The journey from self-hatred to self-love involves learning to meet, accept, and open to the being that you are; all of you. This begins with letting yourself have your experience. Genuine self-love is not possible as long as you are resisting, avoiding, judging, or trying to manipulate and control what you experience. Whenever you judge what you’re experiencing – “I shouldn’t be having this experience. It’s not good enough. I should be having some better experience than this one” – you’re not letting yourself be as you are.
This aggravates the core wound of “I’m not acceptable/lovable as I am.” And it sets you at odds with yourself, creating inner division and turmoil. The way to free yourself from shame and self-blame is through developing a more friendly relationship with your experience, no matter what experience you are having.
Letting ourselves have our experience can be quite challenging, since we were rarely taught how to relate honestly and directly to what we were feeling. Instead, the conventional wisdom in our culture is: If you’re depressed or anxious, take a pill, go work out at the gym, or turn on the television – because the only solution to uncomfortable feelings is to get away from them.
The response to suggesting to people to open to their experience is often met with: “I’ve felt this sadness all my life. What good is it to sit here and keep feeling it? I’ve already had enough of this!” While this is understandable, the voice that says, “If I feel sadness, it will just pull me down into a bottomless black hole,” comes from the helpless child who has never learned to handle his or her experience. For the child, it was true: Our sadness was bigger that we were because we didn’t have the knowledge or capacity to process intense feelings. So our only choice was to shut down our nervous system in the face of our pain. The problem is that we continue to try to run away from our feelings, even though as an adult we now have the capacity to do something different.
So yes, we have carried our pain within us all of our lives. Yes, we have felt weighted down by it, and been at its mercy. Since the pain was bigger than we were as children, and we were helpless in the face of it, shutting down was the way to deal with it. So it’s understandable that we see no benefit in opening ourselves to such feelings. And it’s true: Passively becoming submerged or carried away by feelings is useless and futile. It is unconscious suffering.
This is not what is meant by letting yourself have your experience. In fact, it’s the very opposite: actively meeting, engaging, and opening to what you’re feeling. Consciously touching a feeling – “yes, this is the feeling that’s there” – starts to free you from its grip. If you can open to your fear, anxiety, grief, or pain and put your attention on experiencing the openness itself, eventually you may discover something marvellous: Your openness is more powerful than the feelings you are opening to. Openness to fear is much bigger and stronger than the fear itself. The discovery puts you in touch with your capacity for strength, kindness, stability, and understanding in the face of whatever you are going through. This is conscious suffering.
If you can let your experience happen, it will release and resolve, leading to a deeper more grounded experience of yourself. No matter how painful or scary your feelings appear to be, your willingness to engage with them draws forth your essential strength, leading in a more life-positive direction.
Just as the depth and stillness of the ocean lie hidden beneath the stormy waves on its surface, so the power of your essential nature lies concealed behind all your turbulent feelings. Struggling against your feelings only keeps you tossing around on the stormy surface of yourself, disconnected from your larger being. Tossing in the waves keeps you from going beneath them and accessing the power, warmth, and openness of the heart.
Letting yourself have your experience, by contrast, allows you to ride or surf the waves instead of being carried away by them. In moments of allowing and opening to your experience, you are – you are there for yourself. You are saying yes to yourself as you are, as you are feeling right now – in the vulnerability and depth. This is a profound act of self-love.
(Adapted from John Welwood – “Letting Yourself Have Your Experience”)