Monday, August 2, 2010

Acceptance / Change

I found this book lying on my dining room table and started reading it: Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person. (So typical of me to start yet another new book when there are at least 5 that I am part way through...) It's the writings of a man who worked in counseling / professional psychotherapy for 30+ years, but they are directed towards the average person, rather than the professional, and towards growing what is healthy, rather than towards curing what is sick.

Anyway, I am obviously not a professional psychotherapist, but I am really excited because what I have read so far resonates so well with ideas that have been slowing blossoming in myself. In the poetry anthology I'm reading, Helen Vendler says that the greatest joy that comes from a poem is finding your own thoughts and feelings expressed by someone else; I think the same can be true in other genres of writing. In particular, here is an insight (or "upsight," in the language of Anathem) that expresses something I have been fumbling towards for years but have never grasped well enough to name or express:
I find I am more effective when I can listen acceptantly to myself, and can be myself. I feel that over the years I have learned to become more adequate in listening to myself; so that I know, somewhat more adequately than I used to, what I am feeling at any given moment--to be able to realize I am angry, or that I do feel rejecting toward this person; or that I feel very full of warmth and affection for this individual; or that I am bored and uninterested in what is going on; or that I am eager to understand this individual or that I am anxious and fearful in my relationship to this person. All of these diverse attitudes are feelings which I think I can listen to in myself. One way of putting this is that I feel I have become more adequate in letting myself be what I am. It becomes easier for me to accept myself as a decidedly imperfect person, who by no means functions at all times in the way in which I would like to function.

This must seem to some like a very strange direction in which to move. It seems to me that have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change. I believe that I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience--that we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed. (p. 17)
I think this "acceptance" isn't about tolerance, that it isn't about accepting that this is how it is and therefore this is how it must be. I think it is simply about seeing: this is how it is, right now. I see this as being about integrity, in its original sense of wholeness, because if I don't see or accept or recognize something in myself, even though it is there, then I am cutting off that part of myself. I am dividing myself. Division is the opposite of unity or wholeness or integrity. Dishonesty, even to myself, leads to a fractured soul...

Another way to frame this: Life is a journey, right? and sometimes we get lost. Suppose I get lost, but I have a map so I can figure out where I should be. But suppose that I refuse to accept where I am on the map, because it is not where I want to be. Then when I plot my route from the place that I claim to be, to the place I actually want to go, that plotted route will be useless, because it has an inaccurate starting point. If I don't accept where I actually am, I can't even figure out how to go anywhere else, much less how to arrive at some particular other destination.

So I am really happy to see this articulated, especially by someone other than myself. Something I want to add, though, is that in my life such honesty and acceptance has been most fruitful and least painful when it takes the form of confession--just a brief prayer to God saying "This is how I am feeling, and I don't want to feel it. Help!" And then freedom comes, to replace guilt and fear.

In the words of Sara Groves: "Oh honesty / the truth be told / for the saving / of our souls."

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