The Alchemical Power of Acceptance

    ‘But rather than make things the way you want them, the Buddha way is to notice the way things are.’ ~ Ajahn Sumedho: The Way it Is

    For much of my life I have been on a path of self-discovery and personal transformation. I have explored the magical and intense alchemy of the shamanic plant medicine, Ayahuasca, in the jungles of South America; the powerful transformation of Ka Huna massage; and the deep insights gained from psychotherapy and imagework.

    All these journeys have revealed aspects of who I am, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle. However, real integration has only come recently through the powerful alchemy of acceptance. This is my story …


    In 2007 a powerful mirror relationship served as a catalyst for me to see many wounds and fears from my past – what shamans would call ‘lost soul parts’. With separation from my partner an emotional tsunami overwhelmed me, which I didn’t know how to manage. Why had these old wounds and fears come to the surface now, so intense and ripe?

    The more I tried to understand these overpowering emotions with my analytical intellect, the more I drove myself into depression. All the knowledge I had gained over my lifetime was not helping; the why’s and how’s simply led me into a massive head trip. After a gruelling and depleting two months I experienced a breakdown, the relationship ended, and I was left in pieces.

    I found myself in a healing crisis and on anti-depressants, which cocooned me for a while from most of life’s stressors. However there was still inner turmoil crying out for healing. Drugs were not alleviating the suffering, and were clearly not the solution.

    I therefore stopped them gradually – it is important to do this slowly to avoid medication-induced psychotic withdrawal – and decided to focus on my work, eating well, spiritual practice (connecting with the elements, meditation and writing), and seeking guidance.


    During this time I embarked on a healing journey with a teacher who does inner child work. This is where the process of self-acceptance began for me.

    What I am coming to realise through this process is that much of the emotional pain I experienced in my relationship in the last year involved memories and parts of my wounded past that I had learnt not to acknowledge. For the first time in my life I began practising acceptance of my wounds and shadows, all those rejected aspects of myself – the traumas of childhood, fears of abandonment, the judgments, and self rejection. By not turning away from or trying to fix the anxious and painful feelings, as I was so used to doing in the past, I was encouraged to be okay with them, and to accept them without judgment. Engaging the feelings, and lending a kind ear to the hurt child within, opened my heart to healing.


    However, before I could accept my emotions I first needed to know what they were! This is where meditation is invaluable. Meditation is the practice of stilling the busy mind so that one can know what one is experiencing and feeling in the moment. It’s like watching oneself with clarity: ‘Oh look, I’m feeling rage, its rage.’ All too often we get caught up in a flood of emotions and act out our mixed-up emotions, often with blame. We seldom listen to our emotions and what they are trying to tell us. In my experience, painful emotions such as anger are often messengers that something is not working in my life or that something needs changing.

    Recently I gained valuable insight through a skilled meditation teacher who taught me that it is the rejection of our powerful emotions that causes a chain reaction of neuroses, from which most of us suffer. As he pointed out, it is often how we feel about our feelings (our judgment of our emotions) that is the problem and that is the cause of a lot of our suffering. For example, if we fight feelings of anxiety we may be experiencing, the stress we create ourselves in not accepting the anxiety makes the initial anxiety a lot worse. Then the anxiety snowballs – this is how panic works. What we are rarely taught in our perfectionist-driven society is that it is okay to feel anxious and to have frightening emotions, and that we are not perfect, but in fact full of issues and fears. Instead we are taught that we must get over them, deal with them, and fix them – now! It is no wonder that as a culture we do not know how to handle our complex emotions, with rage and violence being a societal norm – we have never been taught how! I grew up to believe that it wasn’t acceptable to feel anxious. This mentality just leads to repression and further neuroses.

    The Alchemical Power of Acceptance


    We need to remember that we are complex and often confused, unpredictable beings, and that we hurt each other! This acceptance of who we are is the first step to self-healing. From here compassion can arise, something that is very difficult to achieve if one has much unhealed pain welling up inside. As Nathaniel Branden, an authority on self-esteem says: ‘Acceptance of what is, is the precondition of change. And denial of what is leaves us stuck in it!’

    The healing journey has begun for me, the slow process of working with past hurts, letting go of loss and sadness, unmet desires and expectations, accepting myself, and accepting others for who they are. I have also begun to allow myself to feel, experience and observe intense emotions such as anger, instead of trying to exorcise them as awful demons. This is a very difficult journey for me – it is far easier to react with anger than to respond with mindfulness.

    On a recent meditation retreat, I participated in a sound journey – a facilitated excursion through sound using various musical instruments. I had a vision of wrathful Tibetan deities/demons with fierce faces dancing in my field of experience. It was then that I realised that many of the people in my life who I considered to be petty tyrants, those who had been nasty or abusive to me, could in fact be seen as teachers. Teachers who could help me face and come to terms with my shadow – all those fears and anxieties that I had pushed away for so long.

    Thus my journey has led me to the insight that our worst fears and the most frightening demons of our deepest darkest selves are in fact none other than the gatekeepers for us to reach our light. And that the key to the gateway is … acceptance.


    1. Sumedho A. The Way It Is. Hertfordshire: Amaravati Publications, 1991.
    2. Branden N. The Six Pillars of Self Esteem. New York: Bantam Publishing, 1994.

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