Acceptance: Your Get Out of Jail FREE Card
By Laurel Elstrom
Author of Love on the Mountain: A Guide to Self-Discovery, based on the Forty Days and Forty Nights of A Course of Love
“Don’t cry. It will feel better soon,” says a parent to a child.
“Don’t be angry. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” says a contrite husband to his wife.
“Don’t be sad. Everything happens for a reason,” says a well-meaning friend.
How many times have you heard or spoken words similar to these? We consider advice like this to be supportive and encouraging. In reality, when we ask ourselves and others to reject any present moment experience, especially our feelings, we reinforce an illusory world and perpetuate the false idea of separation.
Feelings don’t have stories
While you may intellectually agree with the idea of acceptance, you may secretly equate acceptance with failure. Acceptance might seem like giving up on your life. This is a big misunderstanding. The only thing that fails when you accept your feelings is the false idea of separation. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you pretend to like what is happening. You don’t slap a coat of white paint over your experience and call it good. You tell the absolute truth to yourself. You accept your feelings as they are, no matter what. You let them come, and you let them go, without interference and without the ego mind’s interpretations.
Feelings seem dangerous when there are stories attached to them. The mind rushes in to interpret a feeling and offers an explanation about why you are feeling the way you are, replaying familiar narratives that reinforce a sense of separation. A feeling of sadness might attach a re-play of some past trauma. It might carry an oft-repeated judgment such as, “I’m all alone. No one genuinely loves me.” If you get caught up in the mind’s interpretations, you can’t accept the feeling in its own right. You might run away from it or cling to it for days, repeating the story and idea in your head. This isn’t acceptance of feelings. It’s acceptance of the ego mind’s programming.
We all bite the ego’s hook sometimes. If incessant toxic chatter continues despite your best efforts, turn the magic of acceptance onto the chatter itself. “I accept that I haven’t been able to let go of this old story.” “It’s okay that this idea keeps replaying in my head. I know it isn’t true, and it will stop in its own time. This happens to humans.” Letting go of your resistance to the chatter will break the spell and provide relief.
A case of mistaken identity
The entire illusory world is founded on your identification as a person who needs to manage your experience. An identity is always striving to be somewhere other than here, feeling and doing something other than this. This pursuit of “something else” perpetuates the false idea that you, a separated person, are in charge of making things better. This is the fundamental movement that sustains your separated world.
What is the opposite of seeking something better than this? Accepting what is here. If you live as a separate individual doing your best to avoid discomfort and achieve a set of unattainable ideals, how can you possibly accept your present moment experience? If you are in charge of making a better future for yourself and everyone you love, you need to get busy. As you try to manage your experience, you must always be on alert for threats while trying to minimize suffering and maximize pleasure. It’s exhausting, and no matter how hard you try, you will always fall short of your idealized version of how you should act, look, feel, be loved, and speak, because your identity is based on a lie.
If you’re not a person, who are you?
If you are not a separate person struggling to navigate circumstances, who are you? Examine the nature of your experience. Certainly you seem to be having an experience that is unlike any other. You are always the star of your own show and the center of your own universe. The ego translates this miracle as evidence of separation, but separation from your Self is impossible. You just got caught up and forgot who you are.
When you believe yourself to actually be the vulnerable, mortal human filter you experience through, you are compelled to improve it because it feels wrong. Belief in the countless conditioned stories and thoughts that support your separated identification causes suffering. You are not separate from everyone and everything else. You are a unique expression of the same, shared, universal energy.
When you shift into awareness and acceptance of whatever is happening in your current experience, you join that shared energy rather than trying to separate yourself from it. It might seem logical to allow only positive feelings and reject negative feelings in order to have a more pleasant experience, but what you are rejecting is your own Self.
It takes courage to feel
Acceptance of feelings triggers a trap door that drops you out of separation and back into the arms of wholeness, beyond the ego’s grasp. It’s your “Get-out-of-Jail FREE” card. Make sure it’s in your back pocket at all times. You’re going to need it.
Life happens fast. Even when you do your very best, you will encounter stress and discomfort. When you feel yourself contract and all of your trusted techniques fail, remember your magic acceptance card. Acceptance is always available, regardless of whether you’ve studied personal growth for fifty years or fifteen minutes. You don’t need to master a long, involved process. Simply turn toward your current experience and join the flow of it, allowing the energy to be as it is, moving and changing however it does, without interpretation or evaluation.
Human experience is intense. People leave. They die. They disappoint. You will get sick and hurt, and eventually die. Some life surprises are pleasant, and some are challenging. It’s all part of the human experience. Every part of it is included in wholeness. Every feeling is valid. Every energy movement is supported. It’s not your job to create a 5-point plan to explain your experiences. It’s your job to receive the gifts of your experiences. They’re the reason you’re here. Your experiences are the making of you. They are how you are able to see your own face.
Daily practice—Using feelings as a navigation tool
Even when life isn’t dramatic, uncomfortable feelings happen all the time. Boredom, disappointment, vulnerability, unexplained sadness—these are just some examples of uncomfortable feelings that happen on a daily basis. How you deal with these feelings on the inside makes all the difference. The temptation is to respond to uncomfortable feelings through either denial or distraction. As a spiritual aspirant, acceptance of feelings is more than a way to escape suffering. Feelings are a reliable navigation tool on your path to freedom.
