When I was in college, I went off to the mountains for a weekend of hiking with an older, wiser friend of twenty-two. After we set up our tent, we sat by a stream, watching the water swirl around rocks and talking about our lives. At one point she described how she was learning to be “her own best friend.” A huge wave of sadness came over me, and I broke down sobbing. I was the farthest thing from my own best friend. I was continually harassed by an inner judge who was merciless, relentless, nit-picking, driving, often invisible but always on the job. In the eyes of the world, I was highly functional. Internally, I was anxious, driven and often depressed. I didn’t feel at peace with any part of my life. I longed to be kinder to myself. I longed to befriend my inner experience and to feel more intimacy and ease with the people in my life.
These longings drew me to psychotherapy—as a client and then clinician—and to the Buddhist path. In the weaving of these traditions I discovered what I now call “Radical Acceptance,” which means clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion. Carl Rogers wrote:
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
In my own inner work, and in working with my psychotherapy clients and meditation students, I see over and over that Radical Acceptance is the gateway to healing wounds and spiritual transformation. When we can meet our experience with Radical Acceptance, we discover the wholeness, wisdom and love that are our deepest nature.
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