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The Dark Side of Personal Development

Are you doing the spiritual equivalent of scrubbing a basketball court with a toothbrush?

In ye olden dayes, most organised awakening was through the ‘progressive’ path. That doesn’t mean modern and evolved! It is the path of purifying the body and mind to the point of non-reactivity. This could be emotionless, or with a single primary emotion of something like love or bliss.

There are still religious paths where this is the highest ideal – and it has its place, especially within religious institutions.

But reflect for a moment what it means in a functional, engaged life of family, friends, activity and work. Do you want to love your kids exactly the same as you love every child in the world? Do you want to be without emotion when someone close to you dies? Do you want to be blissfully uncaring about your body? Do you want to watch your favourite team playing, and not feel the tension of the score?

More than that, do you want to find yourself in a new religion, where your teacher or coach has become your guru? Where personal development has become your devotion? Where the striving for perfection dominates your life?

It’s an honourable endeavour to put attention into being the best person you can be. But it’s not nourishing your soul. As I understand it, our soul is here to learn through experience. By making mistakes, by trying stuff out, by engaging in all of life. By feeling it all.

When the person is gone, it’s what has touched our soul – and those of others – that endures. Everything the person acquired in life is gone. Everything the person perfected about themselves is gone. All human limitation is gone. Doesn’t matter how assiduously we scrubbed that basketball court with our toothbrush, no one remembers, no one cares.

In many ways, human life is about living with limitation, and finding the joy of the small. To live within a body that is subject to the laws of nature – and to revel in it. To be constrained by time and space – and learn how to play in them. To live this little life like it was the only thing we ever had – and enjoy every ounce of experience that is open to us in this form.

Most of all, to live with limitation is to learn self-compassion and radical self-kindness. To learn to thrive within our conditioning. To trust ourselves enough to get lost in emotion. To not treat ourselves as though we’re getting life wrong. To see ourselves clearly and love ourselves just as we are. To act from self-acceptance, not as an attempt to get there.

And, y’know what? We often find the stuff we we’re working so hard to shift just dissolves when we stop fighting it. And if it doesn’t, it’s met with unconditional love, as part of this unique experience.

Bamboo toothbrush with pink bristles on a dark pink background - shaft of light from left casting a shadow.

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