You can use your feelings like an inner GPS guidance system. They’re always inviting you to discover something more about yourself. Remember to approach feelings cleanly, without a story. Regard the feeling as pure, nonverbal energy. Is the energy revealing a place where you cling to control? Does boredom beckon to you to expand? Does frustration tell you it’s time to move on? What happens if you follow your excitement? Explore and allow. You can’t get it wrong. Let your feelings come into and out of your experience without trying to shut them down or divert them in any way. Don’t analyze them; follow them. If you respect them, they will reveal something lovely.
Admittedly, some feelings are easier to accept than others. It’s pretty easy to accept the contentment of relaxing in your warm bed or the sweetness of a lover’s kiss. No acceptance issues there. In fact, we already have a word for awareness and acceptance of good feelings. We call it “gratitude.” It has magical qualities of its own.
All feelings can serve as a springboard to enlightenment. Through watching your resistance to feelings, you can see where you are still attached to living as a separate person. Here are some practical examples of how to shift into acceptance of difficult experience:
- You feel restless and dissatisfied. Your first instinct is to cover it up with activity. Instead, turn toward the feeling and explore it. See how it feels in your body. Watch what comes up, but resist the urge to move away from it. Don’t use your mind to analyze why you feel this way. Just allow it to be as it is. Acknowledge what is here. Notice when the experience changes. If you give up and get busy, accept that too.
- You automatically lashed out at someone. Now you feel ashamed or guilty. Explore that feeling. Are your fists clenched? Do you feel like hiding? Are you sad? Angry? Afraid? Drop the story and allow the feelings. Let them roll. They can’t hurt you. Don’t let the mind justify or explain. Just let yourself feel whatever you feel. If revelation comes on its own, great. Otherwise, give yourself the space to feel this way until it passes.
- You notice that you are in serious self-judgment. The voice in your head tells you that you are not enough, too much, too little, or too flawed. Rather than trying to give yourself a pep talk that you probably won’t believe anyway, turn toward the feeling. Recognize the self-abusive voice in you. Feel how sad it is to be hateful to yourself. Allow the feelings to come and go as they will, accepting whatever is here, recognizing that these are the mind’s abusive stories. Treat yourself with the tenderness you would offer a vulnerable, frightened child.
It takes bravery and trust to turn toward difficult experiences instead of turning away from them. But you are brave and earnest by nature, or you wouldn’t have chosen this experience in the first place. The next time someone tells you not to feel the way you feel, rise to your own defense. Support your right to have feelings. Be willing to say, “I accept that I feel afraid.” “It’s okay that I feel angry.”
People who try to talk you out of your challenging feelings are afraid of their own uncomfortable feelings. When you show them it’s safe to accept all feelings, you give them permission to feel their feelings too. This is the real model life, not an angelic, untouchable being who sees only light, but a fully present being who joins all human experience with bravery and true grit. Yours is the example life the world has been waiting for. Acceptance of your feelings is your pathway back to wholeness.
Laurel Elstrom has been a student and teacher of A Course in Miracles and A Course of Love for over 30 years. She is a contributing author in A Bridge: Exploring the Connections Between A Course in Miracles and A Course of Love. Her newly released book, Love on the Mountain: A Guide to Self-Discovery, is a self-inquiry guide based on the “Forty Days and Nights” of the Dialogues of A Course of Love. It is available on Amazon.com or at www.laurelelstrom.com.
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Why did It Take So Long?
By Paula Payne Hardin
Have you judged yourself harshly for taking so long to :
Finally know what you had to do and begin
Let go of trying to fix and please others
Learn something about how to love well
Begin to forgive yourself and even life itself?
I’d say to myself “I can’t believe I’m so slow
So many blind, painful, wasted years
What’s the matter with me, anyway?”
Nature became my teacher on these matters
And my understanding of life expanded
I was in my 50s when
Our family moved to a home situated
High on a frontal dune
Overlooking Lake Michigan
The summers were lovely
The big lake a feast for everyone, body and soul
However, the muted palette of winter
Could be bleak and threatening
With wild frigid winds snarling off the lake
Each year as spring began its miracles
The tall trees on the protected side of the dune
Were charmed into leaf by gentle warmth
But the trees on the lake side
Exposed as they were
Protecting their precious potential far longer
I asked myself
Are the trees who need more time less worthy
Than the trees who open early?
And I began to respect
That things have their own encoded timing
Of right timing or wring timing became irrelevant
Perhaps I needed more time to be safe enough
For the vulnerability of new growth
Is to be patient and trust
At least some of the time
Trusting is still hard
Paula Payne Hardin appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show when her first book, “What Are You Doing With the Rest of Your Life? Choices in Midlife” was first published in 1992. A second edition was just released in audio, digital and print. She is also the author of “Love After Love: Stages of Loving” (1996). Highlights from A Course of Love also was just released as well. Hardin directed Midlife Consulting Services and the David K. Hardin Generativity Trust in Chicago. Hardin has trekked around the world from the Himalayas to Zimbabwe. Now an Elder, she enjoys kayaking, cats, writing, and her extended family.