Acceptance Without Judgment
In my Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating session last week, I talked to my participants about the importance of noticing what they’re thinking or feeling without judging themselves for it.
“That’s hard - not judging,” one of them commented.
“It is,” I agreed, remembering some of my own struggles.
It wasn’t until later that I wondered why this is. Why are we that quick to judge ourselves? And why are we inclined to be harsh?
One reason is that we often feel isolated in our experiences. Most of the time, no matter what’s going on in our lives, we put on a brave face for others, not wanting them to see our pain, our mistakes, our broken humanness. Instead we smile and exchange banalities, yet we rarely stop to think that perhaps other people’s smiles are also a mask, hiding their own insecurity and pain. We simply believe in the facade, think that their lives are shiny and perfect, while ours are not.
I felt this deeply when I was younger. I never heard anyone else talk about sneaking food, or feeling unable to resist candy, or the actual experience of being overweight. I considered myself a pariah because of that, an abnormal freak who could relate only to characters in fantasy novels. It was a revelation when I read one story where a woman used baby powder to help the problem of her heavy thighs chafing when she walked - it was my first inclination that others might share at least some of my experience.
But without that understanding, when we perceive that everyone else is doing well, we think something must be wrong with us. It is therefore easy to treat ourselves badly, to feel guilty and ashamed.
The reality, though, is that we are not alone. While no one can experience exactly what we have, we each have our own pain, burdens that we hide, times when we are irritable and worry about our lives. This is what Elizabeth Lesser calls the “Open Secret”. She writes in her book Broken Open (p. 25), “It’s almost as if we are embarrassed by our most human traits.”
But according to Rumi: “The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open.”
Acceptance means letting go of the guilt, enjoyable though it can sometimes be to wallow in misery. It means that we instead learn how to move forward in a more effective way.
It isn’t easy, but if you find yourself in that place of judgment, it may help to remember that it is an Open Secret - that others are in the same place even if for different reasons. If you can let go of the guilt and shame, and simply accept what you’re feeling, you may find the world opening to you, and you can move forward with a lighter heart and easy spirit.