A path to inner peace
Something we all struggle with to a greater or lesser degree is self-acceptance. An acceptance of who we are, where we are in our lives, the challenges we have been presented with and the choices we made.
We are all born with a legacy of emotional and genetic material as the base-line. Then life happens to us. We are a product of all that experience and pre-destiny, dependent on how we manage to get through it.
I had an aunt who had no time for anyone who suggested ‘it’s not fair’. If any of us kids ever whined ‘it’s not fair, her response was always ‘life isn’t fair, get on with it’. And she was right, it isn’t fair. It wasn’t until later in life that I understood that life hadn’t been fair to her either and she had just had to get on with it too.
Her response was very stoical and straightforward, but contained no advice as to how to accept your lot in life with good grace and recognise the gifts in all our struggles.
That is where mindfulness came in for me. I knew my abusive treatment at the hands of my mentally ill mother was ‘not fair’. It wasn’t even reasonable in any circumstances. It gave me complex trauma and PTSD from about the age of three onwards. So very young to be coping with a raging foaming monster at times.
I still think back to when I wrote my memoir about that relationship and wonder at how that little girl got through. How did she manage to stay alive? How did she manage to grow up to be a reasonable human being herself and in the end a good mother and grandmother?
For sure there was some passing on of transgenerational trauma but that has now been resolved and largely healed by openness and acceptance of responsibility and the background it all came from. It’s that keyword — acceptance. I always did my best with what I understood and could manage at any given time in my life. I also let myself down sometimes too.
Later on in life, even with my strong mindfulness practice, I couldn’t hold back the tides of anger and suffering that little me had gone through when the gates finally broke on the dungeons where it was all locked away. It broke me down but it also broke me open. In breaking open, that little girl was also liberated. She and I could become one again.
Mindfulness is as much about acceptance and non-judgment as anything else. Stilling the mind is a technique for examining the content of the mind, conscious and unconscious, and making peace with it. If you want inner peace you must face the judgments you hold against yourself.
This breakdown was not about me, it was happening to me — no judgments needed. I am not weak to be broken, I am strong to survive it and turn it around for myself. I am not a loser to be a sensitive and deeply empathic human, I am stronger and deeper than the abuse heaped upon my shoulders. Without that acceptance of what once happened to me, over a long period of time, and the gift of the insights I experienced as a result, I would not have made it through.
I know so many people who have had traumatic experiences in life, one way or another. It is pretty common, though many of those people are not able to face their trauma. Instead they hide from it, locking it away in deep unconscious vaults where it lays, as mine did, until something happens that springs the locks wide open, and it all floods out.
Mental health seems to be one of the hardest issues to come under this umbrella of self-acceptance. Can we embrace our mental health challenges and live with them without shame or a desire to pretend we are not too ill really? It should be possible but in my birth family, any suggestion of mental instability was shushed up massively, which is why my mother was subject to such pressure to be normal when she clearly needed help from an early age. But she was born into an era when mental health issues were untreated and unrecognised. Instead it was often seen as simply abnormal and a social reject, thus to be concealed as much as possible. So she didn’t receive the help she clearly needed even in childhood, and it was passed down to myself, my siblings, and my children and so on.
My own history more than anything else shows me how important self-acceptance is, wherever you are in your life. Of course, it’s not only about mental health, but lack of self-acceptance can often lead to mental health problems. My own healing only occurred on the back of acceptance of the whole story and of myself as I am within it.
The teachings of mindfulness
Mindfulness practice and psychology includes so much emotional intelligence and wisdom. The buddha knew what he was talking about. To me he was one of the original psychologists on this planet. His insight, a holistic view of the experiences of being human and being a part of everything. In other words removing the illusions of separation between us and everything else.
Beginners mind is one of the key teachings and that is usually meant to refer to the meditation practice. But here I refer it to our human development as emotional being too. We think we ought to know everything there is to know about emotions by the time we are adults. But we don’t. Usually we don’t even know our own emotional makeup, let alone how other people function.
This is where the judgments come in. Judgments are the biggest nasties in our human experiences, and we have layer upon layer of them. They are huge trouble makers for all of us until we can let them go.
We think we know how people should feel and behave, and label it good or bad / right or wrong. That judgment is the mistake though. Does a toddler know how to walk already when they are born? After all wildebeest and other African savannah antelopes can walk and run within hours of birth. So do we punish the six-month-old baby human for not being able to walk already? And the same emotionally, do we punish a baby for crying to tell us it is hungry or in discomfort or just needs a cuddle?
We are all emotional toddlers mastering how to walk and run with our own emotional makeup, learning how to manage with the experiences we have all been through, in one way or another. The generations of children traumatised by war continue through each successive decade and century. Humans do not learn how to treat each other with respect and compassion>It is a life skill fundamentally missing from all education programmes globally, with very, very few exceptions. Just as the playground toddler does not yet know not to bash the other kids because they want that toy for themself, adulthood does not automatically confer wisdom and emotional literacy. We need to learn about it, to understand what it means, how to do it and what happens if we don’t develop this approach to life.
So when life is unfair to us, we use the skills we have to cope, and those skills may be very underdeveloped. In fact they may be anything but skilful. This can be seen across the planet with political figures and elders acting in anything but emotionally literate ways, and storing more and more problems up for future generations to contend with.
Karma and consequences
What we send out will come back to haunt us. This is not a punishment but a teaching to make us take responsibility for our own actions and mental formations, paradigms and beliefs. Many people might say they believe in compassion, but the list of exclusions to when compassion is applicable means they have not got it at all.
Life is a series of tests or exams even. Can we learn the lessons and pass those exams or will we get stuck on re-takes? That is our choice.
Acceptance makes it all possible.
If you have a mental health diagnosis, use it constructively. Don’t be ashamed of it.
If you have fallen down in parts of your life, understand that every failure is a step along the way to success.
If your life has collapsed on you, can you pick it up and dig deep enough to find that resilience inside yourself to start again?
Every challenge in life is an opportunity to drop the pretence, the shame and self-judgments, and to allow the gentle compassionate state of acceptance into your heart and mind.
Allow other people to love you just as you are, without trying to control the narrative. Don’t hide, come out into the open and be who you are with dignity and acceptance.
If you have done things you are ashamed of, forgive the person who did them and don’t repeat, instead learn and move on. Do reparation if necessary but don’t pretend you are something you are not.
Just become the person you want to be, and if that takes time, accept that too.