Book Notes: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

Photo by Grant Ritchie on Unsplash

Initial Thoughts

Since my World Religions 101 class in college, I hadn’t really started to read about Buddhism until very recently. Not to jump on the new age spiritual band wagon that most millennials do in their 20s but to tease out the principles and practical applications that I can directly apply to better my life, on all fronts. My tolerance for the overly religious woo-woo talk is quite low. Which is why I am quite skeptical and borderline cynical when it comes to books that proselytize the “secret” or the “law of attraction” or similar using pseudo-scientific explanations to prey on the ‘uninitiated’.

I happened on this book, as most other books, through listening to podcasts. I decided to read Tara Brach’s (here on referred to as TB) book considering that she has a PhD. in clinical psychology. I hoped to get a rational take on Buddhism and it’s leading philosophies.

TB offers stories of real clients that she’s worked with and how she has successfully used principles that essentially stem from the intersection between Buddhism and psychology. The amount of mental trauma some of her clients have been through is appalling and the fact that she was able to help them recover and ‘heal’ is a clear indicator of the effectiveness of these principles.

Like many other books, however, the book could have easily been condensed down to 200 pages or so. The prologue and the first few chapters are probably the best in the book. They contain most of the key lessons and insights that I found most helpful. The guided meditations, regardless of how good they are, seem pointless considering you would essentially have to read it out while trying to meditate simultaneously which seems counterintuitive. You would be better off downloading her guided meditations from her website and listening to them. All in all, though, it is a good read.

Notes

Treating your Friends ≠ Treating yourself

Most of us have this self talk that’s often judgmental of each and every one of our actions and often indicates how we are never good enough. Tara calls this as getting caught up in the “trance of unworthiness”. This inner judge is so critical at times that it can be relentlessly merciless — this can be you attacking your character, your physicality and pretty much anything related to you as person. And the sad part is, we do it to ourselves so often that it becomes part of subconscious — it basically runs as a subroutine in the background without you even noticing it. So TB talks about bringing that self talk to the forefront. And points out how you would never to talk a friend the way you talk about yourself.

Pride

Apart from shame and deficiency, sometimes feeling pride is also a way to enter the “trance of unworthiness”. We often get this dopamine hit by going on a power trip; by feeling superior to others. Therefore, I am going to start to use pride as an indicator for me to recalibrate my thoughts and actions.

Pleasure in Competence

This doesn’t mean that we can’t compete in a healthy way, put wholehearted effort into work or acknowledge and take pleasure in our own competence.” I’m not sure if I can completely agree with this claim. It sounds good, but can we really take pleasure in our own competence without comparison? This is something I need to put more thought into.

Accepting vs. Resisting

The most important lesson I learned in this book, is this idea of not resisting negative thoughts and emotions. For example, if I am feeling down and depressed, usually I would force myself to be happy or provide myself with reasons of how my feelings of depression are completely uncalled for. This, according to Tara, is the wrong way to go about it. She suggests recognizing that feeling of depression and completely embracing it; standing write in the eye of the storm and taking it all in. TB claims that once we hold it’s hand and spend some time with it, it eventually disappears. This is the same underlying concept to the Buddha’s story of “inviting Mara to tea” and to the concept of “saying yes” to every to moment and feeling. Both of which are mentioned in this book.

Body Scan

The idea of tension in the body being a direct result of certain emotions was a new concept to me. So TB suggests we scan the body for tension, pressure and/or pain (chest, head, etc.) and use that a gauge to determine emotional status.

Radical acceptance ≠ Resignation

The most common misconception about Radical Acceptance is that its akin to “giving in” or even “accepting bad behavior”. From what I’ve understood, the act of acceptance essentially stops the negative self-talk and cuts the superfluous emotions that really add no value or offer no help in getting to a state that promotes rational action.

Shadow Story Analogy

TB uses a traditional folktale to emphasize the practicing of pausing. It’s about a man who becomes afraid of his shadow and tries to run away from it. He tries incessantly to get rid of the shadow by running away but eventually he dies of exhaustion. “If only he had stepped into the shade and sat down to rest, his shadow would have vanished”.

