This last weekend I have been teaching weekend three of our Mindfulness Level 1: Being Present course.
This weekend we focus on preference and acceptance. One of the big things that comes up over this weekend is a habitual pattern that many of us have that we are not good enough. This habit can be very painful to recognise, but is the first step on the road to loving ourselves. I find it deeply saddening that we live in a culture that promotes self-dislike. Several people commented that they didn’t dislike themselves when they were children, but somehow over the years they got the message that they weren’t up to scratch as a human being and needed to improve themselves. That they just weren’t good enough.
A root of this habit is often the idea that we have to be perfect. But this is not realistic for anyone. Just reflect for a moment – do you know any perfect human being? If you think you do, then you don’t that human being very well. We are not robots! We are the result of evolution, which is a random process of adaptation that has enabled us to survive, not a well thought out practice that enables us to be happy. On top of this we are the result of our conditioning, from family, school, culture. So with this hodge podge of influences it is not surprising that the human condition is not one of perfection.
Although, we might take a different view – and I like this view – that we are all perfect – perfectly flawed human beings!
So can we accept ourselves as we are – wholly and unconditionally – what would that be like? On the weekend many participants found this perspective a big relief, even if it was a bit scary. As Rob Nairn likes to say “After all, we only have this version of ourselves, we don’t have a spare version hung up in the wardrobe”. So we might as well accept who we are – because this is the deal!
It is important to recognise that this acceptance work is about accepting what is happening within the internal environment of the mind. It is not about accepting and doing nothing about dreadful external life circumstances. As Rob Nairn says ‘Different rules apply’ within the internal environment of the mind. If we leave our inner experience to unfold of its own accord, without interpreting or interfering in any way, this creates the conditions for transformation and personal growth. It is counter-intuitive, but it works.
If you think about it, all this thinking activity of trying to fix ourselves is what has caused the problem in the first place, so more thinking is not the answer. The answer is to develop our mindfulness practice so as to allow thoughts to come and go, then they will display all we need to know, in their own time and in their own way. This is the process of insight and requires training. Once we accept what is happening within the internal environment we often cultivate the wisdom to change dreadful external life circumstances. It’s a fascinating process, but I have observed it within my own experience and seen it in many people who I have taught.
The first step is to recognise that we don’t accept many aspects of ourselves and our experience. And to recognise how cruel it is to reject these aspects of ourselves and our experience. We start to see clearly our belief that we are not good enough. Although, it is painful, it is the first important step.
The second step is then to set an intention. An intention to be kind to ourselves, to grow to accept ourselves just as we are, and to be there for ourselves regardless of what unfolds. We set this intention and then revisit it, every day and every time we experience a difficulty. The daily life self-compassion break is great for this. It is available on the Mindfulness section of our free Mindfulness Based Living app.
We fuel our intention by also reflecting daily on our motivation to grow to love ourselves as we are. What are the benefits for ourselves and for those around us if we were to like ourselves a bit more? Maybe we would stop a constant and exhausting battle that goes on within our head. Maybe our voice of cruel inner self-criticism might transform into a voice of kindly reassurance? If we weren’t in a constant battle in our head we might release a whole heap of energy for more skilful activity. We might be a bit more available and less defensive in relation to those around us. Could be pretty awesome!
I recently watched the film Rocketman about Elton John’s early years, which is a story of how his self-hatred moves towards self-love. I recommend watching it. The song at the end is great and called ‘I’m gonna love me again’. Listen and sing along. The chorus goes:
“I’m gonna love me again.
Check in on my very best friend
Find the wind to fill my sails, and
Rise above these broken rails”
But it takes work and can be painful. This is why we have a Mindfulness Level 2: Responding with Compassion course for those who have completed the Mindfulness Level 1, have completed the 8 week MBLC course or who have some experience in meditation and/or mindfulness and who have completed our 5 session online Access to Compassion course . Many of our tutors feel that our Compassion training is the most transformative of all, but it does require a foundation in Mindfulness practice.
Many people think that self-acceptance will lead us to become self indulgent, or some kind of jelly like pushover, but this is not what happens. We come to see clearly what will help us, and those around us, and accordingly tend to become more self-disciplined (in a good way that supports our wellbeing) and more assertive in situations where otherwise harm might occur. The people who I know and who are the most self-accepting are certainly not self-indulgent pushovers! Quite the opposite.
So why not make the 2020s a decade of self-care? It will support us in caring for those around us, and the wider world. If we all do this, then person by person, we can change our culture so that our children do not grow up to dislike themselves. Surely, that is a great motivator!
Check in on your very best friend – today!