An Essay on Acceptance

WELCOME TO-2I recently taught a class with with a theme of acceptance. This is not a new theme to me (nor the yoga industry), but one I like to revisit because I’ve always found the topic to be quite transformative. Acceptance is a precondition for growth and healing and thanks to a lovely student of mine I have had a couple of new realizations on this topic.

You never know what will show up during a mindful yoga practice, and sometimes you will come across difficult realizations. Deep in a pose, you suddenly realize something about yourself, or something about your life that you do not like. It could be an imperfection in the way you move and feel, an awareness of a strained relationship, an internal unrest about something in your life, or the surfacing of deep and painful emotion. Contemplating acceptance around such difficult realizations, doesn’t mean we have to like or agree with it, and it is not the same as surrender or sacrifice (nor is it about resignation or giving up). Rather, it’s about acknowledging reality as it is right now. Acceptance is an allowing, not about shutting things out, and our yoga becomes a practice of seeing things as they are difficult or not.

To fully embody this understanding, consider the opposite. When we don’t accept difficult realizations that bubble up, then we avoid, we tense, we resist, we force – essentially we don’t see clearly, and therefore delude reality. A deluded reality eventually catches up with us, prolonging the inevitable of what we must face. A deluded reality is also not a solid foundation from which to work from. How can we ever truly change without a solid base? Like points on a map, when a destination is known, how can you find your way without knowing where you are right now?

That student of mine that brought this all forward for me had come to the realization during one of my classes that she had a toxic relationship in her life and years of not accepting it was taking a toll on her on well being.  Realizing and accepting the nature of this relationship meant she could move forward and change the nature of it.  Without this acknowledgment it would be impossible to set the boundaries and expectations necessary for positive change.

Applying the practice of acceptance in relation to growth and healing is palatable with those things in our life where there is possibility of change, but what about those things in our life which hold no possibility of change, those things outside our control? There are times when the awareness itself is unacceptable… the untimely loss of a loved one comes to mind. In these moments, sometimes all we can do is accept the unacceptable. Within these moments, acknowledgement of “what is” allows a new way of being to emerge – not necessarily unscarred or liberated, but just new.

“Grieve. so that you can be free to feel something else”.  (Nayyira Waheed)

Whether it is on or off our mats, when we are bearing our authentic selves, our heaviest emotions, and acknowledging our messy, imperfect bits, it can be hard, but no one said this would be an essay on easy. The question becomes, with whatever is showing up for you, can you greet it with eyes wide open and with no expectation to be liked? Within this lies the difference to true healing and change: that solid foundation of seeing clearly and all that it has to offer.

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The Uninvited Guest (It’s okay to cry)

You can close your eyes to the things you don’t want to see but you can’t close your heart to the things you don’t want to feel.

-Johnny Depp

I was just on Facebook and as I scanned through the numerous pretty pictures with inspiring quotes and affirmations, I was pleased to happen across this one post linking to Elephant Journal with an article on healing and pain, Pain is a Process; Honor It . In this article the author, Christine Gutierrez, is referring to the type of pain that comes from life’s bum deals, you know, the heartaches, failures, cruelties and unfairness, lessons of loss and grief, disappointments, etc. To heal this pain, she explains, there is a process that needs to take place, and this process doesn’t always come in the package of positive thinking and affirmations – sometimes the process needs to include the messy moments, the sadness, and hurt.  I especially like her line, “No matter how good we may get at tracking a storm, the beauty of nature is that she does her own thing. Sometimes it hurts, but it is what it is.”

Reading this article was like a sigh of relief! Tbh [to be honest] I get really disconcerted when I hear “keep your chin up”, or, my personal favourite, “stay positive” when I’m really down. It seems to me that some of this proper, tea party talk has roots in the idea that it’s not okay to show your emotions, that it’s weak and improper, and god forbid imposing on another. Or, rather, if you just wish it away it will be no longer… Really? So you just learned some really crappy news or maybe you’re sorting through some painful childhood stuff. I for one, am not going to tell you how to feel, how to be, or when to be it. I can see how it would be radically confusing to chant messages of light and optimism when every cell of your being is aching in grief. And, it’s my opinion that if you look a little deeper at this notion of “staying positive” there’s a shadow called fear walking beside the mind-set. Yep, people are afraid to feel emotions, afraid to show emotions, and afraid to witness another’s emotions because this makes them feel uncomfortable, or better yet, vulnerable.

I once read that to watch a young child be with their emotions is a good example of healthy expression. When it comes to feelings, toddlers have a natural ability to flow from moment to moment – they can go from peaceful, happy play to abrupt tears and cries, and then, like the flick of a light switch, back to peaceful, happy play. I wonder, what would it be like to let our feelings move through us in this way rather than stuffing them deep down where they can do the lethal damage? Now I’m not saying we should all regress to childhood tantrums in the schoolyard, but I am suggesting to feel is good, and to feel all of it. It’s okay to cry, to be messy, to be angry and sad. This is all a part of the human experience we call life. As Dolly Parton said, You can’t have the rainbow without the rain.” And really could we even know happiness without it’s polar opposite of sadness?

So I say befriend your emotions – all of them. Acknowledge and accept them, and when the time is right, find a place and a way to be with them. Maybe something you do is journalling; some like poetry, painting, talking with a friend or therapist, watching a chick flick… whatever opens the dam and lets you feel and express. Personally I have found my yoga and yoga therapy to be the most healthy and effective ways to get in touch with what’s really going on. My promise to you is feeling the ugly won’t make you ugly. I’m betting that if you find authentic and productive ways to be with your emotions, your body, your being, will thank you for it. To quote Ms. Gutierrez, “This to me is the true art of healing – to allow the healing to be what it is.”

 

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