“OK-ness” is a subjective assessment of the self based on ideas and feelings, mostly from the past. If I had a family who praised, appreciated, adored, and guided me, I’d probably end up feeling OK about myself, in spite of any external forces. It wouldn’t matter what I looked like or what my flaws were. However, if I had parents who ignored, demeaned, shamed, or belittled me, I’d probably end up feeling bad and not-OK about myself, even if there were positive external forces. I’ve seen supermodels doubt their good looks, and met wealthy people who feel financially insecure. OK-ness or self-esteem is like the rudder of a sailboat: when it’s deep the vessel can endure huge waves; when it’s shallow or missing, the boat can capsize in puddle-deep water.
The good news is that whatever has been done can be undone, and whatever hasn’t been done yet, can still be done. I love that about human freedom. I love that as a therapist. When I witness someone with an arid past and bad sense of self recover or discover a fundamental sense of OKness, it makes my work worthwhile. The hard-earned sense of OK-ness claimed through working a 12-step program, or therapy, or just plain life-lessons, is sweet.
Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross was a psychiatrist famous for identifying the five stages of the death and dying process. She took Dr. Harris’ statement, “I’m OK, You’re OK” a step further by saying, “I’m not OK, and you’re not OK. But that’s OK.” Now there’s a humanism I can live with! In her model, I don’t even have to be OK to experience OK-ness! It’s like a free ticket to the circus! Come on in! Admit one! Everyone welcome!Self-acceptance means one can admit to being flawed, laugh at one’s own quirks, screw up without declaring oneself a screw-up. Self-acceptance means recognizing it’s not a sin — or stupid — to not know the answer. Self-acceptance says maybe I’m not right about something, but I’m right with my core.
Let’s go a little deeper. I say in order for there to be true, lasting self-acceptance, there must be knowledge of the core self. If I base my self-acceptance on momentary success, fame, ideas, feelings, or even the acceptance of others, it’s subject to change, and then I’m subject to suffering. I must know the self that abides amidst the changes, but doesn’t change. And, frankly, that self is so lovely, deep, and peaceful, that self-acceptance hangs like heavy fruit on its branches, waiting to be picked. No need to chant, “I love myself, I love myself” in this scenario. Just reach for the fruit, pluck, and enjoy! Those of you who aren’t currently eating fruit, please pardon the metaphor.
How to come by this core self, you ask? It is found in quietude, when the mind finally settles down. It is in those little moments when stillness breaks through the commotion, when each breath signals “I am alive.” That is when you will find your core self and feel its full measure! Even though self-acceptance is like the natural sweetness of a natural fruit off a natural tree, and even though it’s my own tree on my own property it still takes effort to be with it. I still have to reach for it.
The quest for self-acceptance is a noble search for peace, truth and enlightenment. It’s the element we seek out in everything we pursue: vitality, fun, joy, depth, love, rest. If only we could have that feeling without being anchored to our forms! Then we’d be in heaven! Having that experience, and knowing the self as part of that joy, containing that love, and being contained by that exuberance—then we’re right there plucking the fruit off that tree and enjoying the sweetness of the moment.
Sometimes the love and acceptance of others is a good place to start. We see that in the Healing Circle at Hippocrates week after week — people sharing and accepting supposedly “unacceptable” things about each other. That kind of concentrated love and kindness can bust through years of isolation, negativity and self-condemnation. That kind of support heals hearts and lives. When others reach out to us with unconditional acceptance, it helps us reach in and find it within ourselves.
Did you know that Mahatma Ghandi beat his wife? How do I know that? He wrote it in his autobiography, fully confessing that he not only contained the seeds of violence within himself, but had acted on them in his life. I honor the man who admits his dark side, then through sheer determination, transforms it into humility. I accept Ghandi as my hero, not because he was so perfect, but because he persevered. He used his flaws as tools to reach deeped into his soul and resurface as a better person.
Vol 30 Issue 2 Page 38