The other night I had a “spiritual nightcap” with Robert Holden, author of the bestseller Happiness NOW, among others. Beyond his incredibly charming British accent and unassuming sense of humor, I was struck by something he said:
He’s about SELF-ACCEPTANCE as opposed to SELF-IMPROVEMENT.
As those words came out of his mouth I could feel my cells relax, their little mitochondria just taking a long, deep breath and laying down for a rest.
Two weeks ago I wrote about the possibility of over doing it when it comes to personal growth. And Robert’s simple, elegant quarter turn from improvement to acceptance was the perfect thing to punctuate this particular line of thinking I’ve been following lately.
It is not possible to beat ourselves into any sort of lasting change. We cannot judge our love handles enough to create a six pack. We can’t berate ourselves for a low bank account balance enough times to create abundance. We can’t self-flagellate ourselves into sustainable happiness of any kind.
I remember when I was growing up when I would be beating myself up about something my mom would ask me:
“Can you love yourself for beating yourself up?”
What a radical question. “Is it possible to love yourself right in that spot that you’re finding unlovable? And if not, can you love the part of yourself that can’t find that part of yourself lovable?” A mind bender, yes. But your heart actually says yes to this one.
“The wound is the place where light enters you,” wrote Rumi.
The part of you that you find the most unacceptable is where the most fertile soil for love lies. It’s our deepest shame, the areas in our soul or psyche we find the most distasteful that provide the warmest invitations for love.
I’m a woman who’s spent a lot of my life thus far trying hard to look like I have it all together. And it is only from this perspective that I tell you with the utmost assuredness:
I’ve received the most love from others when I’m falling apart. I’ve felt the most held when I was losing it. Time and time again, my imperfection has been an invitation, a well-paved inroad for others’ love. And the best part about that is that bringing my whole self forward, warts and all, helps me love even the parts of myself that I’ve previously felt were unlovable.
Let your soft belly be seen in the sunshine.
Wear flip flops even though you hate your feet.
Cry in public.
Let your mascara smudge.
Tell someone the truth when they ask you how you’re doing and the truth is that you’re not doing that great.
When we invite others into our own imperfection we give them permission to not only love us, but also to love all the parts in themselves that they don’t feel measure up.
It’s easy to love the parts of yourself that are hitting your monthly goals, being a great mom, keeping your sock drawer organized, and staying on top of your inbox. Don’t stop loving those parts. They need you too.
But today, and perhaps tomorrow, and the day after too, see if you can shine a little light of love on an area that you’re just not proud of. Take a good long look at a part of you that’s simply despicable and say, “I love you.” Focus on acceptance instead of improvement and enjoy the sweet surrender that comes with it.