I’ve been outlining the chapter in my book on mindfulness and self-acceptance (Did I mention I’m writing a book?!) and it occurred to me that many people have the wrong idea of what acceptance and self-acceptance really mean.
I hear people say all the time, “I should love myself more” or “I should just accept my job/relationship/life and be grateful for what I have.”
That is not the right way to do acceptance.
Any thought about your life that starts with “I should” or “I need to” isn’t self-acceptance, it’s self-abandonment. It’s pushing aside your own feelings, desires and intuition for the sake of trying to be happier.
Let me suggest another way.
Acceptance (or self-acceptance) is when we accept or notice what’s coming up for us right now, without creating a story about how it should or shouldn’t be. It’s also accepting what comes up without any ideas of how or why it should be any different.
It’s like a combination of noticing, acceptance and embodying. It’s thinking, “This is what’s happening right now” with no further commentary or evaluation, just embodying the feeling, sensation or thought that’s coming up and being in it.
Here’s an example:
Many women I know (and some men) don’t like the look of their bodies for one reason or another. I’ve heard so many well-meaning people talk about body acceptance as learning to love your body just as it is. While I don’t disagree with this in theory, if we try to jump straight from “I don’t like my body” to “I accept my body as it is” we’re going to be bypassing a lot of important feelings and thoughts for the sake of how we “should” think about our body.
Here’s what I propose instead. When you have a thought or a feeling along the lines of, “I don’t like my body” just notice that you are thinking that. That thought isn’t bad, or wrong, nor should it be any different. Simply notice and accept, “I am having a negative thought about my body.”
When you’re able to have a thought like that without a judgment that you should be thinking something different or feeling another way about your body, when you are able to be who you are right now, without any judgment that you should be thinking any other way than you are, it opens the portal for true healing.
Not bypassing healing or “should” healing, but real healing. Compassionate healing.
When I think the thought, “I don’t like my body” and accept that I am feeling shame, I then can tend to and care for that part of me that feels bad. I don’t need to change it, I just need to care for it. I can sense into what I need to hear to comfort myself in that moment and say the exact right thing to myself. I can say, “Well of course you don’t like your body, Megan, there’s a billion dollar ‘beauty’ industry and a whole patriarchal culture invested in you feeling unworthy. They lie. They make money and retain power off of those lies. You are amazing and your beauty is so much more than the shape of your body. Anyone worth their salt will see that, and you should, too.” (That’s just what I needed to hear in that moment — your version of comfort and validation will sound different. But feel free to steal mine if that works for you!)
In that moment, I start to genuinely feel better about my body. It’s not bypassing or platitudes, it’s a genuine shift in what I think about not only my body, but the world my body exists in.
I’m not accepting my body, I’m accepting the thoughts about my body and through that acceptance, I can find what I need to think or hear to heal that shame I feel.
Let me give you another example. I recently moved to a new city where I don’t know many people. It takes time to develop friendships and create routines and I’m still in that process. Even though I know that’s true, I still feel lonely sometimes. This week I had a friend visit for a few days and after they left, I found myself alone in my apartment and my feelings of loneliness got intense. Rather than try to change it or think of all the good things about my new situation in this place I’ve wanted to move to for years, I simply accepted the feelings of loneliness.
“Okay, I’m lonely.”
I sat with the loneliness for a while. I observed it, noticed what it felt like in my body, where it sat and where it moved to. I kept thinking, “Here I am, I’m lonely” or, “I am feeling loneliness right now” without trying to fix or change it. And eventually, I was able to bring some love and compassion to myself. I thought, “This is okay, I just moved here. This loneliness is signaling to me that I need connection, I need community. I’ll find it. It’s important to me, so I know I’ll keep making small movements towards caring for myself this way.”
In that moment of sitting with the loneliness and accepting it, my view towards it shifted. It’s not that I felt any less lonely, but I saw it as a signpost for what’s important to me — connection and community — and I then felt the peace of knowing myself and the pride of making moves towards caring for myself and meeting my vital needs.
