Opening to Innate Wellness—A Radical Act of Acceptance

When you open to innate wellness, you open to the deeper parts of your being that exists in all of us that is worthy, lovable, and whole. You radically accept who you are with all your imperfections, shortcomings, and humanness.

Okay, and what gets in the way

The short answer is fear. Fear of feeling the pain in life’s moments. We resist, in varying ways, experiencing painful experiences. Of course we do! It hurts! Ouch! Who wants to feel pain?

Yet, being human means feeling pain. Everything from aging, dying, and death to feelings of restlessness, anger, boredom, to feeling unworthy. And the fear of feeling pain, our resistance to that feeling, is actually quite natural because it is part of our primitive survival system.

Fear is nature’s protector, the reaction to something that is wrong or threatening. It points to our deep desire to survive. It is essential to our survival to keep us focused on what could cause harm.

Out of the primitive survival system, as our modern selves, whether a threat is real or imagined, the sympathetic nervous system in the body gets activated. The same neural networks that are tapped when there are physical threats and pain are impacted when there are social or emotional threats. Amazing, right? We emotionally respond from the same place of activation as we would a physical danger. Our body, our arms, and legs may begin to feel energetic. We operate with a sensory alert, prepare for action, get ready to do something, to resist this perceived threat!

It’s no wonder it is our habit to turn away from this direct experience, this uncomfortable feeling, the actual shakiness, beating heart, or perhaps sweaty palms. When this response system is activated and we resist, we enter the territory called suffering. This turning away, this reaction to the inevitable pain in life can manifest in a variety of ways, including anxiety and stress.

But I’m here to say this suffering is optional.

Pema Chodron, Buddhist teacher and author of many books, points out that when this heightened anxiety response happens, we are experiencing shenpa— the feeling of being hooked by an emotion, a memory, a belief pulling us out of our expansive state of being. “Getting hooked thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease.”

When we are hooked, we avoid the actual moments of life’s energy moving through the body. A specific fear is rooted in believing we can’t handle these moments. If I feel these overwhelming sensations, I will fall into a deep state of despair and won’t be able to function in life. The black hole will suck me down!

Over time, this avoidance leads us to feelings of dread, loss, longing, a sense of lifelessness, and even greater anxiety and depression. Basically, a loss of aliveness and vitality.

This avoidance is normal. And it makes sense, when you consider that many of us are never taught to work with our emotions, to feel them. Many of us have experiences as children of feeling helpless or powerless with few adults to navigate our emotional terrain with kindness. Many of us were shamed for expressing our feelings. We did not have the knowledge, capacity, or support to process intense feelings. So, our only option was to shut down our nervous system in the face of our pain. However, at issue is, we still do this as adults, even with our greater capacity to do something different.

So, what do we do differently to reach innate wellness?

Let’s return to where we started, talking about innate wellness, and define it more. Innate wellness is one of many terms used to describe a state of being that is clear, compassionate, open, kind, courageous, creative, and calm. Innate wellness is also described as an unaltered state, without any judgments or stories from our familial past or our culture.

Here’s the interesting part—even in our most neurotic or confused states, innate wellness is available to us. You may find it helpful to think of innate wellness as a place to return to, a place we tend to close off from and maybe even fear. Chodron describes innate wellness as “the place beneath ‘the place that nobody wants to go,’ a place that is unwound-able because it is transcendent. It goes by many names, both religious and non-religious, atheist and secular: the observing self, the self-as-context, consciousness, awareness, clear light, ground of being.”

Opening to this “place beneath the place nobody wants to go,” as Pema describes, often feels scary because we have to first meet the unwanted and difficult emotions and experiences we have been resisting to ‘get there’! In order to open to our innate wellness, we have to meet and feel what we fear and most importantly fear itself. Our larger self lies beneath, on the other side of what we are afraid of—shame, grief, embarrassment, joy, failure, fear itself.

Karen Kissel Wegela, longtime Naropa professor and author of several books, including Courage to Be Present, says we are bright, open, and loving at the core of our being. We were all born with this “gold” and we can all return to it.

Basically, there is room in our minds, our awareness, for all of our experience. We can learn to welcome, rather than struggle with our experience. Gaylon Furguson explains it another way in his book Natural Bravery, “Welcoming is peace, not a way to peace but the way itself.” In other words, when we welcome our every moment as the one that is here, not the one we hoped for or think should happen, we are laying out the welcome mat to life as it is. We are saying “Come on in! Come on home! You are welcome here.”

When we let things be and we are at rest, we find an expansive, spacious quality inside.

This spacious sense of who we are has been described by Brené Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. She calls this expansive wakeful nature a “wholehearted living—a process of living life from a place of worthiness or spaciousness rather than lack.”

Reconnecting with our innate wellness includes recognizing our imperfection, our suffering, as a natural part of existing.

Where do we go from here in our wellness journey?

The reality is that our aliveness and vitality, our sense of being at home in our bodies and our courage to meet life’s challenges and achieve the life we want, lies on the other side of what we fear most—our direct experience of pain and suffering. But if you want to feel really good, you’ve got to get really good at feeling. You’ve got to consciously touch a feeling in its completeness and totality. You need to explore your direct lived experience.

No matter how scary or painful your feelings appear, your willingness to engage with them reveals your essential strength and courage, leading you toward a more life-positive direction and greater freedom. When we make the courageous U-turn toward the vulnerability of our suffering and unpredictable waves of emotion, including fear, we find more than our limited narratives of self, we find the larger sea of our expansive ground of being—our home.

This arrival home is where we have always been, and the path to innate wellness is coming to know that.

What is it like to hear that you too have innate wellness? What thoughts, sensations, emotions, images, or impulses are you aware? Just notice what is present in you at this moment. Can you place the welcome mat out for all of it, including your judgments and resistance? If you’re ready to do so, or want to talk more about putting out the welcome mat to your own innate wellness, please reach out, and we can get started.