Embracing Life With Radical Acceptance

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A friend had been telling me for a while now to read Tara Branch's book Radical Acceptance, so when I saw it the other day at the airport, I felt compelled to pick it up -- and I am so happy that I did. I spent this past weekend in Atlanta, Georgia visiting my grandma and her husband. I stayed at their River House, which was a perfect and peaceful place to read my new book.

Radical acceptance is the cultivation of mindfulness and compassion. It is the "antidote to years of neglecting ourselves, years of treating ourselves harshly, years of rejecting this moment's experience."

Last night, I was telling my grandma a bit about the book. She opened one of the first pages, skimmed it and then looked up at me with a bewildered expression on her face, "I don't think I've ever had a negative voice in my head, or felt as if I was personally insufficient or unworthy. I've always felt pretty sure of myself." While I have always known my grandma to have a confident, outgoing and bubbly personality, what she said took me by surprise.

I started wondering what it'd be like to grow up with a positive inner voice, instead of a critical one. For as long as I can remember, I have always had the feeling I am not "good enough," and that I am different from everyone else. And I still struggle with that feeling today, although it is much less intense than it used to be.

Living life through a lens of personal insufficiency keeps us imprisoned in what Tara Branch calls the "trance of unworthiness." Trapped in the trance of unworthiness, we are unable to realize and experience the full truth of who we are. It's a terrible cycle: the more inadequate we feel, the more separate and vulnerable we feel.

Through skills I have been taught in therapy and information I have learned from years of binge reading self-help books and blogs, I am now able to recognize that my negative inner voice telling me I am not good enough is a liar and that I don't have to listen to it. Through practicing radical acceptance, we can free myself from those long standing beliefs of insufficiency by recognizing what is true in the present moment and being compassionate.

Life is pretty great right now: I just graduated from college, I'm head over heels in love, I have been taking spontaneous trips to beautiful places, I am in the midst of planning my career, I have the best dog in the entire world (not biased or anything), and I am taking care of myself better than I ever have.

However, when things are going well we sometimes question whether or not we deserve it or fear that something bad is bound to happen. As Tara Branch puts it, "our enjoyment of the present moment is tainted by anxiety about keeping what we have."

The other day I caught myself feeling fearful of the future and of losing what I have. Instead of getting lost in those thoughts and becoming massively anxious and insecure, I paused.I wrote down the thoughts, accepted I was having them, recognized they were simply thoughts and fears, not facts, and had compassion for myself. Then, I tried to focus on the present moment: engaging in conversation with my grandma, appreciating the nature surrounding their river house and enjoying the hot coffee I was sipping.

It's definitely easier said than done, but it does work! When we find ourselves worrying about the future, or caught up in the past, the best thing we can do is to try and focus on the present moment. We can't change what has happened in the past, and we can't control the future. The present moment is all we have.

Instead of striving for perfection and ridding ourselves of negative emotions, we need to practice radically accepting life and embracing it for all of it's realness, "broken, messy, mysterious and vibrantly alive," the good and the bad. In doing this, we will be able to live more freely and embrace our authentic, true self.

Tara Branch talks about how perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns, listening to inner voices that keep our life small. We need to realize that as humans, we are all fully capable of loving people without holding back, living an authentic life, breathing in all the beauty around us and facing our fears.

By practicing radical acceptance, we can fully experience ourselves and life as it is: imperfectly perfect.