Only after pure acceptance can we crack open the door for compassion. If we jump to judgment or a “should” statement, we leave no room for self-compassion. And the door to true healing is compassion, both for ourselves and others. So I invite you to accept what comes up for you, even if it’s not pleasant. Sit with it, don’t try to change it, and accept that you are a human being having this thought or feeling, that’s it. Pure acceptance, just being in the moment of what’s arising. After a while, you’ll sense into what you need to know from that. What message is important to heal you and bring you even closer to that beautiful state of self-knowing and self-acceptance? There’s no greater love than knowing, accepting and validating where you are, right now.
“When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change” ~Wayne Dyer
Recently, I wrote about neuroplasticity and how to use polysensory mental practice as a way to change the structure and function of your nervous system. Today I want to talk about another way to literally change our minds through thought work.
Thought work is the process of consciously changing our thoughts and thought patterns in response to our emotions or circumstances. Thoughts become automatic in ways that we don’t even realize. Research from the National Science Foundation has found that 95% of the thoughts you think each day are the same every day.
According to an article on NPR, “the human brain can process 11 million bits of information every second. But our conscious minds can handle only 40 to 50 bits of information a second. So, as a result, our brains sometimes take cognitive shortcuts.” These shortcuts can cause us to revert to the same thought patterns or the same reactions without ever bringing them to the conscious mind.
Thought work is a deliberate method that helps to bring those unconscious thought patterns to our conscious minds so that we can decide if the thoughts are helpful or something we’d rather change.
Now before I go on and explain how to do this, I want to make sure to make something very clear. There is a BIG difference between thought work and pushing thoughts down or spiritual bypassing.
Pushing thoughts down or pushing them away does not disrupt the unconscious thought patterns and in fact, can help to cement them in place. Pushing thoughts down is a pattern in and of itself, and often comes from believing that you or your thoughts are not valid or appropriate.
Spiritual bypassing is the idea that people who are on the spiritual path or working towards enlightenment should strive towards finding only joy in life and that having “negative vibes” is a sign of an unenlightened mind. I call bullshit on that. We all experience joy, sadness, anger, fear and grief at different points in our life and that is normal, healthy and part of the human experience. Yes, it’s always possible even in the darkest times to find something to be joyous about or grateful for – your child’s smile or some pet cuddles or a beautiful tree – but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t absolutely be experiencing anger, fear, hurt or pain when the shit hits the fan.
Okay, end of rant. Back to thought work!
So, how do you start to do thought work? The first step is to start to observe your thoughts or feelings as they happen. Developing a mental non-partial observer who can witness the thoughts or feelings without judgment is key here. If you find yourself reacting to the thought or feeling, like “I shouldn’t be feeling that way” or “Why do I always get triggered around this?” then you’ve already gone on to the next thought. The trick is to catch the thoughts as they happen and be open to looking at them without judgment.
Here is my step-by-step process to doing this work:
- Identify a feeling, thought, or physical sensation you are having.
- Write one down of those three and then figure out the other two. For example, write down the physical sensation and then figure out what feeling that is and what thought you’re having about that. Or write down the thought and then observe how that makes you feel and where you feel it in your body.
- Look at the thought. Ask yourself if it is true. Would 100% of people on Earth agree that this is true? Can you think of a way of looking at it that would make it not true?
- Ask yourself — is there a stress-free reason to keep this thought?
- Reframe: what’s another thought or belief system I could adopt that would be kinder, healthier or more inspiring?
- Check in with your body and emotions again. Does this thought feel better?
Let me give you an example from my own life. Recently I wanted to ask a family member for a favor. Now, this family member has not been the most generous person in the past and I’ve been hurt by some of our past interactions. My first thought was, “they’ll never say yes and I’ll feel let down, once again.” The body sensation that went with this was tightness and heaviness in my chest, which I identified as hurt and anxiety.
