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self acceptance

Self Awareness — The Body Speaks



Self Aware­ness / Self Accep­tance is all about study­ing your­self with­out tak­ing your­self too seri­ous­ly. It’s not “esteem­ing your­self,” but sim­ply notic­ing that you are… who you are.

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Look­ing for more on this top­ic? Check out my book, Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall.



Let’s have a look at the zone of self awareness

zone 3
self aware­ness zone

The 3rd Chakra is locat­ed at the solar plexus. Its zone runs from the bel­ly but­ton to the solar plexus, and on the back from an inch or so above the pelvis to the mid back.

The major organ contained in this zone is the stomach.

In this zone, it’s the stom­ach that most often gives us trouble.

For exam­ple, if you have to make a speech, and you’re not com­fort­able doing that, all of a sud­den, you might notice that your stom­ach is queasy. 

It’s not that you’re afraid of the audience—it’s not about some­thing exter­nal. What’s going on here is that we are not com­fort­able in our own skins. In this case, we think that the audi­ence is going to see right through us.

However, as usual, what happens for us is not about them. It’s about us.

In the book, “Anato­my of the Spir­it,” Car­olyn Myss describes this zone as the zone of self-esteem.

I’ve been think­ing about that, and while I “get” the whole self esteem idea, this is one of those terms that can be bad­ly mis­un­der­stood. Being the Zen guy that I am, I’d much rather head down the path of self aware­ness and self accep­tance — that’s what this arti­cle is going to be about.

The problem with self-esteem

North Amer­i­cans tend to equate self-esteem with pride, pos­i­tive think­ing, and elim­i­nat­ing every­thing that could be con­sid­ered “bad.”

It’s almost as if peo­ple think that the goal of life is to repress the “bad list” while mag­ni­fy­ing the “good list.” It’s like that song lyric,

You’ve got­ta accen­tu­ate the pos­i­tive, 
Elim­i­nate the negative,

Latch on to the affir­ma­tive,
Don’t mess with Mis­ter In-Between.”

Prob­lem is, no one has ever pulled off this trick, and it’s a sure­fire recipe for mis­ery. You see,

Mr. In-Between is actually right on track, at least from a Zen perspective.

The prob­lem with all this pos­i­tive think­ing non­sense is that it sim­ply does­n’t work. Here’s how it goes:

  • you might get a momen­t’s peace, and start to believe that all that strain­ing to be good is a great idea.
  • And then life hap­pens, and what­ev­er nor­mal­ly goes on for you in reac­tion pops right back to the foreground.
  • Then you flip to con­demn­ing your­self, blam­ing your­self, mak­ing life hard to stomach.

Ben Wong and Jock McK­een wrote that the ego (the home of self-esteem) has only two func­tions. The first is to say, “Try hard­er and you’ll be per­fect.” Then, when you fail, (because per­fec­tion is impos­si­ble,) the ego says, “You are such an idiot. But if only you’d try hard­er, you could be per­fect.” It’s an end­less loop, and a no-win situation.

Carl Jung was an amaz­ing psy­chother­a­pist, and was able to see the mag­ic and mys­tery of life. He, I believe, was the first to coin the idea of The Shad­ow side of our­selves, which is like the “bag we drag.”

What's hidden in the "bag you drag???"
What’s hid­den in the
“bag you drag???

He said some­thing like this: around the time we get to be six months old, we end up with this lit­tle, tiny bag — it’s sort of the bag that soci­ety pro­vides us with, so that we have a place to “stuff all the stuff” soci­ety tells us is unacceptable.

Parents endlessly modify the behavior of their children

—and do so ver­bal­ly and nonverbally. 

When you’re a kid, you don’t have much choice here

– par­ents are big­ger and pret­ty much have their own way of mak­ing you behave. So, whole aspects of your per­son­al­i­ty, your skill set, and your emo­tion­al set gets stuffed into the bag.

Over the years, the bag gets big­ger and big­ger. By the time we head off to work, or go to uni­ver­si­ty, the bag may be 20 or 30 feet long. We’re drag­ging it, and don’t know it.

All we know is that some­thing does­n’t feel quite right, and it feels like the weight of the world is on our shoulders.

Thus, the 60s question, “What’s your bag, man?” Is actually a pretty good question.

Self accep­tance, on the oth­er hand, is all about the recog­ni­tion that we are whole — the stuff in the bag is is much “us” as the stuff we show to the world.

