The Paradox of Acceptance

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
Carl Rogers

Reflecting on the paradox of acceptance in addiction, or any other behaviour which one finds abhorrent in oneself (or in others, for that matter):

There is, in ‘Christianese’, a saying; “love the sinner, but not the sin”. To my mind this is a kind of crap out, as if you can divide a person up, separating the good parts from the bad, and accepting only the good. Its a bit like a cherry picking of the soul. There is no sin without the sinner. The sin and the sinner are one, we’re all filled with devils and angels. Take away the shadow and all you have is two-dimensions. People without shadows, insubstantial, are not to be trusted. Forgiveness, implying, as it does, the ‘original sin’ which Christian ethics takes as its starting point, is another well-worn Christian term which can also come out distorted unless a radical interpretation is applied to it.

In ‘Buddhistani’, ‘basic goodness’ is the starting point, and this is actually paralleled by another Christian ethos that ‘we are made in God’s image”. So, if we are ‘basically good’, and ‘made in God’s image’, then it’s easy enough to accept ourselves as we are. But evidently we are no longer either ‘basic’, nor have we stayed the way that we were ‘made’. Something happened since we were children and we’re all bent out of shape, and we live and breathe in a world all bent out of shape.

We experience a basic dissatisfaction and discomfort, an anxiety, which persistently insists that all is not well. We feel ill. We sense, deeply, that there is something ‘better’. There is a way we could be, we should be, and we wish, we want, to be someone else. We want to change.

‘Path’ connotes movement, a trail that we proceed along, and ‘dharma’ connotes a pathway towards something, something better, an improvement.

So, when we say we want to accept ourselves, that ‘acceptance’ has an intention embedded in it. We ‘accept’ ourselves as we are not because we want to stay the same – distressed, lost, self-destructive, self-loathing – but because acceptance, both of the ‘sinner and the sin’, is an exceptionally radical gesture and is something we’ve never really experienced since, well, since we were infants.

When we were infants we could shit our pants, break valuables, run around naked screaming our heads off, throw food, poke peoples eyes, genuinely think that we’re the center of the universe (wouldn’t you just love to have that again, just for a few hours?), and it was, while sometimes annoying and exhausting, basically acceptable.
It’s not anymore…

Acceptance is all about gravity.
To proceed along a path, you have to start exactly where you are. Your starting point is right here, right now, as you are. If you can’t fully accept who you are – not who you could be, who you should be, who you might be, if only, if, if, if – you can’t actually start.

Gravity is the perpetual force of groundingness. Gravity is the perpetual and inevitable magentism down to just what is. And so it’s a decidedly blessed, no bullshit force of nature that can be absolutely trusted.

So acceptance allows you, lets you, settle into who you are, no matter how shitty and ugly and fucked up your judging self, your ego* – which always wants to be magnificent, and brilliant, and in control, and on top and above everything – tells you you are. That’s true for other people too, who might want you to be better, stronger, faster (and also, of course, your acceptance of people that you wish would be stronger, better, faster). They, he, she, doesn’t accept me, how in God’s name can I accept myself. I’m a wreck and a fucked up wreck at that, and I better get my shit together. Get my shit together, into a pretty pile. Push it around, spray it with deodarant, ’till it actually looks kind of nice, and smells, well, not really too bad.

What a lot of work it is, making shit seem really attractive; making it up, giving it a reason, blessing it.

Blessed shit.

Acceptance is, as I’ve said, deeply related to gravity, and gravity, which originates from the grave, doesn’t mind shit at all. “mud-slime, and dung, and death/ the lotus grows from excrement.”

So acceptance is this exceptionally radical gesture in which you settle, resign yourself to, the actual situation that you are currently in, the actual person that you actually are, so that you can actually get your feet on the ground long enough to actually go somewhere.

When you try to go somewhere without starting where you are you go in circles, which is, precisely, addiction (is addiction then just this wanting to be somewhere other than where we are, someone other than who we are?).
Who you are is the anchor. When you try to go somewhere without addressing, accepting, the anchor, you will, in fact, end up circling round and round the anchor. Through a plethora of strategies one can actually increase the length of the chain of the anchor, which can succeed in giving the illusion that you’re actually going somewhere. If you’ve got some really good technique and strategies in place you’ll actually be surprised when you find yourself back in exactly the same place that you left months, or years, maybe even generations, ago.

That’s disappointing… **

An anchor is a giant hook.
And it’s very heavy.
It’s designed to get hung up.
It’s who you are.

Acceptance starts with the rather embarassing admission (the price you pay to get in, usually ‘failure’) that all your stunning preening ploys aren’t actually going anywhere. So, I suppose, you have to dive in to the deep, follow the line down, to find what good rock you’re hung up on.

