Keys to Personal Growth
Over the past two years, I have been writing a series of books on meditationand mindfulness that many of you have been following. Now that I have reached the end of writing these three books—A Mindful Morning, A Mindful Evening, and A Mindful Day—I thought I would pause to see if I could discern some key points that all of us can use to find transformation in our lives. Almost everyone wants a more peaceful and prosperous life, and yet we continually falter in finding the sort of freedom and peace that we want. The whole purpose of my writing has been to find ways to accelerate the process of liberation, to make the journey shorter for all of us. The pain of transformation cannot be eliminated completely: self-effort will be required of all seekers, no matter what path each person chooses. But it would be masochistic to prolong the pain of self-discovery: we want the most efficient means possible to finding the boundless life that we desire.
One of the first illusions that must be overcome is that we battle in our lives all alone, that we must strive in a solitary fashion to battle against our demons and achieve first survival and then abundance. We have to move from this solitary struggle to a trust in the plentiful provision for our needs. We all live bathed in the golden light, the source of all things, but we live in ignorance of this source. We think that everything depends on our own efforts, that we must do everything perfectly, and this attitude really stems from the ego nature. Those of us who work for self-transformation must set down this attitude of anxiety and striving, and learn to trust that the creative power that sets the world into motion is also the same power that sustains the world. As we find our sufficiency within, we also find it without. The divine light within our being also brings help into our lives in myriad ways. The right people and circumstances are coming into our lives all the time if only we can recognize the help when it arrives.
If we are to have a better life, a more peaceful and abundant life, we also must recognize that the personality is a false friend, a set of guises or masks that must be shed in order to reach freedom. Lewis Howes, in his book, The Mask of Masculinity, does a good job of breaking down some of the typical masks that men, in particular, wear (the Stoic, the Know-It-All, the Athlete, etc.). Melody Beattie, in her books on codependency, shows how caretakingroles can be a way to hide from the inner self. If I am always busy taking care of others, I don’t have to look at my own issues or do the work that I need to do to make myself fulfilled. We wear these false identities as a kind of armor against exposing our true selves. We may become so reliant upon these guises that we no longer even have a sense of who we are. It takes a great deal of uncovering work to access the inner guide, that true voice within that takes us to authenticity. Uncovering the true self leads through some dark places, through the painful memories that we would rather forget.
Next, we must realize that personality is tied to the past and to bad habits from the past. We develop false selves out of a tendency towards self-protection: our bad habits are leftover coping strategies. What worked at one stage of life, what was necessary for survival, becomes toxic at a later age. If I hide the fact that I was abused as a child, it will come back later, in the form of an addiction or anger management issues or some other pathology. Lewis Howes courageously tells the story of his own abuse, and many of us suffer from the same issues. We may minimize our pain by saying, “Well, my abuse was really not all that bad,” but the fact remains that those scars are still there. As we become more open about what happened, we start to regain some trust in the goodness of people and the abundance of the universe.
Now we get to the crucial part, where the real transformation begins. A new life becomes possible only by becoming a different person: the old personality and the new being cannot live side by side. This is where we most often get derailed. We cannot remain the same as before and yet have a new life. We have to become different people in order to have better lives. We are usually only willing to change up to a point: we have cherished illusions, cherished dysfunctions, that we don’t really want to abandon. We determine in advance how much transformation we are willing to tolerate. In order to experience real breakthroughs, we have to be extremely pliable and open-minded, being willing to change even parts of ourselves that we consider core parts of our identities.
The new person that is born within each of us must be deliberately cultivated using such characteristics as peacefulness, hopefulness, and every other good quality that we can imagine. These qualities must be understood and magnified through deliberate inner and outer work. The inner work lies in imagining the good qualities and giving them detailed descriptions, imagining scenarios where we can put them to work. The outer work lies in taking these good qualities and putting them to work, asking how we can be of service to others without going into a space of self-denial. Our old, dysfunctional personalities did not arise overnight, and it may take many years to begin to craft a healthier view of life in the world. This will take patient and persistent effort: gradually life comes to seem like less of a burden and more of a privilege. The dark periods are shorter in duration, and the good days begin to outnumber the bad days. Problems gradually begin to dissolve.
Overall, we have to be willing to change and grow as people in order to have more peaceful lives. Sometimes we think of peace as a negative quality, as the absence of strife. This may be true enough, but the practice of peace requires a great deal of work. We have to ask how we may be contributing to our own problems by the outlook on life that we espouse, by hiding issues that we need to address, by blaming everyone but ourselves for our misfortunes. Once we accept true responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, and actions, life begins to get better. Things don’t get better overnight, but the gloom does begin to disperse. A willingness to change is the price of entry for a more peaceful and abundant existence.