Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of November 19, 2012

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Not Judging Oneself: Acceptance

(Learning to Be: Part 1)

One of the most insidious ways that we waste our time and energy is in being overly judgmental against ourselves. This can result from many causes, such as having parents and/or teachers who were too critical, repeatedly failing, receiving insults or taunts, envying what others are or have, or adopting goals too far beyond our reach. We may have “features” that we do not want or lack qualities that we do want. All this can lead us into doubting, rejecting, and even hating ourselves, maybe not all the time, but some of the time, too much of the time. And what we may not notice amid this self-referential circle of doubt is that it’s all about ego, all about self-centeredness. “I” should be better than this. “I” don’t want to be like that. “I” am a jerk. “I” am not a happy person. “I” am worthless, lame, dumb, fat, and no good. They are better, more important than “I” am. “I” am a loser. “I” am mediocre.

For those with spiritual aspirations, such self-doubt may seem right or even righteous. Isn’t the goal of our inner work to become different than we currently are, to be transformed, to be purified, to be complete and whole? That’s true enough. But we take this other step and ask: isn’t self-criticism and self-rejection necessary for that transformative process? The answer to that one is no. On the contrary, self-acceptance is necessary.

Who or what is it in us that rejects us, or aspects of us? It is ego. Self-referential, self-criticism builds and defends ego. It erects an image of what we think we should be, what we want to be, what we lack: a negative self-image. That image then takes the place of who we truly are. That image is our ego. It is just an image, an emptiness with a strong shell of self-criticism surrounding it. It runs our energies around in a small circle, dissipating them. It is this very self-rejection that pressures us to try to fill our inner emptiness from the outside and that keeps us from being more.

Approaches to spirituality that advocate struggling with our “weaknesses,” while perhaps wise in themselves, suffer from the problem that we are too ready to doubt and reject ourselves, too concerned with our personal shortcomings, and so struggle primarily serves to strengthen that type of self-centeredness. This is self-defeating and puts the emphasis of spiritual practice in the wrong place. By contrast, self-acceptance resolves many of those issues, while also bringing us closer to the spirit.

If we can accept ourselves as we are, we put our spiritual work on a sound footing. We stop fighting ourselves and put our efforts where they can useful, like trying to be present and kind, trying to connect with the sacred through prayer, trying to settle into the spiritual depths through meditation. Over time those things can make a positive difference. Beating ourselves up cannot.

Then there is the question of love. It begins at home, with our self. If we do not love our self, how can we love anyone else? If we do not accept and respect our self, how can we accept and respect anyone else? We respect and hold sacred the uniqueness that we are, that we have been given. We are not trying to be someone else.

Self-acceptance allows us to find inner peace, and inner peace is the place where we can just be. It is the place where our being finds its home and grows.

Note, however, that self-acceptance does not mean indulging our destructive desires and destructive emotions. We respect ourselves enough not to smoke, not to overeat, not to get drunk, not to let our anger rule us. The best way to do all that is not to deny these tendencies directly, but rather to affirm something positive in their place. That positive can be presence, being. If we can relax into being, into presence, we have a chance to let go of our destructive urges when they arise, we have a chance not to buy into our self-critical thoughts and emotions when they arise. We see all this come into our heart and mind, we relax and let it pass without acting on it, without believing it. We affirm presence rather than deny self-destruction and self-rejection. We are not running from impurity; we are walking toward purity. We are not trying to get out of the darkness; we are going toward the light.

The flip side of self-criticism is self-aggrandizement, considering oneself to be better or more important than other people. This is just another form of self-judgment and it also serves to build up our ego. Our self-judgment makes us larger or smaller, but in either case it makes us, it creates this illusion of ourselves, an illusion we protect and defend at great cost in increased stress, damaged relationships, and hobbled spiritual development.

For this week, see how you judge and criticize yourself. Practice relaxing that self-judgment and accepting yourself unconditionally. We do not need to judge ourselves one way or another. And in not-judging ourselves we can learn to just be.


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