The Outer Courtyard of the Spiritual Heart

It’s where you find self-acceptance.

From time to time I become aware that I am in an unloving place within myself. This shows up as judgment of others, usually of what they do or do not do. Sometimes it is about their appearance. I’m not proud of that. I don’t like to admit it. And I have learned to face it, knowing that this is some of my most important work of this lifetime.

I have come to understand that when I do not feel loving toward all other beings, it is because I have lost my acceptance of myself. I know then that I have to spend some time in the outer courtyard of my heart.

The heart can be seen to have two parts. The outer courtyard is the place of self-acceptance. The inner room is the place of love. If you wish to love everything around you, to be in Love with everything, you must first love yourself. That begins with accepting yourself. This is a lot easier than you may think – one of those tasks that is more difficult to begin than to do.

The journey begins with a moving into a reflective or meditative state. It doesn’t require you to breathe in a special way, make a spiritual journey, or spend a long time motionless. Just lie down, or sit comfortably. You may be indoors or in nature. You need to be alone. Then gently turn your attention inward. Imagine yourself to be standing in a beautiful courtyard, the outer courtyard of your heart. Feel the ground under your feet, and notice the breeze or sun on your skin. Perhaps there are plants arranged around you, or water. You may be standing on grass, marble, or another surface. Allow yourself to be fully comfortable. Know that you are safe here. There is only you.

Ahead you see a building. There is a door. You know that it is not time yet to go through that door because there is work for you to do first, here in the courtyard. This work will prepare you to step through that door. It is the work of self-acceptance.

See yourself from outside, as though you are looking at someone you know really well. You’re aware that this is you, but you are detached, and you can see this person clearly, without getting caught up in their emotions of the moment. Perhaps you already feel compassion for them, for their journey, struggles, victories, and seeming defeats.

Recall experiences that they have had. Good or bad, helping them or hurting them. In some they felt that they had no control. Look too at the things they did that were good or not good, and at the things they did not do – the times when they did not help, or were ungenerous, or withheld love. Accept that all of these experiences are part of their life. Do not deny or turn away from any of them. Simply observe.

Now notice how you are responding or reacting as you gaze from outside at your own life and your own being. Notice where you are judging, regretting, condemning, punishing, or wishing that something had not happened or had happened.

Notice resistance to accepting, or even acknowledging, your experiences.

Take your time with this. You don’t have to deal with all of it at one time. Little by little, looking at some of the smaller pains or regrets or judgments, with compassion for yourself, remind yourself that in that moment you were doing the best that you could, the best you were capable of right then. Even if it feels like it was not your best in that moment, acknowledge that it is what you did.

Don’t try to forgive yourself for what you did or did not do. Your task is simply to accept, exactly as you are. Right now. Warts and all, as the saying goes. There is only you here, no one else to make you wrong, tell you that you do not deserve this, or to negate you in any way.

There is something in your heart that wants only to accept you. Observe, acknowledge, accept. That’s all.

When I do this practice, I often begin by recalling being very young, perhaps seven years old. I look at that boy, and while I regret many things that he did, or that he failed to do, I accept him. I know better than anyone else possibly could what was going on within him. I do not condemn that six-year-old for not demonstrating the maturity he had later in his life. I know that he would have done many things differently as a 12-year-old, more as an adult, and so many more as an elder. That boy deserves my acceptance and compassion.

Looking back, remembering, I say to myself “Yes, I did that.” I say this out loud a lot of the time. Sometimes, especially for the tough memories, the ones that are harder to face, I say it while looking into my own eyes in the mirror. If I want to turn away, I know that it is because I still have not fully accepted them. When that happens, I remind myself that in that moment I did the best that I could. Eventually, I can face the memory. Eventually, I feel self-acceptance coming gently in.

This does not justify some of the things I did. I know that if I were in those situations now, I would behave better. Nevertheless, I did what I did at that time, and I accept that. Acceptance doesn’t make what I did right. It allows me to learn rather than spending my life energy and time condemning or punishing myself. It enables me to accept myself and learn to love myself, and from there to accept and love others. Warts and all.

The first time I visited the courtyard, and felt for a moment the gift of full self-acceptance, I felt an unexpected surge of joy. I still feel that when I go there, and I know that it is partly because I feel whole. I am enough.

Published May 3 2022

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