I asked myself if I could be certain that my thought was 100% true. I couldn’t. Perhaps this interaction would be different, or perhaps they’d grown, or I’d grown, and our conversation wouldn’t be the same as it was before. I realized my thought was just one possible outcome and it may or may not have been true.
Then, I asked myself if there was a stress-free reason to keep this thought. The only good reason I could think of to keep the thought was to protect myself from potentially being disappointed again by this person, but that certainly wasn’t stress free. In the end I couldn’t think of a stress-free reason.
I reframed my thought as this, “I am scared of asking for this favor because of past interactions, but I know that if I offer a chance to connect, perhaps it will be different this time. I’ll never know if I don’t ask. And if they don’t say yes, I’ll be okay. I have support systems in place to be able to feel disappointed and make it through.”
Do you see how I didn’t make it all roses and moonbeams? I didn’t push it down as invalid or try to make it full of joy. I still acknowledged the reality that I had been disappointed in the past, but I created a new thought that felt more supportive and caring for myself. I checked in with my body and instead of feeling fear and hurt, I now felt braver and stronger.
And guess what? In the end, they said yes and agreed to do me the favor. Woo hoo!
If you want to know more about how to do each step of thought work and get some practice implementing it with me as your guide and coach, it’s a big part of what we cover in the first module of the Unconventional Tools for Healing group program. If you want to know more, click here and check it out for yourself!
One of the most challenging things on my path of spiritual awakening is figuring out how to reconcile my awareness of who I really am, an eternal source of energy from a place of pure acceptance and love, with the reality of my human-ness and its associated capacity for physical and emotional discomfort, pain and suffering. How can I exist as a being who is made of and comes from pure love, and at the same time feel abandoned, hurt or undeserving?
It’s quite a paradox.
I was speaking with someone about my NDE the other day, and said, “Well, it isn’t like after I saw where we go after we die and who I really am, I then went to meditate on a mountaintop as an enlightened being for the next 60 years until I died. I came back to anxiety, depression, and the pain from chemo.”
And that’s the conundrum, right? Even if we’ve had profound personal spiritual experiences, it’s not like we then spend the rest of our days in some blissed-out zen state of equanimity and joy. We’re still having the same human experience as always, only now, we have an expanded awareness of our true spiritual self. Ram Dass called this the process of waking up and falling asleep again, over and over.
So, what’s the answer? How do we balance being a human being and a spiritual being at the same time?
What’s the way forward?
I don’t claim to have all the answers to this question, I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but here are a few things I think are important.
The first is to sit with the paradox. There’s a quote I love by Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one: ‘I am a speck of dust,’ and on the other: ‘The world was created for me.’ You are both a speck of dust, having a transient human experience AND the force of universal consciousness that has created this entire universe. So, don’t take yourself or your life too seriously and at the same time, take yourself incredibly seriously because you are the be-all and end-all of existence.
The second is that the awareness of these two aspects of ourselves, human and spirit, leads to the ability to have each one inform the other. As a result, I no longer feel like I am doing this human thing without any kind of guidebook or plan. Having access to the part of me that is eternal and all-knowing means that I can ask it for help and guidance. There are many ways to do this, but I primarily use intuition, emotional resonance, and meditation. Intuition usually takes the form of a strong push or pull or sometimes a direct message in the form of a thought that occurs to me over and over like, “you should ask your friend for help with your business” (even if that friend knows nothing about my biz). Emotional resonance is the experience of a pull towards something (excitement, inspiration, curiosity) or away from something (not wanting to do it, feeling apprehensive, feeling like I “should” instead of that I want to) and I have learned to listen more closely to these messages. Meditation is something that I’ve been doing for years, and now that I can reach a place of stillness and expand out past my ego, I often get direct messages from source about myself and my life while in that state.
