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What leads people to undertake personal growth?

What is it that brings people to do this work that I often refer to in this blog, that of personal growth, self improvement, self help or whatever you might call it – it has a variety of names? I thought I’d give a few classic scenarios:

One is a person who, in his words, is “prone to being grumpy”. Despite the protestations of his family, every day or so he has a “grumpy” time. There’s plenty to complain about, the world seemingly well able to throw up situations for a “soap-box moment”, the next door neighbour, rubbish collection, world events, the economy, even God, his inability to get things as he’d like them, etc. What he’s not so clear about is what the real reason for his dissatisfaction is. He just knows he feels fed up a lot, depressed and fearful about the future. Things don’t seem “right”.

Another has been the model housewife and mother, balancing this with a job that demands even more of her now. She is great with her children, who adore her, and she seems to be able to juggle her various roles, even when her husband is away a lot abroad working on contracts since his full-time job went. Despite her ever-willing facade, she’s aware that underneath she’s alternately ragingly angry and very guilty. She’s getting menopausal and now has difficulty managing her mood swings and worries as to whether her husband still finds her attractive. The facade is getting difficult to maintain. And she wonders “when will my time come?”.

A third lost her partner two years ago and is having difficulty coming to terms with her loss. She still lives in the same house and does the same job. She spends a lot of time on her own and doesn’t go out much: “we always went everywhere together.” However she has developed an interest in alternative therapies and learning more about herself. She would like to move on, meet new people and perhaps have a new relationship. Yet she feels guilty about “letting (her dead partner) down”. She wants to sort out these conflicting goals, which seem like two parts to her.

I could go on. It’s life, what happens for people, all very varied, often quite different. They can come to this work to resolve an issue, move on from a situation, manage change, find a way to bring about change, know more of themselves, find certain desired skills and qualities within them, to feel more empowered, to take control, be more confident, resolve a relationship issue, deal with some trait, feeling, thoughts or behaviour that is getting in the way, or make whatever shift is needed.

The core element of change is awareness, to get what’s going on, get an understanding or insight, a realisation, a re-configuration of their view of the world, something that changes the perspective and creates new possibilities.

What they find is often more than they thought they came for, although perhaps their higher self thought differently! This is a very powerful healing space, co-created by all who come, for a purpose beyond and above what seems immediately apparent, a kind of spiritual alchemical process. Thus each person probably has a lesson to learn that they don’t know of when they sign up, but emerges and seems utterly right during the work. Each group that comes together is totally right for the work to be done.

So, people who come often need to trust their choice, and listen to the inner messages, those beyond the ego. The ego says, “Best be careful. Watch out!” Our higher selves, or whatever word works for you, is very quietly, or maybe very loudly, prompting us forward, to move further down our life path. It’s important to develop that ability to listen to our inner prompting, our inner counsel. The ego is about survival and about those thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we keep living out of and that don’t serve us. Our higher self (or whatever), has a quiet, respectful presence, not judging, gently (or not!) prompting us to what is positive, healing, opening, loving, helping, easing, knowing of our ultimate truth.

But do we, will we listen?

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Our sad times can have something to teach us

Today is sometimes referred to as “Blue Monday“, on account of it being apparently the saddest day of the year, or so it has been dubbed. It is said that the gloss of Christmas and the New Year has faded, people have debts to pay off and pay day is still a while off, it’s a long time till the next public holiday, the nights are dark and seemingly go on forever, we some of us don’t get much sunlight on our skin and thus not enough vitamin D, and other aspects of winter. Not surprisingly there are those out there seeking to counter this, such as this website I found.

