Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist, lecturer, and workshop leader, as well as the founder and senior teacher of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D. C., one of the largest and most active meditation communities on the East Coast. On the opening pages of this timely and important book, the author admits noticing among her clients and meditation students a large number who are severely burdened by a sense of not being good enough, of being essentially flawed or unworthy. As one of Brach's friends said to her: "Feeling that something is wrong with me is the invisible and toxic gas I am always breathing." Of course, a culture that breeds separation and shame is of little help. Often our "trance of unworthiness" is fed by the media and its emphasis upon celebrities. Using illustrative material from her own life, case histories, Buddhist tales, and guided meditations, Brach presents radical acceptance as the antidote to this widespread malaise.
Radical acceptance enables us to see more clearly and to learn how to hold our experiences with compassion. As Carl Rogers once said: "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." Brach has put together a rich compendium of spiritual practices that can serve as a counterbalance to established feelings of neglect, judging ourselves and others harshly, and spurning the bounties of the present moment. We especially liked the sacred art of the pause (see the excerpt). Other exercises include embracing life with a smile, developing an embodied presence, discovering your deepest longing, meeting fear, tonglen — awakening the heart of compassion, cultivating a forgiving heart, and communicating with awareness.
Another of Brach's practices makes a great deal of sense and is very accessible to anyone:
"Sometimes the easiest way to appreciate ourselves is by looking through the eyes of someone who loves us. A friend told me that when he sees himself through the eyes of his spiritual teacher, he remembers how deeply devoted he is to seeking the truth. One of my clients realizes he is lovable when he remembers how his grandfather used to delight in his boyish curiosity and inventiveness. Sometimes seeing ourselves through the eyes of a close friend can help us to remember our good qualities. . . We don't have to limit our appreciators to the human world. I once saw a bumper sticker that said: 'Lord, help me to see myself the way my dog sees me' . . . The practice of looking through the eyes of one who loves us can be a powerful and surprisingly direct way to remember our beauty and goodness."
Given the enormity of the problem of self-disregard in these tense and depressing times, the spiritual practices in Radical Acceptance arrive like manna from heaven. Brach also makes a good case for the importance of acknowledging our innate goodness.