Lastly, we are here learning, and the lessons are supposed to be hard sometimes and easy at other times. One of the things I saw clearly from the other side was that before we incarnate, we get almost giddy at the idea of being able to be in a human body for a while. And it’s not just the things that you and I would think to be excited about, like puppies and love and chocolate, it’s also heartbreak and disappointment and grief. Weird, right? But it was so clear to me that the ability to experience emotions at all was so novel that we look forward to all of it: the good, the bad and the ugly. So, when I’m going through something tough, I try to remember that this is like a trip to Costa Rica — even if I may have just fallen and skinned my knee in the jungle, I don’t get to be in Costa Rica forever and even the bad experiences are part and parcel of this once in a lifetime “trip”.
I’d love to know what are some of the ways you balance the paradox of knowing your eternal nature with the messiness of being human?
When I first started the study of energy healing, I took a course on the Chinese 5-element theory. The 5 elements represent a cyclic, spiral growth cycle that you can see everywhere around you, from the cells in your body to the creation of new galaxies. Each of the elements (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood) has different qualities attached to it and one of those qualities is that each has a unique emotion.
Fire —> Joy
Earth —> Contentment
Metal —> Grief
Water —> Fear
Wood —> Anger
After we learned about this cycle, my teacher, Ka’imi, asked us, “What do you think is the most spiritual emotion?”
As dutiful students of spiritual growth, we all answered, “Joy!” or “Contentment!” for these are what we are often (mistakenly) told are the signposts of a highly evolved life.
Our teacher paused and said, “I disagree. The most spiritual emotion is anger.”
We were all confused. Anger? How can that be spiritual? Wars are started by angry men. Our society is divided by people who are angry with “the other side.” How can anger be the most spiritual of all the emotions?
He went on to explain, “Our job here as spiritual beings having a human experience is to grow. We are here to experience change over the course of a lifetime, to continue through this cycle over and over again. Anger is what we feel when something gets in our way, or blocks our path forward, and therefore it causes us to take big action. Anger has the most forward motion of any of the emotions in this cycle. Anger is what generates the most growth in the shortest amount of time.”
I think he was right. If we take a look at how the 5-element emotional cycle works, we can get a more clear view of how this works.
We’ll start with contentment. Let’s say you’re in a good place, and nothing in your life is really going wrong at the moment. You have a place to live, food to eat, good people in your life and a way of making money that isn’t making you feel terrible all the time.
But then, something changes and with change, there’s always grief and loss. Maybe your best friend moves to a new town. Or you hurt your knee and can’t do your favorite activity anymore. Or maybe you get a new boss at work who starts to micromanage you. You feel the sadness of losing something that had brought you joy. Things have changed and there’s a part of you that misses the way they were before.
In the depth of this grief, you start to feel fear. What if I never find a friend with who I can have the same type of close relationship? What if I’m stuck in this job I don’t like anymore because I need the paycheck? What if I can never do long hikes again because of my knee? We become afraid of never feeling happy again and we worry that we’ll be stuck here in this unhappy new reality forever.
This is where a lot of people get stuck, bouncing back and forth between sadness and worry. We feel the loss of what we once had, and then get stuck in the fear of never having it again, or that things will get even worse from here and we’ll never get back to contentment again.
But if you can harness that fear and sadness, if you can look at the parts of yourself with which you’re discontent and say, “That’s it! I’m not going to take this anymore! I don’t know how, but I’m going to make some changes so that I can get back to feeling joy!” then you, my friend, have accessed sacred anger.
For many of us, it was unsafe to express anger in our families of origin and so we check ourselves when that starts to bubble up, and revert back to fear and sadness. For others, we learned how to access the surge of energy and emotion that comes from anger but we don’t know how to do the deep shadow work to move from anger to joy, so we stay stuck bouncing between anger and fear.
So here’s how to do the hard part, friends. Here’s how to move from fear and anger to joy.
Most of the elements of this cycle happen without our input — we’re coasting along (contentment) things change (loss), and then we worry that we’ll never feel safe and happy again (fear), then we feel disgruntled at this new unhappy reality (beginning of anger). Those all happen without much energy or planning on our part.
