ELIZABETH DENLEY has been a student of both science and spirituality all her life. Trained as a scientist, she turned her field of inquiry and research skills to the field of meditation and spirituality after starting the Heartfulness practices in the late 80s. Here she shares some thoughts on the importance of self-acceptance.
Our modern societies are not conducive to self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love. Marketers and advertisers are ever-ready to convince us that we “need” so many different things to be acceptable, whether it be clothes and cosmetics, health, happiness …. In fact, more than ever before we are surrounded by unspoken social norms about what is acceptable and what is not, and we are coerced into longing for things that are not us. The fashion industry is based on this longing. So is our healthcare system. So is our education system. So is religion. We are constantly being told that we need certain things in order to be good enough, but we are not encouraged to discover what those things are for ourselves.
A lifetime of striving to feel comfortable in my own skin has been a journey of ups and downs, and even today there are moments of dread when I still feel inadequate, a failure, and totally out of sorts with myself. But an inner sense of contentment and stability has gradually grown over the years, and this article is about that journey.
Why is self-acceptance important?
First, let me start by saying that self-acceptance is not about wanting to stay the same. A healthy life of continuous improvement is very important to me. In fact, self-acceptance is a fundamental prerequisite for personal transformation – to be able to look inside, accept my flaws, work toward something nobler, and uncover the beauty within. This takes courage.
Most of our habits – both mental-emotional and behavioral – are a result of subconscious patterns that have been there since early childhood. Whether we accept that they arose only during this life or that they have also come from previous lives doesn’t really matter. They are from the past. They are wired into our neural circuitry from a time that we can no longer change. Many of us blame our families, our societies, and our circumstances for these patterns. Many of us also feel shame or guilt at the things that have stunted our emotional well-being. We remain victims of the past. There is a hidden world of woundedness within, so that when current circumstances mirror the past, we react in the same patterns, often out of fear. It is hard to feel self-acceptance in those moments.
Fortunately or unfortunately – whichever way you want to look at it – we are all in the same boat! No one is immune from this state of human imperfection and vulnerability because of our life experience. Our parents were not perfect in the way they raised us, our extended families are not perfect, our communities and societies are far from perfect. Even the great sages and saints of the past were not perfect. We glorify them, but their lives were filled with imperfections. What to do? Stay wallowing in self-pity, or become aggressive and lash out? Until we come to some level of acceptance of our own past and how it has shaped who we are, we have not reached adulthood, no matter our age.
It is easy to accept ourselves when things are going well.
It is in moments of despair or disappointment,
when challenges are staring us in the face,
that we need to call on an inner reserve
of self-acceptance and self-love.
And what is the underlying basis of the problem? Expectation. We are taught to expect from the word go. As a result, we develop desires – the desire to do what brings pleasure, success, and happiness, and the desire to avoid what brings pain, failure, and disappointment. So, when things go wrong, we don’t always have the resilience to go through hardship graciously. When that sinking feeling engulfs the heart, we go into a black hole. Yet we all know that life will bring us a mixture of pleasure and pain, success and failure, happiness and disappointment. No one is immune from that, no matter how successful they may appear.
It is easy to accept ourselves when things are going well. It is in moments of despair or disappointment, when challenges are staring us in the face, that we need to call on an inner reserve of self-acceptance and self-love. How to do this? Most of us need practice, because we have forgotten the art of self-love – it has been drummed out of us, and it needs to be revived. And before self-love and self-compassion are even possible, we first need self-acceptance.
This is where my spiritual practice has helped so much. It is in the heart that I feel heartache, and once I learned to meditate on the heart, dive deep into the heart, and remove the complexities and entanglements of the past from my heart, I could feel such lightness and carefreeness that I knew self-acceptance was possible. Suddenly there was light. Suddenly there was hope.
Was it like a magic wand, where all the heartache was gone? Yes and no. Definitely there was a huge shift from that first moment I sat with a Heartfulness trainer to meditate. It was an immediate turning point. But life goes on, and the onward journey is full of ups and downs, like any journey. Dislodging expectations and dislodging the ego’s attachments are a constant companion – the process of continuous improvement toward a perfection that is always beyond reach, no matter how far we go. That is evolution, the nature of physical existence. Perfection is not possible in this dimension.
What to do?
The turning point can come at any age in life. I was in my thirties when it happened. But what if we could offer this to future generations from preconception onward? What if we could immerse our children in love to the extent that they accept themselves and all their imperfections, so that they can better navigate the ups and downs in life without it being such a struggle? What if they understood the purpose of the ups and downs? What if they could go through this journey with a light and joyous approach?
All that is possible if we first prepare ourselves. We cannot expect others to do it for us. Self-acceptance goes hand in hand with many other qualities, but it is fundamental to those other qualities unfolding.
It reminds me of something that happened in 1998 when I was visiting my spiritual teacher, Chariji, in India. A group of us were sitting with him on Marina Beach in Chennai one evening as the sun was setting, and he mentioned that the current era is very important for the spiritual progress of humanity because the Transmission1 is of a quality that has not been seen for 5,000 years and will not be seen again for another 10,000 years. One of the Europeans asked, “So Chariji, how can we best make use of this gift?” He replied, “There are three things you can do:
Satsangh with the Guide,
Give more than you receive, and
It was a surprise for most of us that he said “self-acceptance” in that moment. In fact, it was a wake-up call to realize just how fundamental it is to humanity’s future. Self-acceptance is a prerequisite to accepting others. Acceptance of others is a prerequisite to overcoming prejudice and creating harmony. Harmony is a prerequisite to peace and unity, and peace and unity are prerequisites to humanity’s future.
Self-acceptance is a prerequisite to accepting others.
Acceptance of others is a prerequisite to
overcoming prejudice and creating harmony.
Harmony is a prerequisite to peace and unity,
and peace and unity are prerequisites
to humanity’s future.
Start simply, in the heart. Create belonging and inclusivity within you. Immerse yourself in the ocean of peace within yourself, through meditation, and then let it radiate outward from you into your world. Realize that none of us are supposed to go through this journey alone. Every day is a new dawn, every dawn is a new hope, and together we will create a culture of belonging and unity where all are accepted. In this egregore of love and acceptance, our human potential will lift to a whole new level that we can only imagine right now.
1 “Transmission removes the inner complexities or knots in our energy field, so that the spiritual centers or chakras are cleaned and illuminated. Transmission removes the obstacles on the journey to the Source and makes meditation truly dynamic. … You can think of it as original, cosmic energy or divine essence flowing from the Guide into the hearts of seekers.”
-Daaji, from Designing Destiny.
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
Elizabeth is the founding editor of Heartfulness Magazine. She is Australian, loves meditating, writing, playing and singing music, gardening, thinking, spending time with her two grown up children, and life in general. She has been a student of both science and spirituality all her life. Trained as a research scientist, with a PhD in ecology, she... Read more