Even if you don’t have a stack of books on your bedside table detailing the newest ways to fix yourself, you still might be. And it wouldn’t be your fault if you were. Our conditioning from a very young age is to believe that we need to become better, new and improved versions of ourselves, even if at first we don’t know exactly how or why. But soon enough we have filled in the why’s with our shortcomings and failures, and self-help provides the how-to’s with unending methods for self-correction. Armed with our story of deficiencies firmly in place and a surplus of paths toward improvement, we set off on our life mission—namely, becoming someone else. And we are proud of, and celebrated for, this mission. Growing and evolving, becoming a better person—it all sounds so virtuous. Who would turn down such an opportunity?
And yet, growing and evolving are too often code words for what is really “fixing” or correcting our basic unworthiness. From the time we are young, we are infiltrated with the belief that the basic problem underlying all other problems is, put simply, us. We are what’s wrong. As adults, we search the globe for the right teacher; we attend seminars, buy books, hire coaches, consult shamans, and everything else under the sun—all in an effort to make ourselves into something good enough or maybe just enough.
But are we good enough for what or whom? Did you ever wonder?
If we boil it down, we keep fixing ourselves in the hopes that we can, finally, just be as we actually are. Once we’re fixed, enough, worthy—whether that means more compassionate, more disciplined, or whatever shape our more’s have formed into—then we’ll be entitled to feel what we feel. We can think what we think, experience what we experience—in essence, be who we are.
The fear that fuels our self-betterment mission is the belief that we are, at our core, notwhat we should be: We’re faulty, broken, unlovable, or some other version of not okay. To give ourselves permission to be who we are, to give up the mission for a better version of ourselves, would be tantamount to accepting our defectiveness and giving up all hope of fruition. And that, of course, would be unwise, naive, lazy, and a cop out. To suggest that we stop striving to be better than who we are is not just counterintuitive, but frightening and dangerous. Such a suggestion incites fear, scorn, anger, confusion, amusement, and an assumption of ignorance.
Self-help, while useful in certain ways, strengthens our core belief that we are inherently defective. Self-help starts with our defectiveness as its basic assumption, and then graciously offers to provide us with an unending stream of strategies by which to fix our defective core—which, once fixed, will award us the right to be who we are.
The problem is that the strategies keep us stuck in the cycle of fixing—and more important, in the belief that we are broken. If you notice, we never do become that person who is allowed to feel what we feel, and experience what we experience. We never do get permission to just be who and as we are.
This is where spirituality enters, and offers something radically different than self-help.
Most people think that spirituality and self-help are the same thing. They’re not. In fact, they are fundamentally different. We have tried to turn spirituality into self-help, another method for correcting ourselves, but to do so is to misunderstand and eradicate the most profound (and beneficial) teaching spirituality offers.
True spirituality is not about fixing ourselves spiritually or becoming spiritually better. Rather, it is about freedom from the belief of our unworthiness, and ultimately, about acceptance. Spirituality, practiced in its truest form, is about meeting who we really are, and allowing ourselves to experience life as we actually experience it.
In this way, it is more of an undoing than a doing.
In truth, we need to take the risk that it is to lean back into who we actually are. We need to do that before we even know that who we are will be enough, or even that there will be anything there to catch us. We need to relinquish our self-improvement plans before we believe that we have the right to stop improving. The whole thing—true spirituality—requires a kind of faith. It’s not faith in a system, story, or methodology, but a faith that trusts that we can’t think our way into what we truly want. No matter what path we practice, there comes a point where we have to let go of the reins; when we have to give up the quest to be good enough.
What happens when we stop trying to change ourselves into something better is nothing like what we imagine: We envision stepping off the self-help train and landing smack inside someone incomplete and unsatisfactory. And yet in truth, the simple (but not easy) act of inviting ourselves into our own life has the effect of placing us at the center of something beautiful and extraordinary. Giving ourselves permission to be as we are miraculously creates a kind of love for ourselves—not so much for our individual characteristics, but for our being. It’s not just for our being, but for the truth, whatever that is. It is as if whatever we find inside ourselves, whether we wish it were here or not, is okay and we are okay. Ultimately, we shift from trying to become lovable to being love itself. And amazingly, from this place, the not-enough person we thought we were has simply vanished, or more likely, never was.
Try it out for a moment—this moment. Just let yourself be. Give yourself permission to have the experience you are having, whatever it is, with no story about whether it is right or wrong, good or bad. Feel how you actually are. It’s that direct and that simple. No judgments allowed. It won’t make sense…it takes a leap…so leap.
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