This is me preparing for another teaching-style talk at my local sangha Be Here Now. So, while it may not be the most riveting post for you to read, my much-appreciated friends, it does offer me a great platform and outlet in which to figure out what it is I’d like to say – and I am reminded of the ending statement I recently heard from Hemingway’s acceptance speech from 1954 for winning the Nobel Prize: “…A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.” Of course, my motivation lies in writing about it in order to speak about it, but I am nourished by this statement just the same.
I’ll also be giving this talk jointly with my husband Mike, which we’ve been doing once a year for the past 2-3 years. We’ve entitled it: You are what you think and we’ll be offering it on Monday night, October 23rd.
On an introductory note, for those of you sticking around to read this through :), the topic for this talk was spurred by coming to the realization of how a lack of self-acceptance is one of the largest obstacles on the path of healing, growth, transformation, and well-being. In having been attending a meditation group virtually every week for the past 15 years, where we have an open sharing circle built into our format, it’s become very clear to me just how much people give themselves a hard time about ALL kinds of things. But it’s only recently been an insight of mine that this is in fact one of the greatest roadblocks we face in regards to living more mindfully and skillfully, with more ease and balance.
My husband will be talking first, for about 20-minutes, and plans on focusing his segment on highlighting what a thought and a view are and what the differences are between them. The idea being that our long-held views are what shape our thoughts, and our thoughts are what fuel our words and actions. Most of us are not well in touch with what our views are – our deeply held beliefs that have shaped us and continue to shape us. A guiding quote for us is one from Thich Nhat Hanh:
Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to spiritual growth. – TNH
For my portion of the talk I plan on opening with a psychological exercise that I recently learned, which will prompt folks to get in touch with how they talk to themselves internally while in the process of doing it.
As for what I’ll say, here goes:
If it were as easy as just stopping giving ourselves a hard time we would’ve all done that by now. Most of us know when it is we’re being hard on ourselves or beating ourselves up over something. So just stopping this particular habit is most likely not a realistic thing to expect to have happen. And the reasons are 1. We’ve been practicing this internal dialog for probably our whole lives, so it’s deeply ingrained and thus will take time to transform and 2. Because when we get stuck in our intellect it keeps us from developing the necessary actions it takes to embody whatever it is we’re looking to work on in regards to our own growth and well-being. So just because we know something in our mind intellectually doesn’t mean it translates into an embodied experience, which is what’s necessary in order for us to progress on our path. Knowing is not enough – knowing is a critical first step, but we need to pair knowing with doing, in order for transformation and healing to take place.
So, before I get into some of the doing aspects of working with this quality of self-acceptance, I’d like to touch a little bit on some of the more subtle ways that our lack of self-acceptance can show up in our daily lives that might fly under the radar. If we find that we experience a high propensity for feeling self-conscious – and by that I’m referring to how often we think someone else, whether we know them or not, is thinking about us in a negative or judgemental fashion (an example: a stranger gives us what we think is a dirty look and we immediately start bickering internally about the nature of that person and how rude they are and we start getting upset right away) – this is an indication that our relationship with our own selves is on shaky ground, that it depends on certain factors to come into alignment in order for us to feel comfortable in our own skin. If we take things personally on a routine basis, this also points to this inner disharmony with ourselves. If we get caught up in comparing ourselves to and with others, this also is a sign that our relationship to self needs tending to. How we interact with ourselves internally when it comes to relating with others says way more about ourselves than it does about whoever it is that’s in front of us. Other people are a mirror through which we see our own selves reflected. So, it’s really important to understand how we learn the most about ourselves when we’re amid the company of others.
Why is this work important? Why is it worth focusing our time and energy on strengthening this quality of self-acceptance – of befriending ourselves? Why is worth investigating our internal landscape when it comes to interacting with others? The more comfortable we are in our own skin the more comfortable we are with everything else that exists around us. The less we berate and put down and judge and fight against ourselves, the less we do those things to others. The more acceptance we have for ourselves, the more acceptance we have for others, experiences we have, and for the world at large. The quality of the relationship we have with ourselves determines the quality of the relationship we have with everything else. Lack of self-acceptance is one of the largest obstacles on the path of healing, growth, transformation, and well-being – as the teacher Jack Kornfield says, “Much of spiritual life is self-acceptance, maybe all of it.”