I’m not sug­gest­ing that all the stuff in the bag is worth­while — some of it should nev­er see the light of day. It’s just that the bag that holds our stuff is sort of like any bag full of stuff.

We don’t have x‑ray vision, so the only way to know what’s in the bag is to emp­ty it. Then, we can exam­ine the stuff that we’ve stuffed, and make intel­li­gent, adult deci­sions about what to keep and what to put back in the bag.

And here’s the kicker: the stuff we stuff back in the bag, having been evaluated in the light of day and by an adult, is still us!

Self accep­tance means pre­cise­ly what it says. I don’t get to cher­ry pick who I am. If I run around, pre­tend­ing that life is sweet­ness and light, and that I’m the sug­arplum fairy, I am def­i­nite­ly going to trip over over the stuff I’ve stuffed, and fall flat on my face. It’s just the way it is, and we hate it, because our sen­si­tive lit­tle illu­sions are get­ting all bruised.

The stuff we stuff has a way of oozing out.

We want to deny it, claim some­one made us do it, or oth­er­wise escape respon­si­bil­i­ty, but as I said, the kick­er is that the ooze is us, and we just haven’t accept­ed it.

Self acceptance matches the Buddha’s Middle Path.

One of the most impor­tant insights in Zen is that we have the choice to deal with our stuff, and with all of life, with­out judg­ment.

This does­n’t mean excus­ing bad behav­ior. It means that, when we engage in some­thing that gets us lousy results, we see it, accept respon­si­bil­i­ty for doing it, fix what we can, and move on.

learning to tack

It’s sort of like sail­ing a sail­boat into the wind. If you watch a sail­boat sail, you real­ize it does­n’t progress along a straight line. If tacks. Heads off in a direc­tion, makes a course cor­rec­tion, heads off in anoth­er direc­tion, makes a course cor­rec­tion… on and on, forever.

We don’t judge that the boat is bad because of the back-and-forth­ness of its path.

Self acceptance works only when paired with a total self responsibility.

Back to the boat anal­o­gy. It would be the height of dumb to blame the wind for knock­ing the boat off course. Sail­boats, like air­planes, are off course 95% of the time. Ulti­mate­ly, tiny course cor­rec­tions get them to safe har­bor (or the airport…) 

So there’s no blame involved, there’s just a sim­ple accep­tance that the way it is, is the way it is.

Judg­ment is nev­er nec­es­sary.
Course cor­rec­tion is always nec­es­sary.
What a per­fect def­i­n­i­tion of self respon­si­bil­i­ty
and self acceptance.

Here, in no particular order, are 6 ideas for deepening your self acceptance.

1. Make a list

You might be inter­est­ed to know that my semi famous book “Liv­ing Life in Grow­ing Orbits” is all about this work. The very first exer­cise in the book, which you can read about on the web­site, is to list what I call Rock Beliefs.

You write down what you believe to be so about how the world works, and about who you are.

Most of our beliefs about the world and about our­selves are in the form of cou­plets. This is good, that is bad. Hap­py is good, angry is bad. Con­trolled is good, emo­tion­al is bad. We just nat­u­ral­ly assume that the things we believe are accurate. 

Then, we get angry, and because we know anger is bad, we look around for some­one or some­thing to blame for our anger. As opposed to say­ing, “I am anger­ing myself right now.”

The rea­son this hap­pens is that we are con­scious of our good list, and only semi-con­scious of our bad list. Here’s a hint. The stuff you’ve stuffed is the stuff that seems to just pop up, out of your con­trol, the stuff that you des­per­ate­ly want to deny has any­thing to do with you.

Make a list of this stuff. Visu­al­ize your bag, draped over your shoul­der, set it down, open it up, and start to fig­ure out what’s inside.


2. What do you want?

I have a real­ly sweet, dear friend, who has an odd lit­tle state­ment on her Face­book page. It says,

In order to know who you are,
you must know who you are not.”

I dis­agree. Mak­ing lists of what we do not want, or list­ing who we are not is a total­ly mean­ing­less and end­less task.

It’s like being asked, “What you want for Valen­tine’s Day?” and say­ing, “I don’t want choco­late.” (Man, what a bad exam­ple! Every­one wants chocolate!)

The prob­lem with this approach is the per­son ask­ing still has no clue what you do want.