When you find yourself stuck in worry, fear or discontentment, you need to do 2 things:
- Look at where you’re feeling the loss. What emotional nutrient are we lacking that’s making us sad? It may be something we had and lost, or something we never had in the first place but have always longed for. Some examples may be love, care, safety, inspiration, joy, unconditional positive regard, or zen.
- Give yourself permission to feel worthy of this emotional nutrient. This is where shadow work and reparenting can be particularly effective. (I teach a whole class on this If you need more strategies here!)
Here’s a little science secret about your nervous system — you don’t actually get the most happiness from having what you want (contentment). You feel the most happiness when you are working to reach that goal (joy). This is why in the 5 element theory joy is the “fire” element— it’s the period where we’re using that inner fire to create better circumstances, develop better relationships, and allow ourselves to know through our own actions that we’re worthy of this type of abundance.
Once we have identified the loss and given ourselves unconditional permission to have an abundance of whatever we deeply need, then we can tap into anger and joy. The anger is that unwillingness to stay in fear or sadness and the joy is the fire we use to make the changes we need to get back to place of contentment.
Okay, confession time — I really should have said there were three things you should do to get out of worry, fear or discontentment. But this is where the fire metaphor becomes complicated.
Yes, we need fire to grow. Fire is a key component of life. But fire also destroys. And the hardest thing we must do in moving from anger to joy is realize that to get to a new level of joy, we might have to burn it all down.
The third thing you need to do to get out of worry, fear or discontentment is to embrace Kali energy.
Kali is a hindu goddess, often called “the goddess of destruction and creation.” The idea here is that nothing new can be created until the old has been destroyed to create space for the new. Just as the new leaves on a tree cannot grow in spring until the old ones have died and decomposed in autumn and winter, we cannot invite in new joy until we have destroyed the old patterns that no longer serve us. This is exactly why anger must precede joy — we have to become SO ANGRY at how things are, that we’re willing to burn it all down to find a new way of being. But burning it all down is terrifying (I mean, just look at the depictions of Kali. Yikes!) and we can’t harness that amount of courage from a place of fear, we must harness it through anger. We have to use the fire of anger to move forward, to a new more advanced way of being and accept the destruction of anything that no longer serves us in the process.
Many of us take that anger and try to move backwards, to the last time we were content. But growth doesn’t happen backwards, and true courage isn’t about fighting for what feels familiar, it’s about fighting for what you need for your next level of evolution.
Remember, the Phoenix only rose from the ashes after the fire had killed it. Kali only destroys things so that new paradigms and new ideas can grow in that place. Anger only works if we are willing to dive into the unknown, the darkness, and trust that our next level of joy will come from what we find after we’ve totally transformed our way of being, destroying what no longer serves us in the process.
Remember, “everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear,” and anger is the sacred fuel to get you there.
So, what’s so important to you that you’re willing to go into the shadow to get it? What circumstance, belief system, or way of being is having you become so sick that you’re willing to burn the whole thing down so you can find out what will grow there instead? What artifice of safety, security or familiarity are you willing to let go of so you can find your true self, your eternal self, in the place beyond?
Years ago, when I first heard the phrase, “You are a spiritual being having a human experience,” it felt comforting and like I was being given a pass from having to feel the burden of being human all the time. Oh yes, that’s right! This is just an experience, something I’m going through, something temporary.
In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot more about our reality which has helped me more deeply understand this maxim. The first big leap in understanding came during my NDE, and since then I’ve been shown even more through meditation, channeling, and spirit journeys. Through these experiences, I’ve been able to travel to the place where we are all pure source energy connected with All That Is. Lemme tell you, it’s a really lovely place. If you can, you should go sometime. Five stars – highly recommend!
