You’ve tried everything. Therapy, yoga, positive thinking, meditation, exercise, and fasting. You’ve been on retreats that promised the kundalini serpent would rise up and awaken you. You’ve opened your third eye, cleared your chakras, done past life regressions. Maybe you’ve tried psychedelics. You expected that everything would change. But guess what, at the end of the day (or the retreat) you are still left with you. Beautiful, flawed, limited, powerful, messed up, perfect you.
There is nothing wrong with any of the above mentioned practices. It’s just that if they are used to try to change yourself, they are doomed to failure. The self-help book market is a billion dollar industry keeping us hooked on the promise that we can improve ourselves. We keep going back for more, but nothing seems to work.
Maybe it’s that I’m now 64 and I’ve tried it all. But if I’ve learned anything it’s that there is no escaping myself. Here’s the healing principle that has nothing to do with changing yourself:
Replace self-improvement with self-acceptance.
When I first started using psychedelics for healing I secretly hoped that it would all be about transcendence. If I could just get grounded in the Bigger Picture, I could relax and live a worry-free existence. And in some ways that happened. I would have really big mystical experiences, for which I’m grateful. But the next day or the next week, I’d still have to pay the hydro bill, taxes, etc. I’d still get triggered by my wife, and I’d still be addicted to caffeine.
But then, the journeys, informed by the intelligence of whatever I was taking, began taking me deeper into myself. I was shown the source of heartbreak – heartbreak I had completely blocked from my awareness. I saw how I shaped my personality to compensate for this heartbreak. It was revealed to me how I formed negative unconscious beliefs about reality and about myself. I’m bad. I’m wrong. I’m too much. I cannot ask for what I want. I’m unsafe. I’m on my own. The feelings that caused these beliefs to form were so painful that I repressed them.
And then I shaped an IDEAL self, one that would help me to survive. Whatever shape this self took (it was a shape-shifter for sure) it was all in service to helping me survive unbearable conditions. It is this image of the IDEAL self that the self-help industry plays on. If I could just be better, smarter, faster, more vulnerable, more, more, more… I am convinced that most of our motivation to change ourselves is actually a compulsion—one that is driven by early heartbreak, and the question “What must I do to make the other content so that I will finally be safe.”
Caveat: I do believe that there is an evolutionary impulse to grow, develop, and learn. It is natural, a built in feature of the universe. And conscious evolution, the capacity to consciously open to this impulse, is a gift bestowed upon the human beings. That said, it is critical to distinguish between conscious evolution and the compulsive need to change (which is grounded in an unconscious survival instinct). They get confused in evolutionary spirituality and theology.
We can release into conscious evolution by dropping the compulsion to be our IDEAL self, through self-acceptance. We first need to see what happened to us and feel the heartbreak. And most importantly, through this willingness to see and feel our heartbroken self, we turn with compassion toward that self. Because that self does not know that it is beautiful just the way it is. That self does not know that it doesn’t need to change to be loveable, worthwhile, inestimably valuable—just for showing up. That becomes our primary practice, loving our self.
This is not narcissistic. In truth, it breaks us out of narcissism, which is driven by the unconscious need to be seen, heard, connected with, and valued by an other. Narcissism is an attempt to deal with self-hatred by manipulating others into loving us. When we truly love ourself, there is no need to manipulate others. And there is no compulsive need to IMPROVE.
We may now choose (consciously) to take up meditation, chakra healing, or whatever practice we want. The shift from compulsion to consciousness is the key.
The pursuit of the IDEAL self is exhausting. This is why, when we exit that hamster wheel of self-improvement the first thing that comes on line is fatigue, bone-deep fatigue. We have been trying all our life to be accepted, to prove ourself, and life has therefore become too trying. Self-acceptance means we can stop trying. We can heal our adrenal system. We can breathe. We can trust that life is for us. We can allow a natural evolutionary impulse to have its way with us, as we discover who we are when we’re not trying to be more. We can be carried by a life force and a Great Mystery that is for us.