In order to know who you are, you have to iden­ti­fy your­self: this is who I am, and this is what I want.

Make anoth­er list. This list con­tains all the things you want, all of your desires, all of those hot and char­gy things you’ve always want­ed to do. As you list them, you may notice your judg­men­tal, egoic voice whis­per­ing or scream­ing, “Don’t go there!”

Have a breath, con­tin­ue to make your list, and then pri­or­i­tize the list. Then, and you knew this was com­ing, start doing things on the list.


3. Have your emotions

Emo­tions are impor­tant — all of them! But what will like­ly pop into your head is the good list / bad list con­cept. Some emo­tions are good, many of them are bad and nev­er to be expressed.

Think about express­ing anger. Most peo­ple stuff their anger. Peo­ple are sick, peo­ple are sore, peo­ple are sad, and much of it has to do with repressed anger.

List time again. Go ahead, just this once. Make two columns, and title I Good Emo­tions, and the oth­er Bad Emo­tions.

Go for it. Make your lists. Now, put a cir­cle around the emo­tions you know you have, but sel­dom, or nev­er express.

Con­struct a plan to begin hav­ing your emo­tions. While this might be dif­fi­cult, let me remind you that “have your emo­tions” does not mean judge, then sup­press your emo­tions. Have means have.


4. Bel­ly rub time

Life, and bel­ly rubs,
are a circle…

Here’s the Body­work part.

The bel­ly area is full of trapped emo­tions. It’s also filled with your guts, iron­i­cal­ly. You can’t be gut­sy if you block yourself.

Now, this is not par­tic­u­lar­ly an easy area to work with, because you can’t just push on it. So, for now, con­sid­er get­ting some­one to sim­ply make cir­cles on your bel­ly.

Have the per­son rub mas­sage oil on your bel­ly from below your ribs down to your navel. Then, have the per­son press down­ward, com­fort­ably for you, and cir­cle your bel­ly in a clock­wise direc­tion. Or pick a spot in the mid­dle of the upper bel­ly, and then cir­cle out­ward in a spi­ral, in a clock­wise direc­tion, until I reach the cir­cle I defined above.


5. Push your limits

Don’t ask, won’t get.
Every time.

Back to the list that you made in the sec­ond point. I sug­gest­ed you start imple­ment­ing some things on that list. Now, let’s push it a bit.

Most peo­ple imag­ine dire things as a result of ask­ing for some­thing. In fact, most peo­ple refuse to ask for any­thing they real­ly want, or if they do ask they do it indi­rect­ly. “Boy, it would be real­ly nice to get a mas­sage some­day.” Indirect.

This indirection, or not asking happens for two reasons.

  1. Many peo­ple have hor­ri­ble, imag­i­nary out­comes trip­ping around in their heads — they ask, and are total­ly reject­ed. Or, and this is actu­al­ly the less com­mon prob­lem,
  2. they have asked in the past and were reject­ed.

Does­n’t mat­ter. The time has come to explore who you are, what you want, and how you are going to live out your life, moment by moment, from this moment on.

Self respon­si­bil­i­ty means ask­ing. If all you are hear­ing is “no,” you are def­i­nite­ly ask­ing the wrong peo­ple. Maybe it’s time to hang around with a whole new crowd. 

As I think about my rela­tion­ship with Dar­bel­la, I rec­og­nize that “yes” hap­pens about 95% of the time — per­haps high­er. Why, oh why would I want to be in rela­tion­ship with some­one who only said “no?”

If this describes your rela­tion­ship to your near­est and dear­est, time to drop them off at the “Used Peo­ple Lot.”

Then, look around. Find some­one, or sev­er­al some­ones, and ask for some­thing that you’ve always want­ed but have been afraid to ask for. Make this a day by day project for the rest of your life.


6. Be honest

I’m respon­si­ble for me! How excit­ing!

Self accep­tance requires self respon­si­ble speech.

The only authen­tic pro­noun is “I.” “I am mak­ing myself sad,” is true. The only one mak­ing you any­thing is you.

From this point on, own your emo­tions, your wants, your needs, your pas­sions. Use “I” lan­guage with every­one you speak to. No blam­ing, no accus­ing, no look­ing to make trouble.

Be hon­est about who you are, what turns your crank, and what’s going on for you.

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is known on the web as the Sim­ple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Pri­vate Prac­tice Coun­sel­lor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the lat­est being The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.
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