In December of 2013 I had the intention of developing an active blog and wrote two entries which give insight into where I come from as I move into August of 2014. At the time I had intended to commit to blogging and writing each day but as has happened in the past, I was seduced to the distractions of every day life and did not return to complete the process. In this way I say I awoke in December and in these writings and then I slumbered again … I include this here as a part of the discussion of my unfolding.
December 23, 2013
Looking at my bookshelves my mother commented “You’re always reading these ‘self-help’ books, but where has it gotten you?” Determined not to be reactive, I answered “well, mom, I’m probably always going to be working to align my personality with my soul.” She scoffed and said “Align your … that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. When are you going to grow up and realize you have a great job, great friends, a great life and just enjoy it?” I hesitated a second before responding “All I heard was when are you going to grow up.” The punch line to this story is what I didn’t say and that’s “Oh, wait, I think I have a book about that somewhere.”
While there is great wisdom in what my mother said, this is a clear example of a style of selective listening so many of us have which is self-critical. It’s no wonder our bookshelves are lined with what might be considered self-help books.
Many of us are what might be coined self-help junkies. Sure, there are worse things to be addicted to than self-help, but for those of us on this path we know it is NOT an easy journey.
Within the constant striving to improve (be better, do better, grow, learn, evolve) is the underlying premise there is something wrong with me … I need to change. And yet so much of what is written in all those books we buy to better ourselves involves self-acceptance and self-love. Herein lays the irony and perfect set up for failure. How do we love ourselves just the way we are while also continuing to recognize and work on self-improvement and growth?
We feel caught in a catch-22 and paralyzed with the inability to love ourselves fully just as we are. Therefore, we easily succumb to distractions and give up on both goals. We can neither love nor improve ourselves. Of course, no one actually believes this extreme but we can all agree the cycle of striving to become a person we can love and consistently failing is a vicious one.
The answer to the dichotomy of this paradigm is elusive. Certainly if we had found it we would not be picking up the latest published discourse. There are a number of different approaches one might take and many of us have traveled down a few of those roads. Finding a new path is initially exciting because we think perhaps we have finally found the answer. If, however, the change we seek isn’t forthcoming fast enough, we most likely never get too far past the trailhead. Every once in a while we actually go for a good long hike – we finish the book, we incorporate the exercises, we change our habitual patterns and start to feel good.
During one such period, I remember thinking “this is the best I have ever felt,” and simultaneously realizing “this too shall pass.” Because it almost inevitably does. What was different in that moment was my acceptance that both the highs and the lows of life will indeed pass. Life moves on and what appears to be entropy returns.
Common wisdom tells us not to get caught in either the highs or lows but really, if life were flat line, we’d be dead. Once again we find ourselves feeling like a failure. Why didn’t I stick with that diet after I lost 20 pounds? Why did I start smoking again? When did I stop taking time every day to meditate? What happened to my motivation to exercise?
Self-flagellation commences. Even the knowledge that beating ourselves up doesn’t work, isn’t helpful and is actually psychologically harmful doesn’t stop that inner critic from railing. Having had momentary success makes the fall even harder and our hatred of self returns with a vengeance.
Keep in mind this self-hatred isn’t necessarily conscious. We may genuinely like ourselves and see many of our good qualities. However, when we repeatedly sense this failure to live up to our full potential and unconsciously make choices which are not in the direction we want to go, clearly there is something deeper going on here in regards to our self-worth.
The unconscious is a tricky thing and bringing to light our deepest fears and shadow side(s) is scary. A second dichotomy is created in our desire to avoid this pain and the discomfort this creates as it is juxtaposed with our yearning to be self-actualized. Of course, the easiest solution once again becomes giving up and losing ourselves in distractions and addictions. The cycle of trying to break out of old patterns and re-create our lives – as Gary Zukov put it, “more in alignment with our soul” – is exhausting. And the world offers up so many delicious ways we can be entertained to forget the struggle altogether.
It takes a tremendous amount of will power to overcome reaching for the remote, picking up a fantasy novel or playing our electronic game of choice. And these are just a few of a multitude of ways we can avoid staying present. Self-discipline at a time we are exhausted, worn out and worn down is nearly impossible. Yet rather than rest and re-center, we will often chose to jump fill tilt into the fray of life where we find our professional and personal schedules overflowing with meaningless, albeit often enjoyable activities. Or, conversely, we isolate ourselves and sink into a depression of lethargy without end which equally saps our energy.
Along the way we may have little wake up calls where we roll over long enough to become conscious that this direction is not bringing us closer to fine. Some of those are big wake up calls: a terminal diagnosis, loss of a loved one, a DUI or near miss auto accident. Awareness steals in and we stop dead in our tracks and reverse direction. Most of our wake up calls, however, are usually fairly gentle. The problem, however, is they are rarely long lasting. Shaken into a greater consciousness, we return to our commitment to change wondering once again how long it will last this time. And praying, praying that it won’t take a larger wake up call for us to stay dedicated to transformation.
December 25, 2013
I am slowly coming to understand that I’ve had it all wrong … and simultaneously understand it can never be all wrong, or all right for that matter. As Rumi once wrote: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
I’ve always loved this quote but until recently I’d never read the rest the next line: “When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.” In this line I return again to the realization that the essence of life is too big for words.
Still, we cannot help but express and language is our primary way of communication. Perhaps it is the limitations of language that have led to the multitude of discourses trying to explain universal truths. Over the years as I have read different – as my mother calls them – “self-help” books, I’ve come to see that the main message is often the same: Live from your heart; Love; Let go; Be here now. What I am coming to realize is that as long as I am seeking, I shall not find.
The first two definitions of the word ‘seek” are “to try to locate or discover; search for” and “to endeavor to obtain or reach.” If this is my focus – and indeed the Universe responds to our thoughts and vibrations – then I shall always be in this mode. Taken one step further, endeavor is defined as “a conscientious or concerted effort toward an end.” I have long thought that I would arrive at some enlightened state of being and find the answers to that which I seek: what is the meaning of life, why are we here, what is my purpose?
These are questions which are very hard to let go of and to which my ego clings. I resonate with what Jackson Kiddard wrote: “To get the most success out of life have no agenda other than to give whatever you can in the present moment. A smile, a laugh, a quarter, a helping hand, an introduction or just your listening ear is more powerful than you can imagine. Beneath every gift is the knowing that the Universe is abundant and that you lose nothing by giving away what you have. Others will feel comfortable in your presence and all good things will find you – WITHOUT seeking them.”
I am not sure, however, that I agree with the set up that there is something I must do to “to get the most success out of life”. This implies there a goal to do just that and while this sounds lovely, I’m not convinced that should be our objective. Nor am I convinced that we should have any agenda at all, but perhaps I am getting caught in semantics and missing the greater Truth of this statement which is focus on the present moment.
What I am only now coming to fully realize is that a focus on self-help or spiritual growth is in actuality the trappings of ego. Not to give ego a bad rap, as I know it’s impossible to rid ourselves of it entirely, however in essence we are already perfect, whole and complete. It is our sense of separation from this which creates the yearning and need for something different.
I know I have heard this message before – most likely many times – however, it is one thing to know this intellectually and quite another to experience it day-to-day.
Another “teaching” which has rung true, but which is still settling into my bones, is that our minds cannot really get it. As long as we are in our thoughts we remain separated from the essence which is our experience. Wise words, but how does one put these into every day practice? How can I not seek the answer to this question?
My mind wants to figure it out and try to find a solution and yet my heart knows that is fruitless searching. And so I take a deep breath and acknowledge my monkey mind. I give thanks for its concerted effort and I do my best to drop down into my heart.