Radical acceptance and unconditional friendliness


Bob Thurman describes this buddha nature as “realizing that you are everything, experiencing a feeling of oneness, and embracing being one with everything.” The lotus best represents our journey to realizing our buddha nature as the lotus grows through the mud before expressing itself fully as a beautiful flower above ground. For us, we have to work through the murky layers of our mind that tell us various stories, such as “we aren’t good enough.” Tara Brach writes, “when we get lost in our stories, we lose touch with our actual experience. Leaning into the future, or rehashing the past, we leave the living experience of the immediate moment.” With this, she offers the idea of Radical Acceptance which allows us to “lean into the experience of the moment.” In her book Radical Acceptance, Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, she describes Radical Acceptance as both seeing clearly and having compassion towards our experiences.

To see clearly is to be mindful in the Buddhist practice; mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness, a quality of mind that allows us to recognize what is happening. Mindfulness is like having receptors where we receive information at any given time and are given the opportunity to choose what to do with that information. We see our intentions more clearly, we see our patterns of thoughts and feelings and how they can affect us negatively if handled without mindfulness. Joseph Goldstein describes mindfulness here:

Mindfulness…is the quality of bare attention, of non-interfering awareness, which we’re familiar with from the enjoyment of music. When we’re listening to the music, our minds are open and attentive, not attempting to control what comes next, not reflecting on the notes just past. There is a great power when we learn how to listen; it is this quality of receptivity that allows intuitive wisdom to arise.

Mindfulness is intentional but as Jon Kabat-Zinn says, it is not about trying to improve yourself but to realize where you already are. It is being present and aware of impermanence. One of my favorite writers, Christopher Germer, writes that “mindfulness practice frees us from repetitive thinking, which, in turn, allows us to see how fluid and ever-changing our lives actually are, including our sense of self.” As mindfulness deepens compassion begins to arise, bringing us to the second part of Radical acceptance.

Compassion begins with the capacity to hold your own life with a loving heart….Compassion means to be with, feel with, suffer with….In the Buddhist tradition, one who has realized the fullness of compassion, and lives from compassion is called a bodhisattva. The bodhisattva’s path and teaching is that when we allow our hearts to be touched by suffering – our own or another’s -our natural compassion flowers.

Sharon Salzberg is another great teacher that speaks to the idea of figuring out how to relate with compassion to our suffering rather then resist it. Sharon calls this loving-kindness and Tara Brach considers it the spirit of radical acceptance and names it unconditional friendliness. She writes, “we practice Radical Acceptance by pausing and then meeting whatever is happening inside us with this unconditional friendliness…nothing is wrong- whatever is happening is just ‘real life.'” In Aura Glaser’s book A Call to Compassion she writes about the psychology of compassion:

Compassion is at once both deeply personal and thoroughly social. It is the finest expression of our relationship to self and others. It begins with a willingness to open to ourselves and to life as it is. Instead of rejecting one part of life and grasping another, compassion moves us closer to all of life. It resolves the continual struggle against reality by fostering a willingness to be unconditionally present to the whole range of human experience. Compassion is, in part, a practice of unconditional presence. Being unconditionally present means not only seeing ourselves and others, but feeling ourselves and others. Unconditional presence is both receptive and penetrating, it is both discerning and tender-hearted. Like the sun, it simultaneously illuminates and warms.

It is comforting to know that there is an ever-present invitation for us to, as Jack Kornfield writes, “live with the wise and tender heart of a Buddha.” Furthermore, it is a relief to know that if we are on the path of mindfulness and compassion and somehow get distracted and pulled away – we have the freedom to return to the path at any time. There is always an opportunity to reawaken to our Buddha nature and approach our lives with Radical Acceptance.


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