Here are 4 things I now know are absolutely true for all of us spiritual beings having a human experience:
1. We are limited in our perception of reality. So, here’s the deal – you have a fancy monkey brain. Our human brains are pretty awesome in terms of higher-level cognition and problem solving compared to other types of brains here on Earth, but they’re still limited in what they can do. Imagine trying to teach algebra to a chipmunk. It could be the smartest, most dedicated chipmunk student ever, but it wouldn’t ever get it. That’s sort of the way we are, too. We simply can’t conceive of some of the complexities of our reality.
We only have 8 senses, so if we’re looking for confirmation of this reality through “evidence” from our senses, we won’t always be able to get it. Did you know that there are extra patterns on flowers that only bees and other creatures that can see in the ultraviolet spectrum can sense? Yep – all around you, every day here on Earth, there are things your senses can’t perceive. So why would we think we’re capable of perceiving everything that exists? We already know we have to rely on ways other than unaided, direct, sensory experience to understand things like ultraviolet patterns on flowers, so why wouldn’t there be other things in our reality that we can’t perceive? Fortunately, there are things like meditation, plant medicine, and intuition that allow us to get glimpses of these aspects of our reality.
2. We agreed to all of this – not every single detail, but all the major plot points and narrative or focus of our life story. Before you incarnate, you know what you’re getting into. In fact, oftentimes we have many incarnations in order to work on the same issues. It’s almost like we’re studying a specific subject at university. We’re here to look at a certain issue or theme from many different perspectives and through diverse experiences. Each lifetime is an opportunity to look this issue in a new way and our job here is to grow in our experience and understanding of these perspective shifts.
3. When we come here as humans, we often experience this world with a feeling that something is off — we feel disconnected or unworthy but we can’t quite figure out why. When we incarnate, we experience ourselves as separate – separate from each other and separate from Source. However, this is just a perception, just an illusion, so that we can go through life learning and expanding by having different experiences from everyone else. And while our souls are very excited to come here and be a human for a while, we feel that separation – there’s a part of us that remembers being interconnected and contiguous with all that is and now we can feel that we’re not. This can cause us to think that we’ve been abandoned or we’ve must have done something wrong to cause this feeling. However, this isn’t all bad! This feeling of separation, and the unhappiness it can trigger, are one of the main reasons people start on the spiritual path and eventually remember who they really are – a hologram of source energy.
4. Our perception of suffering is because we have an ego. I know that 1000 spiritual teachers have said this 1001 times, but our ego is the big source of our suffering. If we didn’t identify as having an ego or “self” then there would be no way to experience our ”selves” feeling hurt or suffering (or joy or serenity, for that matter, since it’s a package deal). Our ego/self experiences suffering when we have a desire, hope, or expectation that something would be different that how it is.
But here’s the thing – having an ego is part of the package of being a human. We can lean into the spiritual aspect of ourselves and transcend the ego for a while (or even for a lifetime for fully realized humans, those lucky rascals!) but our day-to-day experiences here on earth are a like a swing of the pendulum from ego self to spiritual self and back again.
Once I knew that there was a place without ego, where I couldn’t experience shame, anger, sadness, disconnection or hurt because there was no ME to experience this, I realized that all my suffering was only my current perspective from a place of being a human. In our spiritual state, as our eternal Selves, we are one with everyone and everything. We are connected as one consciousness, one being. So, I cannot be hurt by you because there is no you or me. We are part of the same thing – the everything.
This is why unifying with source felt like calm, eternal bliss – no perceptions or stories coming from ego. No feelings of disconnection or worry about judgements from others, since there were no others. And while I didn’t experience “emotions” in the same way as I do here as a human, there was a deep calm and a feeling of being accepted and loved unconditionally, not because I was “worthy” of that love and acceptance but because that was just a fundamental state of being part of universal consciousness or source energy, there was no other way to feel or be.
I’d love to know if any of this resonates with you. When I learn about these things, there’s a feeling of remembering the way things are, rather than learning something new and I think, “Oh yes! That’s how it is. I remember now.” How does all of this feel to you?