The Problem With “Getting Better”…

…is that it implies there is something “wrong” with you in the first place.

I’ve had a shift in perspective recently when it comes to self help, mental illness and shadow work.

It’s not something that always made sense to me, that truly bringing about positive change starts with radical acceptance of where we are now. It seemed like a riddle to me – a paradox. Actually, I believe a lot of fundamental, spiritual truths can seem paradoxical. As if half of you perceives it to be wrong and irrational and half of you resonates with it completely.

Anyway, I’ve been having the experience recently of being intensely and abruptly confronted with my shadow right after a profound experience of clarity and light. It’s been triggered by the recent ending of my therapeutic relationship. If we’re to go with the fundamental laws of balance and change in the universe – it makes absolute sense.

 

“Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”
― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 

I returned from my Buddhist retreat at the beginning of September with a new routine, a reinforced spiritual practice and a mindful, hyper-aware perspective. “But don’t hide from the darkness,” my therapist cautioned wisely. I looked at him steadily and let the brevity of what he said land for me.

“And maybe I’ll slip right back into old habits, who knows!” I said that day, laughing – trying to retain some humility. “But I don’t think so,” I concluded, smiling.

Right now, I am extremely grateful for that sliver of humility I retained when I was so full of light and barely able to contemplate the imminent return of my shadow because it makes me feel less shocked and betrayed now.

The retreat gave me the golden opportunity to see firsthand the impact of my addictive behaviours that were completely entrenched in my life at that point – to see the contrast when I replaced them with new, nourishing ones. After a week, I naturally thought: “Right, this is me now. Healed from all that crap, new perspective, healthier, happier.”

As the weeks went by, I became less strict with my new habits and the denouncing of my old ones.  However, it has never felt like denial. I’ve tried to stay open, relaxed and inquisitive.

There have been feelings of fear and deflation but the way I’ve been intentionally approaching it is with an attitude of: “Ah, this is happening again. OK. So what?” What’s happening when I don’t approach my “old” habits with panic and alarm?

Radical acceptance, I think. What I’m realising is that having the opportunity to experience these habits again with a loving awareness is proving to be just as valuable as reinforcing healthier ones. When I was sleeping better, meditating daily, eating mindfully and seriously limiting my phone usage; it taught me that I am worthy and capable of a nourishing lifestyle and the opportunity to thrive.

And conversely, having the unhealthier patterns make a reappearance in my life is teaching me that I am still lovable and worthy when I find it difficult to look after myself. That I am not a failure because I struggle to maintain adequate sleep hygiene and limit my phone usage.

I’m trying to be light-hearted about it and part of the reason that this is possible is that I’m not taking things so seriously. I’m not so blasé about it that I’m in denial about the impact of living in an unhealthy way indefinitely, but I’m also not so serious about it that I’m viewing it as the end of the world if I do live like this for a little while. I’m trying to stay somewhere in the middle, prioritising self-acceptance above the pursuit of the perfect lifestyle.

This post has managed to reinforce the trust I have in the process as it presents itself for me right now. “You have learned all the lessons necessary to flow through this challenging phase” was music to my ears!

I’ve been resonating less and less with the idea of “getting better” lately and “levelling up” and all these other ideals. It doesn’t feel authentic to me anymore. A lot of it translates to me as resistance to the present moment. No one wants to suffer. Yet we all do. I’m sick of wrestling with it. “Suffering consciously” is a concept I’ve been introduced to by a book I’ve been reading. It’s going to happen. If I run to escape my
shadow, it’s going to run right after me. So I’m turning to face it, I think.

this-is-fine.0

What do a 16th-century Zen master and a contemporary cartoon dog have in common? Both of them maintained equanimity as their worlds burned, says Cristina Moon. And this is why we train as Buddhists. – Lion’s Roar

 

I’m sick of this polarising attitude towards the “good” and “bad” parts of ourselves. The whole: “Do you want to stay stuck? Or do you want to thrive?” And I understand where it comes from. The wishing for the goodwill of others. The desire to put across the idea that everyone is deserving of happiness and alignment. But I just don’t think it’s that black and white. I don’t know if I think it’s healthy anymore to focus so much energy on trying to “get out” of depression or be a “better version” of yourself. What about who you are right now? Can you sit with that? (As a disclaimer, when depression brings with it a real risk of harm to the sufferer and others, I understand the desire to alleviate this risk and suffering.)

For me, at the moment, “getting better” looks like being okay with not getting better. Being okay with wanting to self harm – with doing it, even. Being okay with binge eating or going to work sleep-deprived. Being okay with not cleaning my room for a month.

 

“Some people work very hard
But still they never get it right
Well, I’m beginning to see the light”

– Beginning To See The Light by The Velvet Underground

 

This doesn’t mean that I’m resigning myself to these unhealthy patterns. Just the other day, for example, I filled in my weekly planner properly for the first time in weeks. For the coming week, I’ve scheduled in: daily meditation, two nights dedicated to self care, two mornings of exercise, early nights, time for making music and meal prep. I know the things that allow me to thrive and what healthy living looks like.

But it also looks like accepting and loving myself fully when I’m able to do none of the above.

Thanks for reading. What are your thoughts on radical acceptance?

– SMUT. ❤ xxxx

 

 

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