One of the greatest human challenges is accepting and embracing who we are as individual beings. Being human is primary. Everything else emerges from this. Each of us has a unique history and life experiences. We also have our individual strengths, positive attributes and accomplishments. Additionally, there are our vulnerabilities, insecurities, imperfect and shameful parts and experiences. Each of us carries around self-beliefs that we would rather not have, and personal aspects and experiences that we consider to be unacceptable, unwanted, or shameful. Regret can be a feature of some of these experiences.
When I reflect on the person I am, on my life experiences, and on the multiple stories of people I have supported across various professional contexts for almost three decades now, I have come to realise that this combination of attributes, accomplishments and experiences is how all human beings are alike. No human being is perfect. No human being has it all together. Quite the opposite actually. Each of us can can acknowledge, accept and embrace our strengths, favourable attributes and qualities. Yet each of struggles to acknowledge, accept and embrace what we and / or others perceive to be our negative, unacceptable, imperfect, or less than desirable qualities. Remember, all of these aspects, qualities, attributes and experiences are an integral aspect of what it means to be fully human.
In his poem The Guest House, the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi reminds us to acknowledge and embrace all of these aspects, attributes and experiences, to not reject any, and, furthermore, to treat them as guests, metaphorically-speaking. This implies a sense of honouring and respecting of all that we are and have experienced, and that we continue to experience. It’s through this process of profound acknowledgement and acceptance, and only through this process, that each of us can really embrace who we are. Being willing to acknowledge, allow and accept who we are does not mean we have to like our unacceptable and undesirable attributes, aspects and experiences, but to simply acknowledge these.
Recently I re-read and was profoundly touched by Oscar Wilde’s (1854-1900) letter De Profundis (The Depths in Latin). In this letter Wilde wrote to the man he loved while in prison for this ‘crime’. Incidentally, he was not granted permission to send it to him while in prison. This section of the letter poignantly captures how vital accepting and embracing who we are is to our development and well-being:
When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind…. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.
Wilde makes it undeniably clear that realising who and what we are is the key to accepting and finding peace with who we are. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. What a profound statement and truth about the relationship between acknowledging, accepting and embracing our human experiences and attributes and the positive effect of this process on our development and sense of well-being. To deny any aspects of these experiences, including and particularly who we are, is like putting a lie into the lips of one’s own life. This kind of denial is potentially harmful, psychologically, physically, interpersonally and spiritually. It can lead to dissatisfaction, unhappiness and suffering, as well as to stifling what it means to be real, deeply human and a person of integrity.
Rumi and Wilde have left me reflecting about where I am at on my journey toward accepting and embracing who and what I am. I invite you to consider doing the same with the support of these reflective questions. Take care and be kind with yourself through this reflective process. Feel free to share your reflections with me. I will be delighted to read these.
- What did you experience or notice while and after reading the above reflections?
- Where are you on your journey of acknowledging, accepting and embracing all aspects of who and what you are?
- Where are you on your journey of acknowledging, accepting and embracing all of your life experiences, particularly the more challenging or perhaps shameful ones?
- How do you want to move into 2015? What will you intentionally acknowledge, accept and take with you? What will you intentionally leave behind, after you have acknowledged and accepted this?