Pursue What Matters
Episode 212: Book Review – Radical Acceptance
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When it comes to facing life’s challenges, do you feel like you’re battling uphill? Maybe you feel like you’ve tried everything to slay your demons. But have you tried this? Join me to learn what’s so radical about radical acceptance.
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I am Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So it’s another month, which means we’ve got another book review, and I have a favorite book for you today, I adore this book, I’ve read it probably two or three times. And this author also has an excellent podcast that I regularly listen to. So I am definitely a fan of this book and this author. And so let’s jump right in and discuss the book. So of course, every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead through strengthening clarity, which is all about purpose, strengthening curiosity, which was all about self awareness and self leadership, by helping you build and lead a community. And so primarily, with the podcast today, we’re focusing on curiosity, and we’re doing a whole series about curiosity, and really paying attention to how curiosity can be your secret weapon for effective leadership at home at work. It is the path of well being and so the book today is all about helping you cultivate self awareness. And so what is the book? It is radical acceptance, embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha. This is by Tara Brach. So she is a psychologist, and she has been doing incredible mindfulness work for years. She leads a lot of retreats. Like I mentioned, she has a podcast, and she’s been working in this space for a long time. So I’d say she’s one of the pioneers. And this book has been out for quite a while. I think it’s almost been out for 20 years. And I heard recently on the podcast, she mentioned that she’s preparing a new 20 Year edition and so watch for that. It should be coming out before too long, and it’ll have a new chapter and so something to watch for, but the essence of the book is still the same. And so everything that you hear from me today will be in the new edition. I am positive, but I don’t think she took anything out. She said she just added a new chapter.
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And so let’s learn a little bit about Tara Brach. So Tara brach PhD is a clinical psychologist and the author of true refuge and radical acceptance winner of a books for a Better Life Award. She has also since written another book, which is called radical compassion. I also highly recommend that she is the founder of the Insight Meditation community in Washington, DC and has conducted workshops across the country. She lives in Great Falls Virginia with her husband, her mother and three dogs. And so that’s a little bit about Tara Brach, like I said, she’s been working in this field for a long time. So now let’s learn more about the book. So believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering, says Tara Tara brach at the start of this illuminating book. This suffering emerges in crippling, crippling self judgments, and conflicts in our relationships in addictions and perfectionism in loneliness, and overwork all the forces that keep our lives constricted and unfulfilled. So do any of those sound familiar? So self judgments, conflict in relationships, addictive behaviors, perfectionism, loneliness, and overwork. So these are really the heart of this suffering when we believe something’s wrong with us. So in this book, radical acceptance, it offers a path to freedom, including the day to day practical guidance, developed over Dr. Brock’s 20 years of work with therapy clients and Buddhist students. And so Tara’s writing is very warm, conversational. She gives a lot of personal examples, both from her life and with her meditation students. And one thing that I really loved about the book is that it’s practical. And so she includes guided meditations throughout. But there are also specific things that you can do to help yourself and so it’s a really useful book. So a couple more things about the book. It’s a main selection of one spirit book club, and it’s been named the best of many book club lists and Thich Nhat Hahn who is also a Buddhist thinker, said radical acceptance offers offers us an invitation to embrace ourselves with all our pain, fear and anxieties, and a step lightly yet firmly on the path of understanding and compassion.
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And then also from Jack Kornfield, another psychologist, he actually writes the foreword in the book, and he is a great meditation teacher. He says, radical acceptance offers gentle wisdom and tender healing, most excellent medicine for our unworthiness and longing, breathe, soften, and let these compassionate teachings bless your heart. And so this is definitely a gem of a book. And so if you find yourself just feeling worn down by life, maybe you feel like you’re climbing that mountain and you just feel worn out. This book can be such a tender refuge. And so it’s great to read, it’s also great to listen to, and so I would definitely recommend it.
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So I want to talk to us a little bit about the outline of the book. So we’re not going to cover everything. But the first thing that she starts with is, is known as the trance of unworthiness. We’ll talk about that a little more specifically. But some of the behaviors I just described, can really characterize this trance of unworthiness, when we’re just so hard, hard on ourselves, it makes living life even more challenging. And, and then the the real focus of the book is focused on awakening from that trance. And Brock teaches that this is really the path of radical acceptance. So we’ll talk a little bit about that. Some of the other main points that she talks about. So these are the points in terms of how like, what does that path of radical acceptance look like? How do we get there? How do we stay on it. So some of the things that she covers in depth in the book include the sacred pause, so learning to rest, to slow down our thinking, slow down our body, slow down our emotion, so that we really can understand the situation at hand. And she talks about unconditional friendliness, so learning to be a friend to yourself, especially in your suffering, and in your pain. She also talks a lot about coming home to your body. And you know, when we think about stressors, for many of us, we are in a chronic nervous system arousal state, which is really difficult to maintain. And yet many of us live that way. Because we don’t prioritize coping, and we might not have much awareness about that. But when we think about this nervous system arousal, right, like you would have all the book learning in the world, in your head, right?
