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Radical Acceptance

Radical Acceptance

Why radical? The origin of the word radical relates to going to the root, or the essential. So radical acceptance implies a deep sense of acceptance, an acceptance that goes deeper than the mind, a feeling that goes to the essence, to our hearts.

I first came across this idea from the title of a CD by Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. Her teaching focuses primarily on the need for and practice of self-acceptance. She talks about how we pass our infant state of divine openness and love to discover others don’t see us as we truly are, and have their own agenda for how we should be. We may grow up with feelings of unworthiness, shame, or not-enoughness. Our self-aversion, self-criticism and judgment may last for years. Brach encourages us to be especially gentle with ourselves as we acknowledge our painful memories and feelings. {GENTLE is the magic touch here!} Another Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, urges us to “tenderhearted bravery” as we uncover and explore the shadow side of ourselves. She suggests we place the shame or guilt or sense of unworthiness into a “cradle of lovingkindness and caring” as we let go of these negative beliefs about ourselves. It is this “tenderhearted bravery” that frees us, and allows us to move forward with confidence and courage to be who we truly are.

I was raised to not be afraid, to not feel vulnerable, to not feel needy. My own radical, deep acceptance then is to acknowledge those feelings and allow them to be, and keep learning to accept and express all the colors and shades of what it means to be fully human.

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. (Thomas Merton) Fully accepting ourselves also means owning, embracing, celebrating and expressing our Buddha Nature, our Divine Indwelling Spirit of Love, the “Cosmic Christ” within. This aspect of self-acceptance can be at least as difficult, and is, I think, the essence of the spiritual journey.

Besides personal self-acceptance there is acceptance of others. Mother Teresa, when speaking to her sisters in Calcutta about the homeless, sick and the needy, says, “Can you receive them?” When others are difficult, irritating, or frustrating, I don’t always receive them just the way they are. And I don’t always receive me just the way I am, especially the me who is having difficulty receiving another.

Moving beyond the personal, can we accept whatever Life brings to us. Can we accept everything just as it is without trying to fight, change, oppose, resist, fix, reverse, deny, hide from, run away from or complain about What Is. As Byron Katie says, “When you argue with Reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.” Can we accept the struggle, the sorrow, the joy, the love and the suffering, the pain and delight, sickness and health?

This is an essay I like a lot that appeared in a newsletter by Lee Klinger Lesser, teacher of Sensory Awareness workshops, about seeing life as the ocean.

Imagine trying to control the ocean with our preferences…
I love swimming in the ocean. I love going to meet the waves...the adventure of finding where to go to be carried by them rather than smashed by them.
And I have often recognized how ludicrous it would be to be in the midst of the ocean and complain to the waves:
"Wait, I don't want you to be so strong!" Or "Wait, you are breaking too soon, I am not in the right place!"
The ocean is an exacting teacher. We have no choice but to meet what is there, and to move and respond as fully and completely as we can to each wave just as it is - discovering what it demands of us in each new moment.
There is no luxury of turning away and trying to pick and choose our way through what we like and don't like. It is as it is, and it will be clobbering us or lifting us or carrying us moment by moment depending on how we respond and how the conditions arise.
We can wake up to meet each wave or we can try to hide and get away...and the reality is there is nowhere to go...not when we are in the midst of this ocean of our lives.”

May we take the waves as they come, surf the breakers with joy and ease, and ride out the Big Ones without swallowing too much water.


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