

In the Stoic school of philosophy, the masters taught that the best way to handle a specific criticism in a social setting, is to accept it, and respond by turning it into a self-deprecating joke. Like this:

Criticism: “Boy, you’ve really gained a few pounds since I last saw you.

Response: “You have no idea, I’ve been eating everything in sight. If you think this is bad, you should see the nightmare happening on my thighs.”

By taking in the seemingly negative comment, and turning it into a joke, said the masters, you’ve taken back power over your own emotional state (from “insulted victim” to “in on the joke”), and subtly let the other person know their negative comment doesn’t affect you.

(more…)

Taking a sacred pause

In order to truly practice and live a spiritual (or “conscious,” if you like that term better) way of life, you must be willing to take a kind of personal responsibility for whatever is happening inside you at any given time. It is the fundamental understanding that all of your feelings, reactions, and judgments have absolutely nothing to do with the other person. No one can make you feel anything. It is the ideas, stories, and interpretations you make, about what was said or done, that cause you to feel whatever you feel. (This is why one person’s joke is another person’s insult. It is the insulted person’s internal interpretations that make the joke offensive).

Recognizing this, you see that there is no reason to retaliate for harsh words, no reason to get defensive, no reason to send your emotional poison (as don Miguel terms it) to anyone else. When you feel upset, or emotionally reactive, or “triggered” (as the cool kids now call it) by something, it is not the time to lash out. It’s not the time to create new rules of conduct. It’s not the time to get righteous, or set boundaries, or hit them back. Instead, it is the time to take a pause (a “sacred pause” as one of my friends calls it), and figure out what you feel and why. What are you really reacting to? Start with the assumption that anger is fear, and ask yourself in that moment “what am I afraid of here?” When you have done your internal work, when you have reached your emotional neutral, that is the time to discuss your feelings with the other person. If you don’t know the real reason you’re so upset, how do you expect the other person to address it in any satisfactory way?

(more…)