There is nothing about you that is unacceptable. There is nothing that you have done that is unacceptable. Perhaps these seem like radical statements to some? The truth is in the acceptance of everything as it is. The simple truth that what has happened has happened and that what is, is.
We are socialised, conditioned, to accept or prefer certain experiences over others. We are attracted to some and rejecting of others, not all fit our idea of who we are and where we’re heading, of how and what we should be. Some are socially acceptable, others are not. We are given conventions to align to. Conditioning varies for all of us depending on our families, cultures, religions etc. Rather than wanting to get rid of our conditioning we can understand it as something that has helped us find our way and to survive. It informs us of what has gone before, in our families, communities, our species. But things are always changing, and what we’ve inherited may not serve us well in the present. It may be time to let some of it go. While it’s an important aspect of who we are, it can always be held up to scrutiny. Is it serving us?
Generally we spend a lot of time striving towards something, wanting some object or circumstance to make us happy, a better job, a better house, a better body, maybe even wanting someone else’s life. We have some ideal that we’re trying to live up to, some future state that we’d like to achieve. The tendency to strive takes us away from the here and now, the experience of what is, and we may miss valuable information.
In our mindfulness practice we have multiple dimensions to explore; physical sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, images, memories. They are all aspects of who we are. Being with them is our practice. Emotions are a particular dimension where we intervene with preferences and judgements and where we may suppress or avoid. But emotions give us clues, they are pointers that can help us track our way back to what might be taking us off track. When we’re not feeling great there is likely to be some associated beliefs and thinking.
If we understand that everything in life follows a cycle – birth, growth, stability, deterioration and dissolution – this can be applied to emotions too. When we notice an emotion that we’d prefer not to be experiencing (that we’ve perhaps been conditioned to believe is unacceptable) we usually have a raft of avoidance techniques tucked away to pull off the shelf and avoid, avoid, avoid. This pattern of avoidance can become habitual. It is often subconscious. It can be in place for years, a life time. But strangely, these rejected emotions keep coming back around. The natural cycle has been interrupted, they have not been able to complete.
As an alternative approach, in our mindfulness practice (both formally and informally – on and off the cushion) we can just notice. We might notice the judgement we make, the preference for the emotion to go away or the particular avoidance tactic we employ (like reaching for food or turning on the TV). As an alternative we can explore the sensations. Where and how do we feel this emotion in the body? What words would we use to describe the sensation? Explore, explore, explore! This gives the natural cycle an opportunity to complete rather than being habitually truncated. Remembering though, that we always have good reasons for developing avoidance tactics, so a kind and gentle approach is required. Turning towards vulnerable emotions that we’d prefer to avoid can be confronting and may take a long time. Never with force, just with interest and curiosity. If they’ve been denied for a long time, they may take time to surface. We may just start with noticing the avoidance or the preference for things to be other than they are.
Emotions provide valuable information, they are messengers. In the same way that unpleasant sensations like extreme heat and coldness give us information about how to take care of our bodies, so too do unpleasant emotions give us information about how to take care of ourselves, how to return to wholeness. As my teacher says, often we misperceive a message that is telling us that ‘something is wrong’ as ‘something is wrong with us’, which triggers the pattern of avoidance and means that we miss the message. We have identified with the emotion, rather than witnessing it and receiving its wisdom.
Recognising aspects of ourselves that we don’t like or would prefer to avoid is the pathway to wholeness. When we let go of all the energy that has been tied up avoiding or rejecting a part of our self, we are then more available for life, and more able to be present.
This welcoming everything as a messenger applies to thoughts, beliefs, feelings and sensations too. In essence it is about trusting your life experience, trusting that life supports you.
As the following quote indicates, we are the product of our times, our families, our cultures, our societies…..
You live through that little piece of time that is yours, but that piece of time is not only your own life, it is the summing-up of all the other lives that are simultaneous with yours…What you are is an expression of History.
Robert Penn Warren
Your conditioning and life experiences are unique. All of them are valuable, whether they seem acceptable or not, they inform your walk in life. What we are born into shapes and informs us, but life also gives us the opportunity to do something unique with it, to create a new form, a new shape. This is where our power lies.