In a class the other day, one of my yoga teachers threw out the phrase “radical self-acceptance” during centering time. I love hanging out with people who use that kind of language in conversation. This notion of accepting everything about myself is radical. There are parts of me that I’d rather not think about. I have tried really hard to deny the existence of my less palatable personality traits, so casually saying, “hi there” and letting them move into the open after being locked in my damp, moldy, padlocked cellar is unnerving. They have been there a while. I bet they are pale and smelly and maybe they have some warts.
Radical self-acceptance asks us to invite those unsightly, pale characters on in and look at them with compassion. In order to accept ourselves as we are, we observe those unpleasant aspects of ourselves with as little judgment as possible. The duality within our personalities are there, and we know it. Can we observe all aspects of the personality, like you’d observe the breath, and just take stock?
The Hindu myth about churning the sea of milk brings these dualities of the human experience to life. It is long and beautiful and full of symbolism– definitely worth a read. (link it up, yo.) In the myth, the sea of milk is churned and that churning brings up amrita, the nectar of immortality, but it also brings up vile poison. The poison has to be consumed or the worlds will burn. The churners take the poison to Lord Shiva who is the only one who can drink it and survive. He drinks it but doesn’t swallow it. Instead, he holds it in his throat, at vishuddhi chakra (throat chakra), and his throat turns blue. That poison stays there inside of him, but it doesn’t kill him. Granted, he is a lord which makes him special, but the point is that he assimilates that poison and still retains balance and health. Wow.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Ch3: v51) explains that Yogis who have healthy vishuddhi chakras are able to assimilate the positive and negative aspects of life, dualities like pleasure and pain, light and dark, death and life, and body and mind, and they can come to know themselves and suffer less. The dualities are a fact of life and we do a lot better and suffer less if we acknowledge, accept and come to understand them. I think the accepting of these larger dualities, the ones that exist in the world beyond our own skin, happen along with or maybe because we are able to accept those dualities that are a part of ourselves.
This takes so much courage. Because I decided that the judgmental, bossy, impatient, parts of myself are unlikable, I go through all sorts of psychological hoops to keep them from showing. The coping and compensating are the scraps that you have to throw down the steps to keep them fed and quiet, but they are still there, only scarier because of the cellar-effect. (Get ready…this big ole’ cliche, and here’s the clincher.) Unlock the cellar door, let these things come on up and teach ’em some manners.
Acknowledging the things I don’t like about myself takes courage, but I hope (I know) it’s worth it. Radical self-acceptance ultimately reduces suffering. And who couldn’t use a little less suffering?