a motivation by Stephen Taul
Recently, I have been focusing on the practices of self-acceptance and self-empathy as taught in Non-Violent Communication. It seems to me that this is the first thing to do on the spiritual path. How can we develop compassion for others without first accepting our own physical and mental pain and connecting deeply with our own experience?
Within the context of contemplating the relationship between ethical conduct and self-acceptance, non-virtue can be seen as a desperate attempt to meet a need at the expense of others and ourselves. Actions such as indulging in intoxicants and unwise sexual behavior harm all involved, serve to ignore our own hurt, and act as a refusal to accept our own suffering.
When I recall past times of intense mental suffering, I see that I not only lacked wisdom, but I also lacked an acceptance or even connection to my own experience. My pain was someone else’s fault and my happiness was someone else’s responsibility. It was a complete disconnect between my feelings and my own role in their rising.
Back then, I thought what I did, how I looked, and what people thought of me defined me, was me. I refused to accept what I did and how I looked. I was going up and down emotionally based on what I thought others thought of me, while refusing to accept myself.
But does a mistake make me bad? Does my virtue make me good? Is basing my self-confidence on my imperfect behavior stable? Is relying upon my youth dependable? Can self-worth that relies on others’ opinions be steady? Basically, I have to ask, “Is conditional acceptance enough?” Is acceptance based on impermanent things capable of bringing me lasting peace and contentment?
Only unconditional acceptance, love, and compassion for ourselves is reliable. Therefore, to achieve that goal, I must rely on the advice of those who have achieved unconditional acceptance themselves and those who are striving to do the same. They are the only dependable sources of refuge.
Imagine accepting the arising of unpleasant feelings and the passing away of pleasurable ones, thereby cultivating equanimity towards the whole of our experience. May we all practice with this thought:
Accepting my own suffering,
I have no wish to harm others.
Accepting their suffering,
I am compelled to help them.
May we not turn away from our experience whether pleasant or not, but turn towards it. May we accept it, hold it, hold ourselves in care, and then keep extending that tenderness and love outward until it reaches all living beings.
Stephen Taul is a long-term Abbey guest in training with the 8 anagarika precepts. Read more about training at the Abbey.