Generally we toss the anchor with good reason. A storm came up, you didn’t want to get blown away, wrecked – we all have limits. You bolt for a harbour, a safe refuge, out of the wind, and you throw your anchor and it does what it’s supposed to do – gets hung up. And there you hang. Stuck up.
Acceptance is also paying tribute to, recognising, your reasons for being who you are. Ego, our judging self, in and through which we live most of our lives, wants a good reason. There better be a good reason for our ending up where we are; all messed up and bent out of shape. So, there are reasons, there is a method to the madness.
Consciously unravelling the inextricably intertwined complex enmeshed mess is extremely arduous – probably a full-time job – with it’s own storms and anchor points.
Acceptance, you could say, engages less in unmeshing the mess, and more in gradually wearing away the actual fabric of the twine, until there’s nothing left.

Acceptance is not judging, plain and simple.

Here’s the crux of the mind-matter: imagine that you’re never going to change one little bit. Whatever it is about yourself that you experience as unbearable, abhorrent, seriously sick; it ain’t gonna go away. Imagine this situation, that it’s never going to change; that’s it, it’s who you are, for good. Now accept it: give it a big hug. I know, it stinks, like shit, like something rotting.
Guess what; when you actually give that stinking, rotting thing a big hug – genuine; no I’m doing it for the dharma, or buddha, or jesus – let it stinking sink right into your bones, then you plant seeds in all that shit, and, as we all know, life actually grows out of shit – we call it compost. When we accept ourselves we do what worms do; eat dirt and then shit out really good soil.
Let’s just say that acceptance turns shit into compost: Beauty and the Beast, Princess and the Frog, and all that.
Compost is what everything grows from.
I warn though, that this is not magic. Eating dirt isn’t easy. No one wants to do it. I don’t. But it does actually work…

 

* I don’t think it’s fair to say, as Buddhist philosophy does, that ego is an illusion. While no one can ‘locate’ the ego as a material entity, its capacity to change and shape and manipulate reality to its own ends is awesome. From this perspective, ego is much more ‘real’ than much of the material world that we see every day and has the capacity to ‘create a reality’ which has its own centre of gravity.
Ego’s business is fabrication and confabulation. Ego, which is our dominant ploy/play, projection, reaction, to what’s going on around us, is going to set up a facade that is at least acceptable, and preferably dominant, in whatever culture we’re engaged in. Ego is all about cultural survival.
A culture is like a planetary system, with it’s own centre of gravity. Culture’s themselves are vast confabulations, so great that they generate a gravitational field. There are cultural projects that have the capacity to ‘shift the centre of gravity’. By that I mean that our own culture is our centre of gravity, our reality, our here and now. But cultures, whole civilisations, themselves, rise up, and collapse. They must obey, necessarily, a still deeper underlying gravity.
In some way each of us is connected, more intimately than we can imagine, with that deeper underlying gravity.
That deeper underlying gravity is the dynamo of evolution itself, and I call that dynamo love. Brilliant, bitter, beautiful, relentless, infinitely resilient, and entirely fulfilling; ego – self-interested, self-obsessed – intrinsically dreads it.

No Denying.

* *Disappointment is how ego generally experiences gravity; it’s the feeling we get when we don’t get what we want and expect. So, it’s a bummer, but it’s also absolutely trustworthy, connected as it is, so decisively, to reality itself, as it is. As Chogyam Trungpa put it, “Disappointment is the best chariot on the road of the dharma.”

Ego’s natural and persistent inclination and drive is upwards, and this ‘spirit of upwardness’ is expressed repeatedly throughout human endeavour throughout history. It’s particularily strongly expressed, in fact, in religious terminology where ‘God’, ‘the spirit’, ‘the divine’ is located somewhere ‘up there’, and we just need to ‘over’come this base world (ie.escape it) and everything will be tickety-boo.

Well, there’s a disappointment in store for that attitude. As both St. John of the Cross and Heraclitus wrote, “The way up is the way down”. Gravity is, quite obviously, downwards. Disappointment is a kind of realisation, the feeling you get when recognising gravity’s faithful inevitability.

But let’s not despair – the experience of ego bitterly disillusioned by what is. First, disillusionment is, after all, a good thing. As the word explicates, ‘dis’, ‘illusion’ is ‘dissing’ ‘illusion’. Illusion can’t be trusted, so let’s be pleased when it’s shown up, outed, revealed. Secondly, paradoxically, once you really connect with gravity – give it it’s due, pay the price of admission (failure) – you are back in the primary, original place from which all movement must proceed. The ground.

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