How do we go about adjusting this inner dialog? How do we strengthen our self-acceptance and our relationship with ourselves? From my own experience, I’ve found that instead of stopping a particularly strong habit, I’m able to get more movement in working with something when I start doing something that will help support where it is I’m looking to go – so rather than taking something away, I add something else in that will be of service to my situation. So it’s a little different approach and I find that it inserts more gentleness and friendliness into the mix this way – and it also helps to motivate me more in addressing things rather than getting bogged down in how hard it will be to stop doing whatever it is I’m looking to stop doing. (Give personal examples.)
If we don’t develop and find ways to intentionally practice being aware, grounded, and connected to ourselves it is virtually impossible to transform our unskillful and detrimental behaviors and habits and manifest a happy life – we need tools, we need physical actions that we can engage in if we have a desire to grow and continue developing on the path of mindfulness. When we use the word ‘practice’ in this context, it means action – to practice something means to do something. Mindfulness and skill and joy and ease do not create themselves. If we are waiting for them to develop on their own accord some time in the future, we will spend our whole lives waiting.
What, then, can we add in and start doing in order to help address the strong negative self-bias that so many of us have?
- Have a regular sitting meditation practice. Starting and continuing a regular meditation practice helps us to build the qualities of awareness, ease, balance, and spaciousness. The nature of sitting meditation is to actively notice, without judgement or ridicule, when our minds are wandering and dancing around and to then come back to the sensations of our breathing – and we do this over and over and over again. This is a fertile training ground that allows us the chance to practice the art of accepting and embracing ourselves.
- Show up to sangha. Being in community with others is extremely important if we have a desire to bolster and grow our mindfulness practice in all the ways that are possible. We need to show up. We need to show up at sangha even when we don’t want to, even when we have other things we could be doing – and we will always have other things we could be doing. This is good practice in stepping into discomfort, which is vital skill. We show up and we keep showing up. The act of choosing to show up and prioritizing sangha in our life is a very beneficial component when it comes to nourishing the relationship we have with ourselves. We cannot do this work solely on our own by ourselves. We need others. We need the support of others and we need others in order to mirror our own selves back to us.
- Become a diligent observer – and then an active participant – in regards to all the aspects of what we consume and bring in to our internal landscape. The act of observing and then monitoring/engaging/guarding what we bring in through our sense impressions is a key element in starting to do the work that’s necessary in order to transform the relationship we have with ourselves. It’s important to know what our input is. What we consume (aka our input) is what fuels and propels our thoughts, speech, and actions. So we need to know what’s fueling us. We need to know what’s coming in by way of the shows & movies we watch, the conversations we engage in, the people we surround ourselves with, the books we read, the food we eat, what intoxicants we may be ingesting, our social media habits, music, and so on. There is no such thing as an insignificant moment – meaning one that doesn’t create impact. So everything we bring in to our minds and bodies and heart-scapes makes a difference. We get ourselves into trouble easily when we think that there can be such a thing as an in-significant instance or occurrence – that’s not a thing. Every thought we think or don’t think, every action we take or don’t take, every word we utter or don’t utter makes a difference. So every show, every movie, every friend we hang out with, every book we read, and so on, it all matters. Truly. And really, it’s all that matters.
We must learn to love it all – and if not love it than like it, and if not like it than accept it with an open heart, and if not accept it than not despise it, before working our way up – it, whatever IT is: ourselves, life, this wide and flawed world.
What good does it do us to do anything other than love? Love our mistakes and our fear and our shame and our regret and our confusion and our sorrow – love our strangeness and awkwardness and discomfort. To step into it all with love – that is our work.
To step into it all with love – this is our most important work.