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!”
Acceptance, on the other hand, is a welcoming. It’s a positive emotion. It’s a seeing the goodness, benefit, correctness of a situation or condition. It is taking something we believe to be negative, and fundamentally altering our inner feelings about it.
The distinction is so important.
Tolerating something is allowing it to be, and trying to ignore it. Acceptance is looking deeply at the truth of a situation, and making positive interpretations of what’s there. Not just a silver lining, but the entire thing.
Acceptance is “yes! Please.”
Tolerance is “ugh. Fine.”
It begins with ourselves, accepting aspects of ourselves we don’t like, and finding why those aspects are actually positive. Then looking at aspects of others, and finding why those aspects (which we seem not to like) are also positive.
This is not an easy practice. Our minds are not trained to do this by default. It takes a significant effort to look inward. To see what is being resisted. And to bring it into acceptance.
My teacher, Gaya, used to repeat this to me all the time during our sessions; but like with most of her seemingly simple pieces of wisdom, I didn’t get it right away. It sounds ok. Sort of. Like some version of “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 over-sized squishy pillows, on a really cold day. Right?
Nope, not so. Not even close.
Over the past year, I’ve come face to face with the energy of love. I mean face-to-face with the actual spiritual force that is love itself. And let me tell you something; it’s nothing like I imagined. I’ve been shown three faces of this energy: that of God (or the divine entity), that of Kundalini (often depicted as the Goddess Kali), and that of another spiritual force that runs my life, which I affectionately refer to as Gilda. Love is, in fact, in all three instances, absolutely ruthless!
There is, no doubt, a time and place for great tenderness in our often very painful lives. There is also complete unconditional acceptance of all things as they are. There is a tremendous reservoir of compassion, empathy, understanding, patience, and forgiveness. But the energy of love is a fierce, intense, incredible power. It does not pity. It does not have sympathy. It doesn’t care about victim stories or martyrdom or fear-based anything. It is not sentimental. It demands what it demands, and until you comply, there will be no salvation. Resistance is absolutely futile. Love will hurt you again and again until you learn her lessons. It’s really coercive, and can be unbelievably scary. (Some people hate the idea of surrender, and struggle with defiance patters. They try to use their will power to fight and resist this… It ends very badly, and ultimately they realize that they must surrender anyway.).
My experience of God (over several episodes really) is the subject of another post. Suffice it to say for now that each time I encounter this power, I’m left on the floor, sobbing for hours in humility, reverence, and gratitude. This power is infinite beyond anything words can convey. And when it comes, to me, at least, it arrives with a gravity and fierceness beyond descriptions. Neither soft, nor gentle.
The second face of love, Kundalini energy, is often depicted as Kali, the Goddess of destruction, darkness, fire (and a whole bunch of other things, depending on what you read). She burns everything in sight with unflinching momentum. She destroys all that is not truth. She removes all that doesn’t serve, with a swift and severe motion, without giving you a chance to say goodbye. She doesn’t care much for human attachments or promises. My writing ability doesn’t do justice to the incredible magnitude of this force. And yet, all she wants, all she’s really after, is for you to love yourself completely. Doesn’t that seem quaint? (I’m not talking about the fluffy cutesy variety of self-love. I’m talking about the really scary vulnerable painful truth version. Still, it seems strange somehow.)
If you love yourself, and do the work to develop ever-greater authenticity, in a way that is in your own unique spiritual alignment, Kundalini becomes as gentle as a kitten purring softly in your lap. But if you go against yourself, if you do not speak and act in your integrity, if you disorder your feelings, if you refuse to listen to your soul, if you act from the false self, seeking love and approval from other people, she will reign terror upon you without remorse. There’s no negotiating this, and she sees you infinitely better than you can see yourself. Meaning, she knows all of your motivations, even when they are unconscious. She forces you to pay attention and become conscious of them with each step. Otherwise, she will, literally, take away your will to live.
This sounds horrific, doesn’t it? That’s the terrifying nature of the mystical process. That’s why mystics are always wailing and screaming in their poetry, consumed by this force, helplessly at its mercy. In truth, there is actually no cruelty or malice in her approach. Just a matter-of-fact ruthless demand: surrender completely to her will (that is to say, come into complete self-love and awareness, surrendering your unconscious egoic personal will), and the pain stops right away. This is repeated again and again, at each level or layer of work.
And the third experience of this is my own local divine force, or higher self, who is similarly ruthless. Not long after my ego death experience, this spiritual force showed up in my life, and essentially moved into my body and mind. She, Gilda as we call her around here, directs everything I do. This isn’t quite as schizophrenic as it sounds, but close.
