Growing up in Jerusalem in a modern orthodox home, we did not celebrate any holiday on the “secular” Gregorian calendar like valentine’s day and mother’s day (you were expected to honor both parents every day). There was only one new year in our household, and it was Rosh Hashanah. I continue that tradition, but I cannot help myself but be excited with all the festivities, hopes and resolutions of the “secular” New Year. What do I wish for myself to do differently for 2021? How can this year be different for me? (apart from hoping to resume normal life of course!)
When thinking about how I want to grow this year I am also thinking of acceptance which is a central concept in Yemima’s teachings. Self-acceptance is considered to be a cornerstone of spiritual growth. Self-acceptance is agreeing to where I am now including my thoughts and feelings. The opposite of acceptance is fighting, rejecting, and resisting. Can growth and self-acceptance go hand in hand?
At first glance, acceptance seems like a contradiction to change because when we accept a situation we don’t try to change it. Interestingly, humans are great thinkers and problem solvers, and when we face problems we like to actively engage with them. If my window is broken I try to fix it. If I have a disease I try to find a cure. We don’t accept situations that we aren’t happy with, we try to resolve them.
However, self-acceptance of our internal life is different from our usual fixing mindset. Actively trying to “solve” negative internal states is not a winning strategy and can actually be counterproductive. If we focus on how to get rid of our negative feelings, rumination is likely to occur, which intensifies feelings and prolongs them. If we try to suppress thoughts and feelings, this doesn’t work so well either. Suppressing makes us think more about the issue (have you heard about the white bear experiment?). If we use distraction, the feelings come back when the distraction is over.
Trying to actively solve our internal feelings and emotions is like being in quicksand and moving a lot. In our daily life, we rely on moving to help us get out of physical danger. However, when we try to do that in quicksand we start sinking in more deeply. The harder we fight the deeper we sink. What we really need to do is to let go and try to float, to distribute our weight equally. Not to fight but to relax.
If trying to get rid of internal thoughts and states is like moving in quicksand then acceptance is like relaxing. It is the best strategy for gaining our internal balance. We try to let our negative emotions happen without rejecting, suppressing, or fighting them. We try to be present, to be there for ourselves not with a cold presence but with a warm, and loving presence. I am worthy, even when I don’t feel good.
Over the short run, negative feelings pass faster when we don’t fight them. Over the long run, with acceptance, these emotions and thoughts will return less frequently, less forcefully and for a shorter period of time. However, being present is not easy, and the Yemima method offers many tools and insights in which to make this possible for us over time. We slowly learn the art of self-acceptance.
And how does self-acceptance complement growth? Self-acceptance is the basis of it. Self-acceptance is the solid ground on which we stand. The place from which we go out to the world to learn new and exciting things. The place where our bravery to attempt and fail is grown. Just like in attachment theory where a caregiver’s love and support is crucial for child development, so is our self-acceptance a movement of balance and love that keeps us going and expanding.
So, when thinking about New Year's resolutions I am inviting you this year to think of increasing self-acceptance. This counterintuitive move can be a wonderful way to greet 2021.