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Self Acceptance

Many years ago, my good friend and mentor, Dr Phil Harker, put to me that psychological maturity comes from a process wherein an individual should get to know themselves, and then accept themselves, and finally if they were truly enlightened, forget themselves.

But of course the process is not as straight-forward as it might seem. It seems that the ego creates such defence mechanisms that it prevents us from accepting that which we can not yet afford to know. Consequently an individual will often rationalise away evidence that is contrary to how they wish to appear to the world. Therefore it takes a great deal of self–acceptance before we are able to take on knowledge that is at odds with our self concept.

What are the indicators of self-acceptance?

The first is spontaneity. There is no need to contrive a response, no need to manufacture a position, no compulsion to put on a “face”. Colloquially we say, ‘what you see is what you get.’ There are no contrivances, subterfuges or posturings that stand between the person and their public persona.

In a similar vein, the second is humility. With self-acceptance there is no need to “prove” anything. How perceptive was Lao-Tzu when he wrote:

The highest goodness is like water. Water is beneficent to all things but does not contend. It stays in lowly places which others despise. Therefore it is near Tao.

As usual, we are often distracted by the demands of ego. At every moment during life the body and the mind are engaged by ceaseless flux. But as Matthieu Ricard points out:

… and yet we obstinately assign qualities of permanence, uniqueness and autonomy to the self. Furthermore as we begin to feel that this self is highly vulnerable and must be protected and satisfied, aversion and attraction soon come into play – aversion for anything that threatens the self, attraction to all that pleases it, comforts it, boosts its confidence, or puts it at ease.

It is this tension that creates ego. The Buddhist philosopher, Han De Wit writes:

[The ego] is also an affective reaction to our field of experience, a mental withdrawal based on fear.

Out of fear of the world and of others, out of dread of suffering, out of anxiety about living and dying, we imagine that by hiding inside a bubble – the ego – we will be protected.

To quote Ricard again:

We create the illusion of being separate from the world, hoping thereby to avert suffering. In fact what happens is just the opposite, since ego-grasping and self-importance are the best magnets to attract suffering.

To act or grow creatively we must begin from where we are. When ego gets in the road we are confused about that place and consequently our best efforts are thwarted. That marvellous writer on spirituality, Alan Watts, wrote:

Lacking self-acceptance, we are always at odds with our point of departure, always doubting the ground on which we stand, always so divided against ourselves that we cannot act with sincerity. Apart from self-acceptance as the groundwork of thought and action, every attempt at spiritual or moral discipline is the fruitless struggle of a mind that is split asunder and insincere.

And of course almost all psychological difficulties that people encounter, arise from an erroneous or distorted sense of self, or a desire to shore up an inadequate sense of self with some sort of psychological subterfuge.

Happiness, which comes from inner serenity, cannot occur without self-acceptance. That is not to say that self-acceptance is synonymous with self-satisfaction. Self-acceptance occurs when I can reconcile who I am with my circumstances, and socialisation. I am aware of my faults and am therefore able to do something about realistically addressing them – but I am not anxious about them.

Vedanta asserts that self-acceptance teaches us that obstacles and imperfections are not to be avoided but acknowledged and overcome. A limitation or deficiency, when accepted with a positive attitude of mind, becomes a driving force for self-mastery.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.”

Self-acceptance is the necessary precursor to the transcendence of ego. When I can accept that it is perfectly reasonable to be the person that I am, my ego needs wither away. I liked the disarming statement of Anthony De Mello. De Mello (briefly mentioning the book on transactional analysis by Thomas Harris, I’m OK; You’re OK.) proclaimed that if he were to write a book he’d call it I’m an Ass; You’re an Ass! We are all ordinary human beings subject to the most human foibles. The sooner we come to grips with that the more likely we are to accept ourselves.

And the more we come to accept ourselves the greater peace of mind we will cultivate and the more objectively we can deal with the world.

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  1. 8 Comment(s)

  2.   By a savage on Jan 6, 2010 | Reply

    I’m definitely an ass! And a fool! And gee it feels good to share it.

    Thanks Ted 🙂

  3.   By Ted Scott on Jan 7, 2010 | Reply

    Welcome to the Grand Order of Asses, Anne. It is the most useful club I’ve ever belonged to!

  4.   By Paul Chippendale on Jan 7, 2010 | Reply

    Great article. I always have enjoyed reading your writings.

  5.   By Ted Scott on Jan 7, 2010 | Reply

    Thanks Paul. It is good to hear from you.

  6.   By Father Robin on Jan 7, 2010 | Reply

    Father Ted

    Perhaps the difference lies between the ‘good life’ (ego) and the ‘Good Life’ (Soul) ?

    I can also recommend ‘The Church of the Churchless’ blog site on Plotinus.

    What rank do you hold in ‘The Grand Order of Asses’?

    Father Ass

  7.   By Ted Scott on Jan 7, 2010 | Reply

    I can with all modesty say that I am probably the Grand Poobah of all asses!

  8.   By Father Robin on Jan 7, 2010 | Reply

    Ah, well…

    Let’s just turn a coin.

    Father Robin

  9.   By Father Robin on Jan 11, 2010 | Reply

    I mean tossing a coin takes a bit of effort at our age.

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