Acceptance Part 1 | Getting There by Being Here
To have the capacity to know that we are feeling something, and which emotion that is exactly, we need first to have some degree of awareness (as discussed in the article 'Awareness or Mindfulness').
Being aware of having a feeling is a necessary first step. However, if we want to stop being run by our emotions, we also need to accept them. Accepting a feeling is not the same as condoning it. Condoning or condemning is the judgement we may make after the initial acceptance, so let's just stay with acceptance for now.
Accepting that we're happy, pleased with ourself, or in love generally isn't problematic. In fact, we become so attached to the positive experiences that, if we had any say in it, they would all be permanent residents in the household of our hearts.
However, admitting to sadness, loneliness, hatred, and the like, may be challenging, even in the privacy of our own minds. Think of a time when you've admitted to being in the wrong with your partner, or confessed to feeling jealous of a friend's success. It takes courage and humility to own uncomfortable feelings, ones that indicate we are less than perfect.
Some of us spend our entire lives in over-drive, just to avoid the discomfort of such feelings. We try to deaden ourselves to feelings through drugs or alcohol, or some other addictive behavior. One of the downsides of such strategies is that then we bypass all emotions, not just negative feelings.
In exactly the same degree to which we numb ourselves to pain, we numb ourselves to pleasure.
Throw a boomerang away from you and it returns with equal force. The mechanics of our inner world function in a similar way: the more vigorously we try to get rid of the negative, the more relentlessly it pursues us. Clearly, being antagonistic to our darker side is not the answer.
And, the fact is that you can't be somewhere else, away from troublesome feelings, until you are ready to accept what you're feeling now, here. It's just the same as mapping out a journey: you can't get 'there' – however much you long to – without seeing where you are now.
Paradoxically: the sooner you are firmly grounded in your here, the quicker you'll be able to get there.
Sounds obvious, doesn't it? But you might have noticed from your own experience how your mind loves to leap ahead to some distant goal, when you would be better off focusing on the present. Yet being based in 'the here and now,' allows us to take stock of our inner and outer resources. This, in turn, provides the next stepping stone to there and then (which will of course be the new here and now).
When we deny certain emotions or emotional traits, we are, in effect, dismembering ourselves...tossing away unwanted limbs.
Denial is based on the ostrich logic. In this case: Ignore those feelings you judge negatively, and they won't exist. Yet refusing to confront them takes a concerted effort, which drains our energy. At the same time, because of our fear of them we empower the very characteristics or emotions we want to disarm. So as we dissipate energy through denial, our negativities go from strength to strength.
To make matters worse: our tendency isn't just to negate parts of ourselves we don't like, but to fight with them. This part of us is okay, that part is not. An inner split is created: The we-as-we-are warring with the we-as-we-think-we-ought-to-be. We are a battlefield, strewn with the corpses of unrealistic ideals and unmet expectations. Fragmented, when we manage to stagger to our feet it's only to find that we are captive, our emotional integrity exiled.
How can we heal this schizophrenic state? Below is a meditative method designed to help you be the feeling.
But doesn't awareness help us understand that we aren't our feelings?
That's right. However, we're looking at a situation in which we can't be aware of our feelings because we are denying them or fighting with them. We have a judgment about them.
The remedy? Be the feeling, so you become fully conscious and accepting of it; then you're right on track.
Remember: Be fully 'here' before you try to be totally 'there'.
In: The Best Way Out
Be the FeelingWhatever feeling is visiting you, be it.
For example, if you are frustrated, rather than saying "I am feeling frustrated," say, "I am frustration." Be frustration; feel it manifesting itself in your whole body and mind. (Remember, you are not expressing the feeling, you are just fully being it, in ever cell of your bodymind.) By doing this you're closing the gap between yourself and the feeling.
Once you consciously allow yourself to merge with the feeling it will almost certainly change into something else.
Emotions are constantly on the move. Knowing this, you can trust that if you move into a feeling, unless you actively hold onto it, you'll also emerge from it. That initial frustration might become anger, or relaxation; or, in your seeing the ridiculousness of your situation, your humor might unexpectedly emerge to tickle you into laughter.
Another strategy: Drop the habit of comparing whatever you're feeling with now with what you felt at some other time – for example, "Yesterday I felt fine; how come I feel so depressed today?" That only recreates a split. Yesterday has gone; that you is no more. Stay with what is, here, and who you are, now.
The way beyond those painful feelings, then, is through them. See if you can extract a learning from them. They are as valuable as the positive ones.
The paradox – the first of many we'll meet on the path through our feeling world – is that the negative actually makes us more appreciative of the positive. Think about it: Isn't it because you've known failure that your successes are so much more precious?
A school-friend and I must have been about ten years old when her father took us to the annual agricultural show. We no doubt enjoyed the ponies and other animals in their stalls, but it was all the sideshows, and the shooting galleries with their display of gaudy trophies that tantalized us.
One stall featured a row of papier-mâché clowns' heads. You paid for a handful of red balls, which you then fed into a clown's mouth. The balls emerged from its throat to roll down one of several lines of numbers. If you got the 'right' score, you won a prize.
Both Tania (not her real name) and I lusted after a gorgeous kewpie doll, which was adorned in a red, satin gown trimmed with black lace. My parents would never buy me anything so frivolous, and I ached with my illicit desire for her.
I had a turn with the clowns, followed by Tania who, like me, failed to make the necessary score. Sulking, she turned away from her father and me, so I saw what she didn't: her father leaned across the counter, whispered to the stall-keeper, and quickly handed him some money.
"Tania, sweetheart!" her father then called. "Come and try again – you never know your luck second time round!"
Still pouting, Tania took the handful of balls from the smiling keeper of clowns, and listlessly fed them into one of the painted faces.
"Oh," I began, seeing she'd missed again, "bad lu...". Her father broke in, "Oh that's great, princess! You've won!"
"Yes, and look what you get for a prize!" hastened the stall-owner, handing over the coveted doll. If Tania suspected what had happened, she said nothing. And I never betrayed her father to her.
Tania was what my parents called 'spoilt': an only child for many years, she was indulged in ways that astonished me, but none as much as this. I felt confused at what I had witnessed. Though I couldn't have articulated it at the time, I felt that Tania's father had done wrong because he had manipulated life...and through using money.
There is a perhaps unrelated, but interesting postscript to this story. Many years later Tania's father, a lawyer, would make headlines for his involvement in a scam. Sadly, I would reconnect with Tania – whose path took her in a different direction from mine not long after this incident – years later. I was a nurse in the psychiatric unit to which she was admitted as a patient, with the diagnosis of schizophrenia.Had her parents made a habit of protecting her from disappointment? And, if so, did being chronically protected from the 'down side' of life later play any part in her mental ill health?
Winning and losing, joy and sorrow, excitement and serenity, are not conspiring to tear us apart but to enrich us.
See Acceptance Part 2