By Nicola Albini, J.D., M.A. -This article originally appeared on March 12th 2015 on Elephantjournal.com
I used to think that my ability to relax and enjoy life would come once I got everything on the outside just right.
Can you relate?
Then I was introduced to four principles that changed my life.
You are responsible for your own happiness.
Your outer experience is a reflection of what’s going on inside.
What's going on inside is usually a reflection of the quality of your mind.
The quality of your mind is directly related to how deeply you accept yourself.
The first time I heard these principles was the first time I felt authentically empowered.
That is, I felt empowered once the despair wore off from the realization that I could no longer blame my parents, girlfriend, teachers, friends or anyone else for my own unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
Once I really began to examine my suffering, I realized that underneath the projections I created about what others were “doing to me” was a need to accept myself.
The big secret to taking full responsibility for my experience has been self-acceptance—though the process certainly hasn’t been a straight shot.
At first my ego resisted like hell. It’s so much easier to blame the world than it is to really change our insides.
But when I finally woke up to the desire to take full responsibility for my own happiness, I couldn’t ignore that what was bothering me was only my perception of what was happening… not what was actually happening.
Whenever I want to make a shift in my life, self-acceptance is where I’ve learned to start.
For example, as a kid I was self-conscious, aware of my “defects,” and scared of life. My family probably didn’t help much, as I had extremely critical parents and grandparents. In my home, “perfection” was the name of the game.
Growing up, I constantly judged myself for how uncool I thought I was, how athletically un-skillful I was, how I didn’t like my hair, how I didn’t like the way my body was developing. Oh my god! I had so many judgments.
Naturally, this internal struggle was reflected in all my relationships.
The less I appreciated myself, the less I was appreciated—but I didn’t have the awareness to see it that way; I just saw others not appreciating me.
It took nearly 40 years to realize that the acceptance and appreciation I craved had to come from within. It also took me that long to reclaim the parts of myself that I had totally abandoned and get willing see the good I have done and am.
Ending my suffering meant seeing life with different eyes.
I’m talking now about the eyes of my soul, the eyes of my true self, the eyes of a pure, loving being.
For me, self-acceptance is about taking a pass on judgments and self-recriminations.
This doesn’t mean bypassing healthy regret or letting myself off the hook. To the contrary; it’s about radical self-honesty and abstaining from expectations based on the outmoded and unconscious beliefs I’ve been lugging around for too many years.
It's about forgiving what happened.
And what didn’t.
To paraphrase Lily Tomlin, it’s about abandoning all hope for a better past.
I’ve learned that when things don’t go the way we think they should, it’s an invitation to get even stronger and go even deeper into self-acceptance. It may not feel like it in the moment, but every opportunity we get to see a part of ourselves that we have still not accepted is a blessing.
Of course, letting go of the hope for a better past doesn’t mean condoning the harmful behavior of others, but it does mean that we get forgive ourselves for the negative judgments we placed on the event.
And then we may accept ourselves and the circumstances of our lives with a clear intent to make peace and to move forward.
Once I began this process of self-acceptance, I realized that I wasn’t as uncool as I thought I was in my early years. For example, I had carried the painful perception that my athletic skills were not good enough. In fact, they are actually above average to the extent that I have been able to do a full Ironman and six half-Ironmen. I am also an amateur club golf champion.
When I finally took these facts in, it was as if I received permission to stop waiting for someone or something outside me to validate my existence. No one was coming to rescue me (except me), and what a relief it was to fully absorb that truth!
My sense now is that who I am is a collection of imperfect selves. And it is because of those imperfections that I’m divinely human and lovable no matter what.
So who am I when I am not judging myself?
I am a divine being having a human experience.
I am a whole and complete man with a big heart.
I am a peaceful and lovable person, doing his best to thrive, to be kind, and to care for others.
So often we work backwards by striving to change our jobs, our relationships and the amount of money in our bank accounts through our efforts on the outside.
We exhaust ourselves by constantly reaching to the external world, not realizing that the most effective step we can take to change every single aspect of our lives is to place kindness, love and acceptance inward, toward our own human experience!
Without the practice of self-acceptance, I inevitably struggle and push away joy. I unconsciously conspire against myself.
With the practice of self-acceptance I experience more prosperity, healing and love.
I, for one, would much rather live with myself from the mind and heart of self-acceptance, than from judgment and criticism. Wouldn’t you?