Quotes & Highlights

“I began to realize that beneath all my mood swings, depression, loneliness and addictive behavior lurked that feeling of deep personal deficiency.” (pg. 2)

“We don’t have to wait until we are on our deathbed to realize what a waste of our precious lives it is to carry the belief that something is wrong with us.” (pg. 3)

“Feeling unworthy goes in hand in hand with feeling separate from others, separate from life.” (pg. 6)

“Underneath our fear of being flawed is a more primal fear that something is wrong with life, that something bad is going to happen.” (pg. 6)

“Many of us live with an undercurrent of depression or hopelessness about ever feeling close to other people.” (pg. 6)

“The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality.” (pg. 10) — Talking about how we can, ironically, somehow get so critical of ‘succeeding’ at our meditation practice.

“We long to belong and feel as if we don’t deserve to.” (pg. 11)

“The message of “original sin” is unequivocal: Because of our basically flawed nature, we do not deserve to be happy, loved by others, at ease with life.” (pg. 12)

“Our imperfect parents had imperfect parents of their own. Fears, insecurities and desires get passed along for generations.” (pg. 13)

“…we live in a free-floating state of anxiety, we don’t even need a problem to set off a stream of disaster scenarios.” (pg. 16)

“As soon as we have a gap, we go on-line to check our email, we turn on music, we get a snack, watch television — anything to help us bury the feelings of vulnerability and deficiency lurking in our psyche.” (pg. 16)

“What we experience as the “self” is an aggregate of familiar thoughts, emotions and patterns of behavior.” (pg. 19)

“Zen biologist and writer David Darling points out that even the earliest single-celled creatures “had established barriers, definite, sustainable boundaries, between themselves and the outside world… Thus, the foundation for dualism — the belief in the separation of self and the rest of the world — were laid.”

“When we relax about imperfection, we no longer lose our life moments in the pursuit of being different and in the fear of what is wrong.” (pg. 21)

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. — Carl Rogers” (pg. 24)

“Clearly recognizing that is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, king and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance.” (pg. 26)

“While it’s important not to deny or suppress our desires, it’s also important to be aware of what motivates us and the effects of our behavior.” (pg. 39)

“Accepting in this way actually enables us to recognize that experience is impersonal and frees us from the trap of identifying ourselves as a deficient and limited self.” (pg. 41)

“The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom.” (pg. 44)

“When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next. But by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants and fears.” (pg. 52)

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” (pg. 106)

“…the Buddha never intended to make desire itself the problem. When he said craving causes suffering, he was referring not to our natural inclination as living beings to have wants and needs, but to our habit of clinging to experience that must, by nature, pass away.” (pg. 129) — Basically embrace the ephemeral nature of it all

“Desire becomes a problem only when it takes over our sense of who we are.” (pg. 131)

“Lacking any permanent satisfaction, we continuously need another injection of fuel, stimulation, reassurance from loved ones, medicine, exercise, and meditation.” (pg. 133)

“Temptation is an emotional promise that we will experience the pleasure we so intensely crave.” (pg. 140)

“Equating spiritual purity with elimination of desire is a common misunderstanding…” (pg. 143)

“Attention is the most basic form of love.” (pg. 222)

“Our immediate response of attraction of aversion, of interest or inattention, is part of our biological programming for survival.” (pg. 229)

“While a path implies getting somewhere else and different, in spiritual life the path opens us to the awareness and love that, as T.S. Eliot writes, is “here, now, always.”” (pg. 308)

“Only our search for happiness prevents us from seeing it” (pg. 317) — Lama Gendun Rinpoche

Words & Phrases I like

…through this lens of personal insufficiency
the leaden feeling in my limbs
He tried to curry favor…

Favorite paragraph:

“ If our sense of who we are is defined by feeling of neediness and insecurity, we forget about the breath that is nourishing us, the love that unites us, the enormous beauty and fragility that is our shared experience in being alive. Most basically, we forget the pure awareness, the radiant wakefulness that is our Buddha nature.”
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