The cruel ideal-Six ways to develop self-acceptance
What if, everything you’ve ever done and everything you will ever do is …OK?
Our culture has developed unrealistic high expectations to maintain high production standards. Our media if full of ways to improve, be better, more beautiful, more free, more everything! It’s ironic that most of these standards drive us to adopt cruel ideals that are unattainable and drive us further into misery. We have cruel ideals of what it is to be a good person, mother, father, wife, daughter, worker, student… the list is infinite and each person can tailor them for themselves. For some, they feel they are too fat, too skinny, too this or too that. The details are not important, what is important is that sense of not fitting into our lives. We believe that the shape of who we are does not fit comfortably into the places, times and demands of our lives.
This was the first lesson of the Buddha after he reached a state of great understanding which he called enlightenment. He said that life is essentially -dukkha. This is a Pali term which has commonly been translated as suffering. However, the original meaning came from a wheel which doesn’t fit into the axel. Dukkha will always stick, not move harmoniously, and make sounds that are unpleasant, put extra strain on the horse or ox who pulls the cart. In Buddha’s world of pre industrial transportation, the sticking wheel would have been a common problem which his listeners could relate to. Dukkha is a colourful analogy for the cruel ideal.
Some uncomfortableness is necessary for personal growth and evolution, when there is the right amount of challenge. Attainable challenges are beneficial and lead to greater well-being. But some challenges invoke pointless suffering. These kinds of suffering are associated with past events which leave a shadow of trauma, and understandings and beliefs which are no longer healthy. The child who blames herself for her parents separation and copes by imagining that is she were cleaner, more organized, thinner…then she could control her life better. That is the cruel ideal.
The cruel ideal is usually an attempt to get more control of future events, which may or may not transpire. Obsessing about these events create needless sufferings and will persist unless there is deep personal work. By releasing the cruel ideal, we can come to appreciate the richness and beauty of our lives- as we are. Not as we think we should be. The release of the cruel ideal will help us develop more purposeful action, combined with compassion for others within the context of soul.
Six practices for self-acceptance
1. Look in the mirror every day and practice complete acceptance of what you see. Best to do this completely naked. Notice something beautiful about your body, and then breathe in that beauty. On the out breath, breathe out a sense of gratitude. Really feel both the in breath of beauty appreciation and the out breath of gratitude. Let that sense of deep self-acceptance sink into your whole being.
(In breath) I find the colour of my eyes to be beautiful. (Outbreath) I’m so grateful for my vision; it brings me so much joy and connection in my life.
2. Notice when you connect into the harsh demands of the cruel ideal. Then immediately catch those thoughts and change them.
I’m getting old and losing my looks. Change that to-I like the way my face is becoming more mature, and I especially enjoy how age is giving me so many insights and compassion towards others.
3. Look out into the world and notice beauty. This is the greatest antidote to the cruel ideal. Does the chickadee worry if it’s too small or its voice isn’t loud enough? No! Nature is our greater soul, when we look out into it, we can see wisdom and resolution if we can interpret its messages.
I see the spring pussy willows right now from my window. They remind me that plants go through many changes through their life cycles. Each cycle leads to another and contributes to the whole environment. The difficult changes in my life can also lead to contributions in ways that I can’t grasp right now.
4. Differentiate between what is achievable and helpful to change, and what is a cruel ideal.
I will never be young again, but I can continue to go to yoga twice a week and keep up my flexibility so I can age well.
5. Journal every day a small section about ways you can become more self-accepting. Notice where those cruel ideals came from originally. Most likely they did not start with you; they were probably passed onto you from others’ needs and demands.
I am disappointed I didn’t become a university professor. Wait, where did that cruel ideal come from? Ah, yes. My mother always wanted me to be a university professor. But by avoiding the restrictions of academic life, I was free to develop my spirituality.
6. Finally, look for the gift in the cruel ideal, once you have resolved it and accepted yourself and your unique soul path.
The gift in that cruel ideal was that I spent many years at university which has given me the gift of understanding of how to communicate with people who are trapped in the reductionist world view.