When I hear the term “radical acceptance”, what comes to mind is social justice and the acceptance we extend to others around us, even if those people are different from us with a different lived experience. Lately I’ve been mulling these words over, trying out how they feel when it comes to our bodies and how we feel in them. I think when we are able to accept ourselves in a radical way, this leads to embodiment. This hugely informs my clinical practice, and when asked about what I do, I’ve started saying “I help people be in their bodies”.
While feeling sensations in one's own body is indeed one's own lived experience, our sensations do not always live up to how we want to feel, how we think we “ought” to feel, or how others think we should feel. Before I go on, a little disclaimer: this article is not saying that we shouldn’t have goals for how we want to feel, or that helping ourselves or others to feel better is wrong. In fact the alleviation of suffering, whether physical and/or emotional, is a lofty pursuit. Instead I am offering that feeling in the present moment can be done without self-condemnation and judgement, that there are moments when we can simply “feel”. This would not only be radical acceptance of ourselves, but often a definition of embodiment.
This practice of feeling without judgement has been a journey for me, and continues to be so. It often involves slowing down, taking a deep breath, and consciously paying attention to my inner sensations. When I try to manipulate my sensations into someone else’s ideas of what I should be feeling, in other words judging myself, my fascia will often tighten up, creating more physical restrictions within my body. Try simply noticing what sensations are happening in your body in a given moment, or notice the moment when you start to judge the sensation. And try not to judge the judgement! Or simply, accept the sensation and the fact that you may be judging yourself. And then see what happens.
If you are feeling a particularly tough sensation, close your eyes and gently ask your body, “what is this about?” And gently let go the quick answer your brain might send you, instead awaiting the answer that may arise from your body tissues. The answer might come in the shape of the intention of gesture, an intended body posture, or perhaps thoughts or memories that arise from the sensations of your body. Another question you can ask your body, after doing the above (or after doing the above several times), is, “what do I need?” If the answers are not forthcoming, continue to be patient with yourself, as the answers may come another time. And remember to not necessarily trust the quickness of answers in the form of stories coming from your brain, but see what arises in sensations from the body.
It's more about deepening into an aligned relationship with yourself, than getting a quick fix answer.
There's also a difference between wallowing and allowing. I'm afraid to admit that in the past I was quite adept at wallowing. Allowing is more the ability to be in your body and feel, without attaching too much story or significance to it, whether that's just being present with the sensation or allowing it to simply flow through and keep on going. You can ask yourself: does this sensation have a temperature? Do my tissues feel tight, or loose? Is the pain sharp, dull, or achy? Sometimes meaning does arise, but the meaning can then arise of its own accord from your body, which is very different from the brain distracting from the sensation with stories of why it might be there.
To cultivate this culture of radical acceptance in ourselves and others, I believe we need to build a tolerance to sensation, even when that sensation is discomfort. First, let’s qualify the difference between overwhelming sensation and a medium sense of discomfort. We all need to take care of ourselves and/or get help when overwhelmed, whether that be in the form of self care, support from family and friends, physical and/or emotional therapy, and/or biochemically. I think the confusion happens when we equate discomfort with overwhelm, and it brings new understanding and depth when we are able to differentiate the two. As we build tolerance to discomfort, not only can we start to be present long enough to bring new insight into understanding ourselves and others, but I believe it is also an opportunity to gain physical and emotional resilience. It stretches the capacity and flexibility of our nervous systems and enables us to stay out of overwhelm and in the window of tolerance a little more easily.
Long term, I believe tolerance to sensation can help set the stage for an ability and willingness to be in the present moment and, I believe, can allow for joy to surprise us.
Some of the most profound moments of sensation happen when we fall into that place of just feeling, letting go of all the stories and reasons we have accumulated over our lifetimes. It’s a vulnerable place, and can take practice to stay in that feeling for any length of time. Suddenly reasons don’t matter, we stop fighting, and there is surrender, as we fall into the connection of everything. It feels a lot like love. When this happens in Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy, generally you’ll experience an opening of physical restriction in your body, often changing how you relate with the outside world.
Book Recommendation: Focusing, by Eugene Gendlin
Photo Credit: Jan Kopriva, Unsplash