“Nature cannot be amended; it has to be accepted. There is no way to be otherwise. Whosoever you are, whatsoever you are, that’s how you are — that’s what you are. It is a great acceptance.” – Osho
It seems that much of life is spent trying to justify itself. There exists the ever present promise that life will be better after some goal, event or accomplishment has been obtained. The good life is sold as something other than what we have now and often requires hard work or the purchase of some good, service, program, etc. Rarely are we told that our current state contains more than enough to be happy.
Much of my own life has been striving towards some ever drifting ideal self. There seems to be an ongoing conflict between my own desires and the perceived expectations of the world. This creates a double-bind as each step taken in one direction is one step further from the other. Each choice made to be authentic, in some way, is a sacrifice to the desires of others and vice versa.
I find this intriguing, especially when applied to the study of mental health. For example, when I was younger I suffered from a great deal of insecurity and anxiety. My insecurity was founded on the belief that the world was never quite right and I with it. However, this was more than just a belief held in my mind. It was also twisting in the pit of my stomach, tightness in my chest and became a way of living. This belief grew into a worldview and infected even the happiest of moments with the sting of guilt.
Many clients I have worked with experience a similar set of feelings and beliefs. In response, counseling offers a way to foster acceptance through compassion, relationship building and the application of therapeutic techniques. However, therapists are working against a world and culture that sells discontentment at wholesale.
What is Self Acceptance?
Self acceptance is a sort of boundary setting. It is an awareness of and comfort with our limits. At the same time, acceptance is an openness to what we are not. Though the two ideas appear to conflict, they are not mutually exclusive, but rather imply one another. We cannot understand what is without understanding what it is not. Much like there can be no inside without an outside, wrong without right, and up without down. Therefore, accepting who we are is also accepting all the things we are not.
I am of the belief that each person is fundamentally perfect just as they are in the same way as a sunset or mountain is flawless in all its complexity. One of my favorite quotes by philosopher Alan Watts illustrates this point quite elegantly:
Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.
Yet, human beings are always intent on improving the world, which is to say, the world is never good enough for us. Likewise, when we turn this gaze inwards, it is understandable how our sense of self falls victim to the same discontentment.
However, there is a certain wisdom to the person who can look on a scene with total contentment. Who can accept the world, and themselves within it, just as it is. We have all had moments like this, moments of clarity in the midst of life’s fog. We become lost in a beautiful view, a song, story or work of art. Sometimes we look on our loved ones and the world seems to stand still. During these moments we are in a state of acceptance.
Like all experiences, these moments are fleeting and arise without trying to replicate them. It seems the more we try to do so, the less likely they are to happen. Likewise, our needs, dreams, and expectations change with time. This can cause us to feel insecure and flawed. We then seek stability through self improvement by purchasing new gadgets, starting a diet, changing our style, moving across the world and so on. Ironically, we change our whole life in order to accept it.
The Irony of Change
Unfortunately, acceptance does not stop change. Rather, to accept ourselves is to accept change. The irony of change is that it is the only constant we have. Therefore, accepting yourself is accepting your insecurity. Self improvement, then, is the acceptance of change in a desirable direction. However, even that direction cannot remain constant forever. Instead, value life as it is. Focus on gratitude, try minimalism, cultivate deeper relationships, practice mindfulness, and cut yourself some slack. It will save you a great deal of time, money and headache.