Recently I had a conversation with a friend that got me thinking. He was struggling to understand why his sexuality was a conversation topic amongst friends. He felt it was no one’s business but his own. I appreciated where he was coming from and wondered if it is indeed any of our business. His sexuality is part of who he is and I care about him deeply. I don’t want him to feel he has to hide anything. I just want to love and support him for exactly who he is.
Although I haven't struggled with my sexual identity, I have struggled with bouts of depression, anxiety and profound shame. At times when I felt I couldn't be myself, the suffocation of this sensation seemed lethal. The bottom line is we’ve all experienced shame and all have something we would rather not have to be so “out there" about.
I am empathetic to the fact that I don't truly know how hard it has been to get to where he is now. I can only imagine how annoying it is to feel like you have to announce your sexual preference on a rooftop at Thanksgiving while waving a rainbow flag around simply because you are gay. I also know growing up and feeling "different'' can be awfully trying and can lead to some scary places.
Homosexuality is close to my heart because of family and friends whom are gay. I respect and admire them for their resilience and authenticity. I also feel fortunate that my children have role models such as these in their lives. This “issue” is not about politics, or religion, it is simply about love. Maybe I’m old school, but I think we can always use more love in this world. I realize my friend is right, sexual preference is personal. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
I also realize it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks as long as my friend loves and accepts himself. And genuine self-acceptance is something we all probably need to work on. We begin by liking ourselves just as we are right now in this perfect moment. (Below are some ideas about how to do this) The more we accept ourselves, the more others will accept themselves.
This honesty and integrity, although invisible to the eye, serves to liberate others and allows us all to embody the truest expression of our divine individuality and sincere authenticity. It is in this space of sacred freedom where we truly come alive and honor one another from the very pit of our stomachs. We owe this to ourselves and to one another. As the famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote goes, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Tools for practicing self - acceptance
1) Smiling! The great Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, "A tiny bud of a smile on your lips nourishes awareness and calms you miraculously." Science has proven that a smile sends a biochemical message to the nervous system letting the body know its okay to relax. (From Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach)
2) Being gentle with oneself and not "beating yourself up" over making a mistake.
3) Looking in the mirror and saying, I see you, I accept you, I love you.
4) Honoring your intuition when you get a strong internal "yes" or "no" to an invitation.
5) Practicing forgiveness for yourself as well as others.
6) Pausing periodically throughout the day to drop out of your head and into your body, checking in with any emotion or sensation, and noticing where in the body you feel it.
7) Being in silence.
8) Finding an outlet for releasing intense emotions by dancing, playing or listening to music, writing, painting, taking a walk, going out with friends, screaming, punching a pillow, swimming, playing a sport, etc.
9) Loving yourself truly for who you are right now in this present moment and not being attached to some future aspiration that you think will make you more worthy.
10) Most importantly, practicing gratitude...keep a gratitude journal and write down your thankfulness or say it out loud! Thank your body for your health, your vision, your ability to laugh, cry, yawn, play sports...the list is limitless. Thank nature, friends, your parents, your kids! Do this when you first wake up or before you go to sleep. When you practice gratitude in this way, your senses will begin to notice more and more things to be thankful for. Test results reveal that gratitude lessens anxiety (practicing accepting the things we don’t like such as our anxiety is important too) and increases joy!
For more on self-acceptance, check out the book, Radical Acceptance; Embracing You Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, Ph.D