archives, wisdom

Let Go of Who You Think You Should Be, and Accept Yourself as You Are.


“We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement.” ~ Pema Chödrön

Three summers ago, during what I now refer to as my period of deep rest, I went on a conscious search to be happy. I purchased self-help books, listened to YouTube clips and TED talks, and bought journals and planners to jot down my goals and rate my progress. Doing this (setting goals and rating them), Gretchen Rubin claimed, would make me happy.

Rubin, who wrote the best-selling book The Happiness Project, drew on examples in her own life to show that setting goals and ticking them off makes you happy.

My own happiness project, however, brought me to a different realization: setting goals and not meeting them can make you feel not good enough.

The problem was, I never could get to the gym three times a week, or to my Saturday morning Yoga class. And I never got around to doing the required study before my French class or five minutes of meditation each day.

Each week I told myself I’d do better, but I never did, which of course just made me feel worse.

It wasn’t until I let go of all the striving to be anything other than what I was and how I felt that I started to feel better and more comfortable in my skin.

So now I go for a run or to Yoga when I feel like it. Not because I should. I do my French homework because I enjoy it. I meditate when I want. These activities are no longer on a tick the box to-do list.

They have become what Tara Sophia Mohr, author of Playing Big, calls gift goals — that is, they are gifts to myself.

This approach has revolutionized my life. It takes courage to stand up and say I’m happy with who I am, how I feel and where I’m at in a culture that tells you you’re not enough and simultaneously profits from your insecurities.

The messages to do, be and have more are all around. They’re on billboards, ads on television, magazines and music. They are messages to be more attractive, richer, smarter, fitter and slimmer, and therefore to look outside oneself for appeal, status and validation.

But when you let go of all the striving and the competing and comparing that goes with it, you’re able to make contact with who you are, your divine essence.

In my period of deep rest, I picked up a book by Pema Chödrön, called Start Where You Are. The opening line of it reads:

“We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement.”

I can’t explain how self-affirming it was to read this line, and to realize that underneath all the insecurities I had about myself, there has always been a pot of gold there within me.

As Pema Chödrön explains:

“All these trips that we lay on ourselves — the heavy duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping we are good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds — never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are.”

Meditation and mindfulness are ways to tap into this inner wealth as they help you slow down. They also help you remember that we are more than the trips we lay on ourselves.

As Thich Nanh Hanh writes in Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm:

“The practice of mindfulness is the practice of coming back to the here and now to be deeply in touch with ourselves and with life.

When you do mindful breathing and walking, you go home to the present moment and you touch the many wonders of life in you and around you.”

Through this process, I’ve started to make friends with all of me (even the unwanted parts).

Reading Pema Chödrön’s book made me see that my period of deep rest wasn’t an obstacle. No, it was sacred. And what I was feeling, all that emotional pain, would allow me to get to know, love and accept myself more and to also have greater compassion for others.

All I had to do was lean into it, sit with it, and make friends with it, instead of trying to avoid or push it away.

As Thich Nanh Hanh writes in Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm:

“When I look at myself, I see positive, admirable and even remarkable things, but I also know there are negative parts of me. So first I recognize and accept myself.”

In the past, when I’d gone through something emotionally painful, I’d been able to reflect on it years later and say, “You know what? That made me a stronger person, or that made me the person I am today.”

But this is different. This is leaning into the wounds of emotional pain and seeing it as golden, now, not years later when that pain has passed. This leaning in, Pema Chödrön suggests, takes the form of connecting to what’s beyond the surface. She writes:

“If someone comes and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart and to relate to that wound.”      

When I read this passage, it reminded me of a tutor I had when I was studying creative writing at university. She would have the class read a story, then ask what it was about.

We would roll off the plot or story line to her — who did and said what.

Then she would say, “Now, what is it really about?”

This would prompt us into a critical analysis on the themes within the story, stuff like rejection or powerlessness or loneliness.

This was the stuff under the plot’s surface. Like Pema Chödrön, she encouraged us to dig deeper.

Now when I feel unwanted emotions or situations, I lean into them rather than pulling away.

I ask myself, “What is this really about?” and I move towards that uncomfortable place, as I’m now learning that is how I will know (and accept) myself more.

I retreat into those parts of myself, that often in the past I would have run away, rejected or hidden from. I do this aware of the fact that a pot of gold is always there within me.

This is a lifelong journey, and one I approach with no destination in mind. It is also one I approach with tender loving care. As Thich Nanh Hanh writes in You Are Here:

“Do not fight against pain; do not fight against irritation or jealousy. Embrace them with great tenderness, as though you were embracing a little baby. Your anger is yourself, and you should not be violent towards it. The same thing goes for all of your emotions.”

Some months ago, I was talking to my surf coach about my period of deep rest. She turned to me as we were waiting for a good set of waves and asked,

“What was the moment that you realized you were better?”

No one had asked me that before.

And I told her, as I tell you now, it was when I accepted who I was and how I felt.


Celeste Brittain studies and practices meditation at the Tara Institute, Melbourne, Australia. She has completed meditation and mindfulness retreats at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, and Plum Village, France. She is on a lifelong journey of self-actualization, and through her social work practice and writing, enjoys sharing her knowledge and lessons with others on their path.


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