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So we think about the the cortical system, the cortex, and we think about the limbic system, which is really the house of emotions. And that’s really where our, our body based coping and experience is, is felt, right, it’s a full body experience. But that’s really being driven by the limbic system. And for many of us, we have a big disconnect between our cortical system and our limbic system. And what that means is we might have, we might have skills, and we might be able to reason our way through situations. But all the while we have this significant nervous system arousal where our body is in fight or flight mode. And so when you, when you notice this nervous system arousal, we really need to prioritize body based interventions.
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We need to learn to come home to our body, and that’s one of the the most important focuses of this book. And so, Tara talks a lot about learning to come home to our body, to calm our nervous system, to learn to be attuned and aware of the cues our body is giving us, whether that’s around tension, whether that’s around fatigue, whether that’s around hunger, and, you know, what’s, what can be radical about that, is that learning that we can learn to be responsive to our needs, rather than reactive, or rejecting so many of us if we struggle with this trance of unworthiness, when we might note our needs, but instead of learning to be responsive, like we would for, you know, someone we care about, we instead are rejecting, which just pushes us deeper into that hole of suffering, that experience of unworthiness. And then the final thing that she covers in the book is learning to open our heart in the face of fear. Right. And for many of us in the face of fear, we want to run the other way, and there are some deeply ingrained reasons why that is true. And yet when we continually avoid our fears, we have this heightened anxiety. And it really constricts our life and our functioning. And so we want to learn to face our fears. And that is really the path of radical acceptance.
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So let’s jump in and cover a few of the details some of the highlights in, I just want to say a little bit more about them. And so she opens the book by talking about the trance of unworthiness, and it is this underlying core belief, which is not the same as your values, right, but this underlying belief that you’re not good enough that something is wrong with you, that you’re not worthy. And, you know, there are a lot of a lot of us out there that really struggle with these underlying beliefs, of not good enough not worthy of love or care or concern.
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And, of course, that can be a real problem, because it, you know, we never keep those feelings to ourselves, it impacts how we relate to others, and how we show up in the world. And it all gets in the way of meaningful connection. So Brock talks about the fact that for years, she had a recurring dream in which she was caught in in a futile struggle to get somewhere. So maybe she was climbing a mountain, maybe she was running up a hill. Often a loved one was in trouble or something bad was happening. And so she said that she was moving frantically, but felt like her body couldn’t keep up. And that the felt sense of these dreams was that regardless of how hard she tried, she couldn’t be successful, she couldn’t get where she was going. And she really felt trapped in that situation. And, you know, I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly had those feelings before. And so what she says is that for her, that drain net she had recurring, really captures the essence of the trance of unworthiness. And so she, she kind of spells that out a little bit, and she has, like five really good points about that. So first, she teaches that feeling unworthy goes hand in hand, with feeling separate from others, and separate from life. So this sense of being defective, pushes us to resist connection. So we don’t want to burden others we don’t want to get in the way. We don’t want to cause problems for others. The second point is that our feelings of unworthiness and alienation from others give rise to various forms of suffering, as you might imagine. And so the some of the most glaring expressions of this suffering includes addictions or addictive behaviors. So whether it’s alcohol, food, or drugs, of course, addictions aren’t the only presentation, right?
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Others feel, feel maybe dependent or needy in their relationships. They, they feel like they’re, they have to work over work, to prove their worthiness. And so there are a lot of ways that this shows up. The third point that she makes is that the belief that we are deficient, and unworthy, makes it difficult to trust that we are truly loved. And so even though we may be surrounded by folks who love us and have loving, trusting relationships, we don’t feel it. We feel unsafe, we feel like there’s going to be a betrayal around the next corner. And so of course, you can see how this really feeds that nervous system arousal. And that felt sense of suffering. And then the fourth point that she makes about the trance of unworthiness is that it intensifies when our lives feel painful and out of control. So right life is challenging, and we will all face challenges. But when we face those challenges, it’s not just that we face those challenges, it’s that we beat up on ourselves, for the fact that we have the challenges, or for the fact that the challenges are hard. And so talk about hitting a person when they’re downright kicking a person when they’re down. And so we might blame ourselves for getting into the situation in the first place. We might say if you were just smarter, you wouldn’t be in this situation. You should have known better. And so, you know, we take what is a challenging situation and probably would be challenging for anyone. And we turn that into a battering ram against ourselves where we get pummeled by shame and judgment and criticism. And so you can see how that just really intensifies suffering over time. And then the fifth point that she makes about this trance of unworthiness is that it doesn’t always show up as overt feelings of shame and deficiency. Sometimes it shows up she gives the example sometimes it shows up as cry, this needing to be seen needing to be applauded, or highly valued by others. And so you can see I get caught with that trap of words work or achievement.
