The first time I facilitated a daylong workshop at the very well-known Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, I felt a very frightening level of anxiety before the event. The source of it was that I had bought into my belief that I didn’t deserve to be presenting there. I had been a participant at many such workshops at Spirit Rock, and all the presenters were well known in their fields and experienced in presenting to large audiences, whereas I was unknown to most of the participants. However, the greatest source of my anxiety and shame was my attempt to push it away, to disown my feelings of shame, which then contributed to self-rejection.
The whole day of the workshop I continued to experience some anxiety and shame all day. When I arrived that morning, I finally gave up trying to push away my shame. I allowed myself to fully experience it, which dramatically reduced it. In fact, I was able to use the remaining anxiety and shame to motivate me to keep my heart open to everything I was experiencing, because I knew it was the best antidote. By the end of the day, by staying with all my feelings, I had developed greater self-acceptance and self-valuing.
We all have thoughts that cause us to experience numerous, unpleasant emotions ranging from rage to shame. And many of us feel ashamed of our rage and our shame, causing additional shame, rage, and other unpleasant emotions.
Most of us have had the experience of trying unsuccessfully to not feel the shame. Unfortunately: What we resist persists.
Once we develop the ability to objectively observe our thoughts and feelings, they lose the power to cause suffering. Attempts to reject our thoughts and feelings lead to a rejection of self. However, cultivation of the ability to accept all our thoughts and feelings leads to self-acceptance, self-valuing, and a deep sense of wellbeing.
The belief that we are flawed or unacceptable leads us to go to great lengths to try to avoid thoughts, feelings, and situations that could trigger even more feelings of shame. Our inauthentic behavior strengthens and reinforces the shame, leading to further inauthentic behavior, still more shame, and self-rejection. It is an endless downward spiral in which far too many people seem to have become trapped.
The good news is that each of us has the power to consciously intervene by embracing all our feelings, which can then break the cycle. This does not mean believing our thoughts; it means objectively observing them without believing them. The path to health and happiness involves cultivating an unconditional acceptance and presence that help us more fully engage with all our feelings and with life.
Our culture incorrectly informs us that emotional distress is avoidable and should be avoided at all cost. The pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars in propaganda (advertising) to introduce and reinforce this unhealthy belief.
Feelings of shock, terror, anxiety, sadness, frustration, rage, pain, fatigue, embarrassment, and shame are all survivable! What is sometimes not survivable is the behavior we adopt, including taking unnecessary and possibly dangerous medications in an attempt to avoid experiencing these emotions. This is contradictory to self-acceptance and self-valuing, neither of which is possible when we rely on unnecessary medications and other external methods that short-circuit the personal skill-building that can not only reduce our suffering, but lead to the ability to dramatically increase wellbeing.
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