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July 2, 2015

Self-Acceptance: A Tricky Proposition.

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The wise words of Louise Hay magically appeared on my screen a few days ago.

It was a Facebook post by a fellow Yoga Teacher and friend. While it may not have actually appeared magically, these things do have a way of appearing when they are of most value to our current state.

“Summer has begun and with it some people worry too much about how they are going to look in that bathing suit. Whether you are truly overweight or just stressing about how you look, it’s time to stop the self-criticism.

It’s important to realize that all of our actions are designed to meet a need. Oftentimes, being overweight is caused by insecurity, self-rejection, and fear of our own feelings, while overeating is usually an attempt to love and nurture ourselves with food. The original problem may very well stem from childhood beliefs and choices. Once seen and addressed, these outdated beliefs can be released for new ones that serve us now as complete and perfect adults. Filling our minds with pleasant thoughts is the quickest road to health.”

This was followed by twenty affirmations around weight, food and health.

All of us, women in particular, have had our self-images so distorted and warped by the Mad Men of advertising that we yoyo back and forth in our minds about how we are supposed to look. For most of us, how we’re supposed to look, according to the perpetrators of beauty mythology, is unattainable. And what is perceived as unattainable may lead to negative self-talk, lack of compassion for ourselves and unhealthy behavior.

Whether you call it New-Agey, modern psychology or ancient wisdom, the idea of self-acceptance has taken hold over the last twenty or thirty years. It’s a relief to know that self-acceptance is, well, acceptable. But do we take it to another level of accepting the bad choices we sometimes make without the follow up? Figuring out the difference can be tricky.

Some examples of this might manifest as:

“I accept that I love fast food and that I’m a hundred pounds overweight.”

“I accept that I love to smoke and that I might get lung cancer.”

“I accept that I’m old and having painful arthritis is part of aging, etc.”

True self-acceptance goes hand in hand with self-awareness. And self-awareness is the particular purview of meditation and self-reflection. Yoga, when taught not as a series of exercise poses but as a practice that goes beyond the physical to a deeper place within, is one of the best ways to learn self-awareness, self-reflection and thus, self-acceptance.

We must live in the present to practice acceptance. Learning to be in the present means accepting what is right now. It means not obsessing about the past or projecting into the future. It means not judging. So if being in the present means acknowledging that you are overweight right now, or bulimic, or a spendthrift shopaholic, acknowledge these things without judging and with love. What you do with that acknowledgement is the trickiest part.

To truly practice acceptance it helps to cultivate Metta (loving kindness). To practice Metta you sit in meditation feeling whatever comes up without judgment and then open your heart wide. You can’t cultivate acceptance in your mind because the mind is controlled by the ego and will tell you anything you want it to.

As for me—I accept that I am a 67 year-old woman and each morning when I go to my mat I am acutely aware, and thus accepting of the diagnosed arthritis in my knees and the undiagnosed arthritis in my left hip. But when I leave my mat after my practice and meditation—and after sending healing energy to my knees and hip—I am rarely aware of the arthritis for the rest of the day.

Accepting that I’m older, accepting that I will never again look in a bathing suit like I did at 20 or 30 doesn’t mean that I won’t try to be fit, healthy, look good in my clothes or appear younger than people think I am. Understanding what part my ego plays in my motivation is attained by the awareness gained in my meditation and Yoga practice.

We are all subject to the bombardment of Madison Avenue attempting to manipulate us, enticing us to buy and do things that add no value to our lives that may and even harm us. They are counting on our egos to win us over. But our hearts and our practice can steer us towards the kind of self-acceptance that will enhance our lives and make us infinitely happier, healthier beings.

In the words of the great Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Tarthang Tulka, “As our understanding and awareness grow, we see the importance of working though our emotions, attachments, and negativities, and we also see the ultimate solution comes from within.”

~

Author: Gayle Fleming

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Don Mcullough/Flickr

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