I loved hosting The Self-Acceptance Project, a free 23-part online video series in which I interview leading spiritual teachers, psychologists, writers and researchers about how to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves in any and every situation. I learned so much from hosting this series that I even created a final wrap-up video in which I share the seven key insights that were true “take-aways” for me. If you are interested, you can watch the video here.
One of the most important lessons that I learned from the series was how important it is to TURN TOWARDS difficult emotional experiences instead of our habitual response of turning away (turning to distraction or food or our iphone or other ways we self-medicate and try to numb ourselves). This is a teaching that I hear so often in Sounds True recordings and books (and as an aside, there are a number of self-acceptance themed titles and programs on sale this week – visit our self-acceptance tools and teachings page).
What I find so interesting is how I continually need to be reminded to turn towards difficult feelings. It is such a natural tendency to try escape feeling terrible! Sounds True author Bruce Tift (who along with 22 other Sounds True authors is featured as part of the Self-Acceptance series) said that the reason for this is that it is actually COUNTER-INSTINCTUAL to turn towards what is difficult. Our natural animal instinct is to avoid pain, which of course makes a lot of sense. But if we are to be intimate with our emotions and therefore intimate with ourselves and intimate with the flow of life, we need to make the counter-instinctual move and turn towards what we are feeling, even if it is difficult and painful.
Okay, so let’s say we accept this basic premise. How do we do it? Many of the authors in the self-acceptance series offered the same advice, first become aware of what’s happening (for example, I am mindlessly surfing on the web but what is really going on inside me is that I feel a terrible ache in my stomach). The next step is to stay with the experience of the uncomfortable sensations. This can sometimes feel like staying with a fire that is burning on the inside. I love the phrase Bruce Tift uses for this – embodied vulnerability. We actually stay with the uncomfortable sensations and soften to the experience. When we do this, we are beginning to accept every emotional experience as part of the flow of life.
In the final episode of the self-acceptance series, I asked Sounds True listeners to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org about the main lessons they learned from the series. To date, I have received dozens and dozens of letters about how life-changing the program has been for people. One of the main themes I have heard is how NORMALIZING it has been to hear renowned spiritual teachers and esteemed psychologists talk about their own struggles with self-acceptance (of course, I got personal in the interviews because that’s where so much of the action and learning comes from). Seeing the universality of the challenge helped people to be kinder to themselves. Yes, we can release ourselves from being hard on ourselves about being hard on ourselves!
As I said, I loved hosting this free series, and I encourage you to check it out.