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But pride is just another form. Right? It is a compensation for feelings of inadequacy. And so it’s not that you know, with pride that you really think you’re the best person ever, it is a tool of compensation. And so she, you know, her final point here on the trance of unworthiness is that we become that weak be we become convinced that we’re not good enough. And so we can never relax. So we stay on guard, monitoring ourselves for shortcomings. And of course, none of us are perfect. So when we inevitably find we feel even more secure and undeserving, so then we push ourselves to even try harder, and this suffering of unworthiness just intensifies. And so that can be a real trap for many of us, and of course, she also points out, you know, what does this look like? And so she shares some of the strategies that we enlist to manage the pain of inadequacy. And so you know, we’re not feeling good about ourselves, we’re trying to help ourselves in these situations. So what are some of the ways that we try to manage this pain of inadequacy? First, we embark on one self improvement project after another who’s done this, I’ve totally done this in my life. Second, we hold back and play it safe, rather than risking failure. So we become really cautious. And this fear of failure keeps us from actually achieving our full potential. And then third, is we withdraw from our experience of the present moment. So we get lost in our head, we get lost in our storytelling, rather than being fully attuned to the moment. And then fourth, we keep busy, right? Busyness serves as a numbing mechanism, a distraction mechanism, it keeps us from connecting to the pain that we have in our body in our heart. And that’s a problem because we need to manage those feelings. And then the next one is we become our own worst critics, right? So we just, we beat ourselves up at every turn. And then the last one, and this is especially insidious, is we focus on other people’s faults. So the real risk here is that we become as hard on other people as we are on ourselves. And of course, that just undermines relationships that can be that can have a big impact at work. And so this is, this is what the trance of unworthiness looks like. And then, as I mentioned before, most of the book is really focused on radical acceptance, right? And so, awakening from the trance, how do we awake from this awaken from this trance of unworthiness, and not according to Brock is really the path of radical acceptance. And so I want to finish by sharing one concept that she shares in the book, which I think can be really helpful, it’s personally been helpful for me.
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Many others have found it helpful as well. So she says, when we are caught in the trends of unworthiness, we do not clearly recognize what is happening inside of us. So right that nervous system arousal, nor do we feel kind, our view of who we are, is contorted and narrowed and our heart feels hardened against life. So maybe you get really cynical, you get negative. Over time, you can lose hope you can get really depressed. So as we lean into the experience of the moment, releasing our story, so those those stories we tell about ourselves, and gently holding our pain or desire, radical acceptance begins to unfold. And so she talks about this as two parts of genuine acceptance, the first one is seeing clearly. And the second is holding our experience with compassion. And so she wants she invites us to think about these as interdependent, like two wings of a great bird. And so together when we employ both of those, they enable us to fly and be free to really awaken from that trance. And so just a little bit more on the wing of clear scene, right? This is described in Buddhist practice as mindfulness. So we recognize what’s happening in the present moment without trying to manage our experience in any way without pulling away, just letting it be. And so she says that because we are not tampering with our experience, mindfulness is first weighing allows us to see life as it is. And what’s true is, we can’t honestly accept an experience unless we see clearly what we are accepting.
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So mindfulness helps us to see ourselves and to see life clearly. And then that second wing of radical acceptance is compassion. It is our capacity to relate in a tender and sympathetic way, to what we perceive. So instead of resisting our feelings of fear or grief, we embrace our pain, which that’s a radical concept. We embrace our pain with the kindness of a mother holding her child. So think about the tenderness that you would have for a child, we need to bring that same tenderness into our relationship with our self. And so we learn to regard our grasping or are struggling with gentleness and care. And so compassion honors our experience. And it allows us to be intimate with the life of this moment, as it is, so we’re not trying to change life. We’re comforting ourselves in our pain. And so what Brock teaches is that compassion makes our acceptance wholehearted and complete, and that these two wings of clear seeing and compassion are inseparable, right, the bird can’t fly without both wings. And both are essential in liberating us from the trance of unworthiness. And so I hope that you will take that symbolism, take that concept. And just consider how you can bring both mindfulness and compassion to your daily life to help you challenge the stories in your own head. If you do, I think you will find that it leads to greater peace and well being in your life. And so I highly recommend this book, head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/212-radicalacceptance. Of course, there on the show notes, I will link to some resources for this book. I’ll link to the book. I’ll link to Tara Brock’s website, and also to her great podcast, it’s a treasure. It’s got talks on these topics. It’s also got guided meditation, so it’s a really useful resource. In the meantime, join me on Instagram @dr.melissasmith. And if you feel up to it, give me a review on Apple or Spotify. I’m always open to feedback and I want to hear what you want to hear about. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care
Transcribed by https://otter.ai