Statistics and the media apart, it’s well known for people to feel down after Christmas as we go through midwinter in the north here. It’s worth noticing how much we ourselves are affected by these times, since it can rub off on others. For some Chistmas is a great time for meeting up and family, for others it’s less like that. However, once it’s all past, we get back to the realities of our daily lives. Here, we don’t have distractions, and whatever goes on for us can crowd in. Thus it’s worth noticing how much we use external stimuli to divert us from what’s really going on. Not that there isn’t merit in that, and it does help people shift their mood, as the second website above shows. The point here is, from a self-awareness point of view, to be aware of the undercurrents that we might not be attending to at our cost. They can have a way of reasserting themselves, unless dealt with. Moreover, it is also important to have self-management strategies, ways that you can manage your mind and regain a positive focus. It is one thing to notice what’s going on, and another to then manage it and let it go.

For people on a self-development path, such data is very important, to be aware of what get’s in the way, what is preventing us being who we really are, and keeping us from experiencing the love, peace and joy that is our birthright.

Some will feel sceptical and cynical in reading those words. “As if life is like that,” might be a thought. Yes, life is like that. Living in ego mode, in survival mode, we’ve learned strategies to keep us from getting too down and we cope. Such do we avoid our inner pain. We fear too much to face it. Yet facing it is our way out. I remember a saying we once put on the wall of a course we were helping with: “Let the cracks appear. They are your way out”.

Down times like these can be very powerfully instructive, much though we might resist it. These “dark nights of the soul” have great healing potential. Thus it is important not to resist them but instead get very curious about what we have to learn from them. Challenging but ultimately highly beneficial, as St John of the Cross, from whom the term “Dark Night” originates, learned for himself whilst imprisoned in appalling circumstances.

So, if you’re feeling down, start getting curious about what it is really about for you. You may not like it, but it’s there for a reason.

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Seeing the benefits in adversity

It can be hard to get that when you’ve hit difficult times there’s very likely something in it all that you’ll benefit from long-term. Of course it can seem like a wind-up likely to be met with expletives. However, in all that might be going on, there might be some insight or learning that you need to get, maybe one you’ve not got till now, and which will prove a major gain for you in some way. The trouble is that this can be very hard to see at the time.

When difficult times come, what we can so easily do is focus in on the difficulty. From a pain/pleasure perspective, we want to avoid the pain and get more pleasure. So we’re struggling to avoid something. We’re also likely to want to restore the old situation, which is presumed to be OK in some way, even though things are probably changing and we can’t have it back. So we’re likely to be grieving for what we’ve lost. In what is called the Change Curve, we first have to feel the pain, reach the “pits” and find a way to accept what has happened, what the lessons are and what the new way forward is, before building the new life. There’s probably a letting go somewhere too. Many people are unable to make this transition and stay stuck somewhere before acceptance, for example feeling upset, angry or depressed about what has happened or attached to the old ways. The adversity may go on a long time and we need to find the endurance to see it through, even when we can’t see the end point. People can so easily give up along the way. There may be false dawns, when it looks like it’s working out but then things fall back to the default phase of difficulty.

People who have lost their job and have found it has taken them a long time to get back on their feet will know this one, as might people who have had business or financial difficulty or a major illness or bereavement or a disaster, among some typical examples.

It can be as though the hardship itself obscures the awarenes, the insight into the situation that’s needed for learning to take place. Energy is more invested in survival than creativity. However, many who’ve written about these situations say that it is when we start to make choices about we will manage the situation and ourselves that’s different that we start to make the learnings. Many would probably say it’s when we “take responsibility” in effect. We start to apply our will to what’s happening. Determination gets involved. It’s like we decide we’re going to deal with things differently. This too can be a “false dawn” and we can slide back, but if the process is repeated and we are able once again to re-focus, we find the inner strength and will to move forward.

What that is varies massively but I would say that this is where the benefit can truly come, when we find our own way forward, our own coping mechanism, and our own ideas about what we can do, and start to implement them. What has so often struck me is that there’s some very important personal insight involved, about how we operate as persons, how we think and feel, our patterns and attitudes, how we do things, something that needs to change or be done differently. If we make this learning, which is all about self-awareness, we are somehow stronger and wiser for it, perhaps even a breakthrough that can be life-changing and life-enhancing.