When the false begins shedding in earnest, and the true self emerges, it is often quite under-developed and in need of guidance. There is a profound and consistent connection to spirit which accompanies that initial emergence. And then at some point, there is a subtle dissolution or blending of the true small self with the spiritual higher self. There is a kind of humble surrender to the will of spirit, and a getting-out-of-the-way experience for the personal will. In practical terms, everyday there is less and less of my old fear-based self remaining, while my higher self, Gilda, teaches me how to live in accord with her higher values. My old decision-making ability is almost non-existent these days.
Gilda guides me from within nearly all the time. She informs me what to say, and how to say it, when to speak, and when to end a conversation, etc. And everything is in greater service, to my own life and the lives of those around me. It is through Gilda that all of the healing happens with my clients. It is through Gilda that all of the teaching and wisdom is conveyed. I recognize her as a part of me that’s always been there, I just didn’t have a tangible external experience of her until recently.
Interestingly, Gilda is not as docile, tender, or gentle as I would have imagined (or preferred) the force of love to be. It turns out that she, just like Kundalini, is fierce, intense, and demanding. Never mean or gratuitously hurtful, she blurts out the brutal unfiltered truth (without judgment), without any hesitation, or fear of consequence. She triggers me, and often those around me, for everyone’s greater benefit. She encourages me to stand up against injustice and ignorance in ways that are not always comfortable for my former terribly conflict-avoidant self. She is teaching me about courage, and helping me develop strength of character. She has given me a level of confidence that seems to command a respect I don’t understand (simultaneously irritating those with large egos). She brings out anger, when the situation calls for it, which is one of her favorite and my least favorite tools. She teaches me how and when to use it properly. In short, she is nothing like the sweet, peaceful, grandmotherly concepts I had about love. And definitely not the ever-peaceful zen monk images I had of spirituality. She can be really feisty, and quite certain of what to do, in situations where my moral decision-making feels fuzzy.
And yet, Gilda is all love. She is nothing but love and service. She is the Divine Feminine power, in action, without apologies. So is Kundalini. And so too is God (which doesn’t have a distinct gender to me). It turns out that my infinitely wise teacher had it right from the start, as always. Love is absolutely ruthless.
We live in a culture the prizes success and ambition at all costs. What you do for a living, where you live, and what you own seem to determine your worth as a human being.
Everything keeps telling us to do more, be more, achieve more. Go go go. Push yourself harder. Get into better shape. Make more money. Get that promotion. Run faster, sleep less, eat less, work more. If you have pain, take a pill that will numb it so you can push through. Being really really busy is a status symbol. You must worry constantly that you’re not doing enough, that you don’t have enough, that some awful thing is around the corner and you are unprepared.
Why? What for? Why are we stuck in this hamster wheel, exactly?
Have you ever stopped for a second to ask yourself what you’re doing all of this for? Most of us are so conditioned by these false ideas that we literally can’t fathom the possibility of something else. Even if we intellectually see and understand that these social mores are illogical and unhealthy, we just can’t pull ourselves away from the rat race.
In her book, the Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown describes the dig-deep button: “You know the dig-deep button, right? It’s the button that you rely on when you’re too bone-tired to get up one more time in the middle of the night[,] or to do one more load of throw-up-diarrhea laundry[,] or to catch one more plane[,] or to return one more call[,] or to please/perform/perfect the way you normally do even when you just want to flip someone off and hide under the covers. The dig-deep button is a secret level of pushing through when we’re exhausted and overwhelmed, and when there’s too much to do and too little time for self-care.”
We have to find a way to stop doing this to ourselves.
One of the pearls of wisdom Gaya imparted to me was “listen to your body.” This is another one of those super simple sounding lessons that takes a lot of time to really sink in – you have to live the experience of it before you can understand it truly.
Listen to your body is the polar opposite of the dig-deep button. Listen to your body is a complete realignment of your values. It is a re-prioritizing of your feelings, and natural limits, above what your mind (and society at large) is telling you to do. Your body (your emotions, your feelings, your physical sensations, and especially your painful symptoms) are the way your soul, or your higher self, communicates with you. It lets you know when you’ve reached your limits, and where you are pushing past boundaries in a way that is self-abusive. Those messages deserve your attention. They actually exist to serve your highest good.
In our culture, we are taught to fight against our bodies, our symptoms, our illness, to push past our limits, to silence our pain, our emotions, our feelings, our distress, to go for it all (whatever that means). We have lost respect for our own subtle internal guidance system. We’ve lost our ability to love, respect and nurture ourselves, our own bodies, and the spirit within us. We are so busy sacrificing ourselves in search of external love and acceptance, that we neglect our own self-care. We are prioritizing the pursuits of ego, over the authentic pursuits of the heart and soul.
