But how, Kate? How in the world do I begin this process of a.) trusting in my own inherent goodness and then b.) trusting in the inherent goodness of others?

Well, I have no 1-2-3 step plan, but I’ve got this: Work on you, and the rest naturally follows. That certainly halves the workload.

And how do you work on you? How do I work on me?

There are so many answers to this question, and I think they boil down to: we work on this by unpeeling into deeper and deeper layers of acceptance.

Acceptance? That again? Yeah.

–Dropping the shame stories and embracing the gifts of imperfection (if you’re not already into Brene Brown, you’re missing out).
–BEing with the you that you are today being just as good as she is–pretty damned good.
–Thinking back to all the stuff Mom and Dad did to screw you up and realize that in fact, there’s this amazing opportunity to transmute that into gold.
–Realizing that the stuff did not “happen to you” outside of a vacuum.

Every time I’ve been able to drop down into acceptance, it’s like my world flipped on its axis. Once upon a time, I thought of my mother as this person I couldn’t stand to be in a room with, and blamed her for “screwing me up.” Acceptance of her, and of the trajectory of my life? It opened me up to see what a powerful woman she is. Now, I’m often in awe of this woman that created me, birthed me, molded me, shaped me, loved me.

Once upon a time, I resented every failed relationship. Oh–the freedom of realizing that everyone gets to choose the experience they want to have of me, and how it’s not about the Story of “I’m bad, which is why I was left.” No–it’s bigger than that–it’s moreso, none of us are bad, and we’re all just making choices.

Acceptance–the breath of fresh air that moves emotional baggage.

Acceptance–that I lose my temper; that a foot injury kept me from walking normally for nearly two years; that I still have my moments of lacking compassion; that I love big and bright and not everyone sees it; that I so often feel inadequate to face the challenges of being a classroom teacher…the list goes on.

Acceptance is a shape-shifter, from a life that feels like contorting oneself into a too-small box to a life that feels like a continuum of divinity that stretches like a long thread through our years.

Work on accepting what is, even Loving What Is. I often refer to this in the Courageous Living Guides as “BEing your journey,” embracing all that comes into the circle of your existence and using it as a catalyst for 100% fully alive living right now, not later when you’ve got it all perfect so that the job of acceptance will be easier (Psst! That day is not coming! Course-correct now!). Or–as Eckhart Tolle says– “Give up the search for enlightenment, and yet still have uncompromising intensity.” Accept yourself as you are–use that as a catalyst for living more deeply.

You could be as rudimentary about it as taking out a piece of paper and making a list of all of the things in your life that you don’t accept right now–things related to your body and health, money, friends, relationships, family, job, the government–and ask yourself what could be gained if you were to accept it as-is. My go-to question, particularly when I’m having a rough time as a classroom teacher, is this: “If I weren’t resenting this, what’s the opportunity?”

If you’re not resenting your body for being where it’s at, what’s the opportunity? If you’re not resenting your money situation for being where it’s at, what’s the opportunity? If you’re not wishing your kids/spouse/boss were different, what’s the opportunity?

At the very least, there’s some energy freed up to focus on what you can control–you.

Once that A-ha soaks in, you’re at the threshold of the door–you can start looking with more kindness and tenderness at you, and why you resist. You can get curious, ask some deep questions, and then have acceptance of those answers. You can notice your resistance to change (the criticisms that embracing something more positive is “fake” or “phony” or “too fluffy”).

It’s a process–and acceptance saves us along the way, because then we get to unpeel another layer and even be in acceptance of our resistance.

This is a practice of living 100% fully alive by being present and staying with…all of it. I’m not saying this must be long-suffering self-flagellation, but rather– this simple acknowledgment that it isn’t all simple, and it doesn’t “have to” be simple, in order for us to be alive.

This is the part where I advocate forming support–a great life coach, therapist, group, circle of friends–because it’s through getting our patterns mirrored back to us that these patterns really shift. When we risk annihilation and risk that someone else will see us in all of our fucked-up glory, and love us anyway, and more importantly, that we will continue to love ourselves, anyway?

–that’s it, right there. That’s the tender spot. That’s the playground of acceptance.