What I’m talking about here isn’t political or economic issues. This same dysfunctional value system informs our familial and interpersonal relationships in deeply unhealthy ways.
I was talking to a friend recently who told me that she hurt her back when she pushed herself to run three extra miles last week. She knew she shouldn’t have (because she’s had back issues in the past), but in her words “like an idiot I pushed myself to do more.” The why part is unclear.
She spent the entire following week in agony, unable to sit or move around without severe spasms. Then came Thanksgiving, and instead of taking care of her back and staying off her feet, she spent the entire week cleaning, cooking, preparing to receive her family over for the holiday. More back pain, more strain, more pain meds, more pushing past her own physical boundaries in order to make the holiday special for the people she loves. Sounds wonderful and selfless right? It’s not.
We are taught to believe that this is what love means. Love = constant sacrifice, and an ignoring of our own personal needs and feelings for the benefit of others. It’s another form of success – doing it all, for them. If you love someone, you put all of your needs aside in order to cater to their needs. You perform the role of a perfect parent/friend/child/lover etc. And theoretically this sounds lovely. But in practice, the people who are conditioned to love this way, who believe this story, sacrifice themselves entirely, in an extreme way that isn’t healthy or self-loving.
Extreme selflessness is not good, is not love, is not virtuous.
At the end of my friend’s Thanksgiving dinner, just after she served dessert, one of her family members got up from the table saying she was going to get a jump start on the black friday shopping deals. My friend became enraged, “How dare she? Can you believe how selfish she is? All she cares about is herself. I sacrificed so much, pushing through my back pain, to make this holiday special for everyone, and she can’t even wait until desert is finished?“
What often ends up happening, for my friend, and for many other people who believe this myth, is we end up exhausted, resentful, and unfulfilled. We aren’t happy, we’re tired and cranky. We sacrifice in order to be the hero, in order to cater to other people’s needs, hoping to win love, affection, and gratitude (sometimes loyalty) in return. Then when a family member (for whom we do all the sacrificing) doesn’t appreciate all the hard work, or doesn’t match our level of sacrifice, or doesn’t provide the love and affection anticipated, all we are left with is anger and frustration.
“Look at all I’ve done for you! Look at how much I sacrifice for you! And all you think about is yourself…“
Does this sound familiar?
If you go inside yourself and ask why you’re really doing all this sacrificing, you’ll find some interesting answers that may surprise you. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t selfless reasons at all. They are an inverted covert form of selfishness.). Unhealthy sacrifice isn’t giving just to give. It isn’t joyful and generous in its giving. It gives with a hidden expectation. And often that expectation goes unmet.
When we push past our own limits, for the sake of winning love or gratitude from someone else, we aren’t being selfless. That’s not love – it’s a secret transactional bargain. But we are the only one who’s in on the secret. The other person generally has no idea what our sacrifice is obligating them to do in return.
If you look within and tried to verbalized the terms of the transaction out loud they sound really odd, and the other person likely wouldn’t ever agree to them explicitly. It sounds a little like this: “I will sacrifice all of myself, I will push myself past my pain, I will endure hardship, to do nice things for you, things you don’t especially want or ask for, but I will just imagine that I can read your mind, so I will decide for you what you want or need. But then in return, you have to put me on a pedestal, and love me, and care for me, and think I’m a great parent/friend/child/lover, and promise to always love me/want me/need me, and never abandon me.Also, if you sacrifice your own happiness, and well being, and wants and needs for me, like I do for you, I would appreciate that too. Then I will know that you really love me.”
It’s a ridiculous set up for disappointment and frustration.
In order to really give love, in a way that is unconditional, and without expectations (where you don’t get resentful or angry; where you aren’t tired or cranky), you have to fill yourself with love first, by taking care of your basic needs, and by honoring your own self and your own body. Then you can let that love generously overflow to others. Then you’re not loving as a bargain, you happily give all of your love, and you’re not secretly expecting anything in return.
To fill yourself with love, you have to learn how to be kind and gentle with yourself, your body, your feelings, and stop pushing yourself to do things you don’t want to do. Listen to your body. You have to learn how to set your boundaries, how to say no, and to stop punishing yourself with guilt trips. No more dig deep buttons. No more pushing through pain. Sometimes it means asking others for help, or even letting go and creating space for others to step in and carry the burden for a while. And if some stuff just doesn’t get done, then it doesn’t get done.
This is fundamentally about sourcing love from within ourselves, rather than trying to hustle and negotiating for it with someone else.
It takes a little practice, but when you experience giving and loving in this way, you’ll never want to go back to the unhealthy sacrificing again.